10 Things You Should Know about Alleged Appearances / Apparitions of the Virgin Mary
I recently read of yet another claim that a statue of the Virgin Mary was weeping. But this time it was different. Her “tears” were examined and found to be the chemical equivalent of olive oil. I will leave it to you to decide what to make of this, but it got me thinking again about the role of Mary in Roman Catholic devotion.
One of the consistent claims among many Roman Catholics is that Mary will occasional appear to individuals with some message or warning or affirmation of truth. These appearances are often referred to as apparitions. Here are ten things to help you understand and assess these claims.
(1) Many insist that it is not impossible for Mary to appear to people on earth given the fact that she never died physically. The dogma of Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven was officially defined by an “infallible” declaration from Pope Pius XII in 1950. Here is what is said about this in the Catholic Catechism:
“Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians” (CC, 966).
(2) Belief in Marian apparitions is closely tied to Roman Catholic dogma regarding her role as mother of the Messiah and her contribution to human redemption.
Thus we read in the Catechism that “Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity. Thus she is a ‘preeminent and . . . wholly unique member of the Church’; indeed, she is the ‘exemplary realization’ of the Church” (CC, 967). Because of her singular cooperation with God “she is a mother to us in the order of grace” (CC, 968). This motherhood of Mary continues even today: “Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. . . . Therefore, the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix” (CC, 969).
Consider the following: “This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death; it is made manifest above all at the hour of his Passion:
Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross. There she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, joining herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim, born of her . . .” (CC, 964).
The following explanation is designed to put fears to rest about Mary’s role:
“Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men . . . flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it. No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source” (CC, 970).
(3) The Church’s devotion to Mary “is intrinsic to Christian worship” (CC, 971). Mary is honored with the title “’Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs. . . . This very special devotion . . . differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration” (CC, 971).
(4) So-called apparitions or appearances of Mary are not considered official public revelation on a par with either Scripture or apostolic tradition: “The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (CC, 66).
(5) Nevertheless, according to the Catechism, “Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, 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” (CC, 67).
(6) On December 9, 1531, Mary supposedly appeared to Juan Diego, a Mexican peasant (hence, “Our Lady of Guadalupe”). This occurred @ five miles north of Mexico City. She identified herself as the “ever virgin, Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains it in existence.” It is said that within six years of the apparition more than nine million natives were baptized.
(7) On September 19, 1846, two young cattle herders named Melanie Mathieu and Maximin Giraud reported seeing a beautiful lady near La Salette, France.
(8) At Lourdes, France, on February 11, 1858 on the Feast of the Annunciation, to 14-year old Bernadette Soubirous, Mary is purported to have said: “I am the Immaculate Conception,” a title Bernadette reportedly had never before heard. This occurred four years after the idea of Mary’s immaculate conception was made official Catholic dogma. The “Lady” appeared 18 times and gave Bernadette three secrets. Countless miracles are reported to have occurred in connection with Lourdes and this apparition.
(9) In Fatima, Portugal, between May and October of 1917, Mary reportedly appeared six times to three children, aged seven to ten and spoke, among other things, of the impending rise of Russia and the devastation it would bring if the country were not consecrated to her immaculate heart. [The Miracle of the Sun]
(10) Since 1981 six children have reported witnessing several apparitions of Mary near Medjugorje, in the former Yugoslavia.