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IN A NUTSHELL
Over the past 500 years, the number of reported Marian
apparitions is somewhere in the thousands, although the Vatican has
authenticated fewer than 20.
Such a wide gap indicates how the official church exercises
not just caution but vigorous detective work in its investigations.
Mary's apparitions call us to believe in Christ.
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Marian apparitions: Determining what is 'worthy of
By Mike Nelson
Catholic News Service
case involving alleged Marian apparitions in the Philippines -- which the
Vatican effectively denied as "supernatural," after a local archbishop had
declared them "worthy of belief" -- reflects the centuries-old caution with
which the church regards reported appearances, real or imagined, by Mary, the
mother of Jesus.
past 500 years, the number of reported Marian apparitions is somewhere in the
thousands, although the Vatican has authenticated fewer than 20. Such a wide
gap indicates how the official church exercises not just caution but vigorous
detective work in its investigations.
understandable, since church leadership is acutely aware of its own people's
desire to find tangible signs of faith, but also mindful of the skepticism,
cynicism and even scorn that many inside and outside the church hold for
"supernatural" phenomena, including that connected to religious belief.
So it can take decades, even
centuries, to reach a decision -- some 300 years, for example, for the church
to approve the apparitions of Our Lady of Laus in France that took place
between 1664 and 1718. By comparison, the approval by Bishop David L. Ricken of
Green Bay in 2010 of a series of Marian apparitions that occurred during 1859
in Champion, Wisconsin -- the first time apparitions in the U.S. received
official approval -- happened in the blink of an eye.
is also well aware of human nature, and specifically the longing many have to
be close to Mary, as indicated in the "lineamenta" (or preliminary
document) of the 1997 special assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America.
church community," the document noted, "the multiplication of supposed
'apparitions' or 'visions' is sowing confusion and reveals a certain lack of a
solid basis to the faith and Christian life among her members. On the other
hand, these negative aspects in their own way reveal a certain thirst for
spiritual things which, if they are properly channeled, can be the point of
departure for a conversion to faith in Christ" (No. 33).
Four years ago, the Vatican
translated and published procedural rules approved by Pope Paul VI in 1978 that
had previously been available only in Latin. "Norms Regarding the Manner
of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations"
was published to help bishops determine the credibility of alleged Marian
The process of verifying
apparitions -- like that of beatifying and canonizing saints -- is generally
long, meticulous and sometimes contentious, beginning with the local bishop.
In 1555, Archbishop Alonso de
Montufar of Mexico approved the vision of Mary as reported by St. Juan Diego in
1531, on Tepeyac hill in Mexico.
And on Sept. 12, 2015, Archbishop
Ramon C. Arguelles of Lipa, Philippines, stated that the alleged 1948 appearance
of Mary 19 times to a novice in the Carmelite order in Lipa City had, in fact,
exhibited "supernatural character and is worthy of belief."
A few months later, however, the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith nullified the declaration of
And 35 years after six young people
first reported seeing Mary appear in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Holy
See has not reached a final decision on their authenticity, even as droves of
pilgrims journey to the site annually, and several of the young "visionaries"
give presentations around the world.
The church's official position on
Medjugorje, stated in 1990 by the Yugoslavian bishops' conference at Zagreb,
and reiterated most recently in 2013, is: "On the basis of studies made to this
moment, it cannot be confirmed that supernatural apparitions and revelations
are occurring here."
Yet, the bishops added, "the
gathering of the faithful from various parts of the world to Medjugorje,
inspired by reasons of faith, requires the pastoral attention and care of the
bishops ' so that a proper liturgical and sacramental life may be promoted, and
so manifestations and contents which are not in accord with the spirit of the
church may be prevented and hindered."
The Catechism of the Catholic
Church, while not using the term "Marian apparitions" explicitly, nonetheless
points out that, "even if revelation is already complete, it has not been made
completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full
significance over the course of the centuries" (No. 66).
that some "so-called 'private' revelations, some of which have been recognized
by the authority of the church," the catechism adds quickly, "They do not
belong ... to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete
Christ's definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain
period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the church, the "sensus
fidelium" knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever
constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the church" (No. 67).
Which is why there is a process for
investigating, reviewing and approving or disapproving Marian apparitions -- a
process ultimately aimed at nurturing a healthy spirituality and belief among
all of God's people.
(Nelson is former editor of The Tidings, newspaper of the
Archdiocese of Los Angeles.)
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reminds us to stay close to Jesus
received my first Miraculous Medal almost 30 years ago. I was 12 years old, and
it was a confirmation gift from my mother.
of gold wrapped around the medal itself, which bore the familiar image of the
Virgin Mary atop a globe, her feet crushing the serpent and rays of light
descending from her fingers. It had belonged to a great aunt, but now it was
gift came with a lengthy explanation from my mother about the history of the
Miraculous Medal and Mary's promise of blessings to those who wore it, as
revealed by St. Catherine Laboure, who was visited by the Virgin Mary two times
as a novice in 19th-century France.
lose it," my mother warned, roping the gold chain around my neck.
never took it off. But truth be told, I did lose it eventually. When I was
about seven months pregnant with my third child, it slipped from my neck,
bounced off my belly and disappeared into the water during a vacation in
medal itself is gone, but I've never lost my belief in the power of Marian
apparitions like the one witnessed by St. Catherine.
believe these appearances over the centuries have provided a needed nourishment
of our faith, both on a larger scale and individually. They remind me that even
on days when the struggle seems all too real, I have an infinite supply of
spiritual support to lean on.
be clear, I'm talking about Marian apparitions that have been approved by the
church, not the random declarations of those purporting to see Mary on their
slice of buttered toast.)
way I see it, these apparitions -- like those at Fatima, Guadalupe and Lourdes,
among others -- are a nonsecular shot in the arm for the faithful. They offer a
surprise for a world that thinks it already has it all figured out.
perhaps that's why many people are quick to dismiss these apparitions. They
want something tangible, but faith is rarely that easy. We may believe a
groundhog can predict an early spring but dispute the idea that the mother of
Our Lord would present herself to someone.
appearances may be unexpected, but her message is not -- that penance and
prayer are powerful antidotes to evil. By all accounts of these apparitions,
it's never Mary proclaiming her own awesomeness.
she reminds us that Jesus is always the answer to even the most confounding
questions. And she offers to advocate for us through prayer.
of the things I love about Mary is that she's like the really cool friend who
sees a better version of ourselves than we do, and who wants to help us get to
where we need to be.
may wonder what we did to deserve it. It's simple -- we believe in her Son.
she has appeared to people who are poor, young and disadvantaged -- those who
lack the traditional trappings of the material world -- makes it even more
a little kid in Catholic school, I loved hearing the story of Our Lady of
Fatima because she appeared to Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta -- children just
a girl who spent much of the fourth grade wanting to be a saint, I was hopeful
that Our Lady might grace me with her presence. (She didn't, for the record.)
But her appearance to children made her more accessible in my mind.
I'm the not only one who feels this way, judging by the millions of people who
have made pilgrimages to the sites of these apparitions. And that connection to
others also can help us grow in our faith.
remember feeling a kinship with strangers when I attended Mass at the Knock
shrine in Ireland on my honeymoon. We all experience our faith in different
ways, yet here we were together celebrating Jesus because of what his mother
the great part about Mary's apparitions. They don't call us to believe in her.
call us to believe in Christ.
is a freelance writer and a mother of three.)
Devotion to Mary
By Daniel S. Mulhall
Catholic News Service
The important role that Mary, the
mother of Jesus, plays in the salvation of the world has been recognized by the
church from its earliest days. And since those earliest days a cult of devotion
to Mary has developed to give her honor and praise, and to recognize her role as
the Mother of God, a title bestowed on her by the Council of Ephesus in 491.
The Second Vatican Council's
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church ("Lumen Gentium") says that Mary is "justly honored" by this cult (No. 66).
As part of this cult, feast days
honoring Mary have been established by the universal church, by local dioceses
and by national bishops' conferences. Thus, the Virgin Mary in the Immaculate
Conception has been declared the patron saint of the United States, and Our
Lady of Guadalupe has been declared the patron saint for the Americas (North
and South combined).
Over the centuries, Mary has
reportedly appeared to numerous people in countries all over the world. While
the church has rejected the legitimacy of some Marian appearances, it has not
made judgment on most of them.
Some appearances, however, have been
recognized by the church as legitimate, including those at Tepeyac, Mexico, in
1531; Siluva, Lithuania, in 1608; the appearance to St. Catherine Laboure in
Paris in 1830; and those in Lourdes, France, in 1858 and Fatima, Portugal, in
The appearance of Our Lady to Adele
Brise in Champion, Wisconsin, in 1859 was officially recognized by Bishop David
L. Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay in 2010 and proclaimed "worthy of belief"
under the title Our Lady of Good Help.
Marian apparitions fall into the category of private
revelations, meaning that the faithful are not required to believe in them,
even those apparitions recognized by the church as valid. Private revelations
are considered to be inspirational messages that encourage Christians to live
so as to draw closer to Christ.
The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy issued by the
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments in December 2001 establishes
guidelines for how Catholics should appropriately honor Mary.
It notes that devotion of Mary "is an important and universal"
phenomenon throughout the church, throughout its history and across the world.
Christians are encouraged "to develop a personal and community devotion" to
Mary (No. 183).
All Marian devotions should "give expression" to the Trinity,
meaning that Marian apparitions help us to better understand the love that
exists with the Holy Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Apparitions also should be rooted solidly within the tradition of
the church and be compatible with the church's profession of faith as expressed
in ecumenical dialogues. They also are to reflect a true concept of humankind
and present a "valid response" to our needs.
Finally, these apparitions are to be missionary in tone and
spirit. They are to encourage the Christian faithful to bear witness to the
saving message of Jesus, as is appropriate for those who are disciples of the
Lord (No. 186).
(Mulhall is a catechist living in Louisville, Kentucky.)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
In February, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Basilica of
Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The basilica is
located near Tepeyac hill, the site of Mary's apparitions to St. Juan Diego in
1531. With some 12 million people visiting each year, it is Catholicism's most
popular Marian shrine.
In his homily, the pope said Mary's humility led her to
appear to a poor indigenous man. "Just as she made herself present to
little Juan, so too she continues to reveal herself to all of us, especially to
those who feel, like him, 'worthless,'" the pope said.
Pope Francis calls on us to approach Mary in our littleness
and ask her to draw us nearer to her Son.
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