Chosen souls are often subtle in their speech and Sr. Lúcia of Fátima is no exception. Humble to the core, she did not want to draw attention to herself but keep focused upon God and Our Lady’s message. She did not want to speak about herself or her mystical experiences. How much, then, if at all, did this reluctance influence Sr. Lúcia’s writings on Fátima?
We encounter Sr. Lúcia’s reluctance in her famous Memoirs from the 1930s and 40s. These writings show that she maintained silence about her experiences unless she received a direct order from her religious superiors. Even while obeying, it caused her some pain to give up these treasures of her heart and interior life. She likened such efforts to being out on display in a museum for all the world to see.[i] Whenever possible, she avoided such trials.
Further evidence suggests that Sr. Lúcia preferred silence on direct communications about her mystical experiences. In other words, she appeared not to have spoken often in terms like “Our Lady said X or Y” or “I had a vision of Our Lady and here are her exact words.” Sr. Lúcia did, however, sometimes communicate in such a way that revealed something more profound or prophetic might have been present. Let us look at two pieces of evidence.
The first piece of evidence is the note on the outside of the envelopes containing the third part of the secret. In January, 1944, Sr. Lúcia wrote that it was the “express order of Our Lady” that the envelopes could only be opened in 1960. Well, how else could Sr. Lúcia have known this was an express order of Our Lady except by a private revelation?[ii]
For about 70 years, we did not know what Our Lady told Sr. Lúcia. But in 2013, Sr. Lúcia’s religious sisters in the St. Teresa Carmelite convent in Coimbra, Portugal published a biography entitled A Pathway Under the Gaze of Mary[iii]. This biography provides an account from Sr. Lúcia herself on the matter. During an apparition of Our Lady on January 3, 1944, Sr. Lúcia explains:
I then felt a friendly, affectionate and motherly hand touch me on the shoulder, I looked up and saw the dear Mother from Heaven. “Do not be afraid, God wanted to prove your obedience, Faith and humility, be at peace and write what they order you, but not what is given you to understand of its meaning. After writing it, place it in an envelope, close it and seal it and write on the outside that it can only be opened in 1960 by the Lord Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon or by the Lord Bishop of Leiria.”[iv]
From this account, it is clear that Our Lady set the date of 1960. Sr. Lúcia simply wrote down on the envelopes what she was commanded to do. Notice though that she did not directly specify Our Lady’s exact words on the envelopes. Sr. Lúcia made an allusion when she wrote “By the express order of Our Lady, etc.” Sr. Lúcia went no further than that by saying something like: “Here is what Our Lady said to me…etc.”
The second piece of evidence concerns Sr. Lúcia’s letter to Bishop José da Silva dated January 9, 1944. In this letter, Sr. Lúcia wrote, “I have written that which was commanded of me; God wished to test me a little but in the end this was His will: It [the text] is sealed within an envelope and it [the envelope] is within the journals….”[v] This statement presents us with the obvious question: How could Sr. Lúcia have known that God wished to test her?
The answer is in Sr. Lúcia’s description of the January, 1944 apparition quoted above. Between the January 9 letter and Sr. Lúcia’s description, we see the same terminology: God (Deus), wished/wanted (quis), prove/test (provar). She does not explicitly reveal the dialogue of Our Lady in the letter to Bishop da Silva. Sr. Lúcia does incorporate both the point and individual words stated by the Blessed Virgin into the letter without specifying their origin. Sr. Lúcia makes it appear as though they were her own words or thoughts.
This ability of Sr. Lúcia appears to be what has perplexed many people on some confusing aspects of Fátima. Take, for example, the matter of Cardinal Bertone and the date of 1960 on the envelopes. Bertone met with Sr. Lúcia in April, 2000 prior to the publication of the third part of the secret. During their meeting (witnessed by the Bishop of Leiria-Fátima and the Prioress of the convent), Bertone asked Sr. Lúcia if it was Our Lady who set the date of 1960 for the opening of the envelopes. He claims that her response was no, the date was her own intuition.[vi] Does the clear contradiction between what was in Sr. Lúcia’s own handwriting on the envelopes versus what Bertone claimed she said verbally mean that Bertone was not telling the truth?
There is a rather poignant scene in the movie John of the Cross (Saint Luke Productions, 1997) which might help us. Toward the end of the film, St. John escapes from prison and seeks refuge with St. Teresa of Ávila in a convent. When the authorities knocked on the door, she answers and is asked, “Is by chance Friar John of the Cross here?” She responded, “Your Reverence, it would be a miracle if you were to find any Friar here.” Her subtlety was perfect as she answered truthfully and without deception.[vii] Thus, in order to protect revealing the new apparition from January, 1944, did Sr. Lúcia employ some subtlety with Cardinal Bertone that was missed?[viii]
The preceding discussion leads to a pressing question. How are we to read Sr. Lúcia’s various documents? A temptation can arise to attempt to read between the lines in order to discover hidden meanings or to separate what is Our Lady from what is Sr. Lúcia. Such a task, however, requires much guesswork ending with little certitude. How does one distinguish what is correct from what is false? By what measure do we verify the results? At best, one could make educated guesses, and, perhaps, some intelligent observations. Also, one must consider the contemporary ecclesiastical climate, which raises concerns about these attempts.
In the 1960s, a rebellion arose within the Church. In 1972, the rebellion had risen to a level that Pope Paul VI himself called it the heresy of Modernism “under other names.”[ix] The twentieth century itself, Paul said, was characterized by the spirit of revolution.[x] These facts and others have created much concern and unrest within many Catholics about the preservation of the Faith. They see in Fátima a heavenly warning about a diminution of Faith and argue that there is no treatment of the warnings of Fátima in relation to the Second Vatican Council. These concerns go unabated, leading many to come up with ways to understand the situation around them.
Take, for example, the “fourth secret” hypothesis which states that a second text exists with explanatory words of Our Lady accompanying the third part of the secret. Allegedly, this text speaks against the Second Vatican Council, hence the reason why the Holy See is said to be covering it up. Surely, the Council is not beyond criticism, such as its decision not to condemn Communism by name. These questions are often neglected, causing consternation among many and is what fuels continued hypotheses such as the “fourth secret.”
The preceding discussion highlights the importance of a letter from Sr. Lúcia to Pope John Paul II dated May 12, 1982. When the Vatican published the third part of the secret in June, 2000, it reproduced an excerpt of this letter.[xi] In the judgment of the Holy See, it seems that of all the letters written to the Popes by Sr. Lúcia, this one had the most direct information pertaining to understanding the third part of the secret. Here is what was quoted from this letter in the booklet:
The third part of the secret refers to Our Lady’s words: “If not [Russia] will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated” (13-VII-1917).
The third part of the secret [that you are so anxious to know] is a symbolic revelation, referring to this part of the Message, conditioned by whether we accept or not what the Message itself asks of us: “If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, etc.”.
Since we did not heed this appeal of the Message, we see that it has been fulfilled, Russia has invaded the world with her errors. And if we have not yet seen the complete fulfilment of the final part of this prophecy, we are going towards it little by little with great strides. If we do not reject the path of sin, hatred, revenge, injustice, violations of the rights of the human person, immorality and violence, etc.
And let us not say that it is God who is punishing us in this way; on the contrary it is people themselves who are preparing their own punishment. In his kindness God warns us and calls us to the right path, while respecting the freedom he has given us; hence people are responsible.[xii]
The clear direction in Sr. Lúcia’s above letter is apparent. The fact that it was placed in the booklet might indicate that the Holy See was aware that Sr. Lúcia’s text from 1944 was descriptive, not explanatory. Sr. Lúcia’s account of the January, 1944 apparition that was quoted earlier gives us the reason why there was no explanation from 1944. Our Lady commanded that Sr. Lúcia not write down “that which is given to you to understand of its meaning.” Was the Holy See aware of this command prior to releasing the third part of the secret?[xiii] It might not have been, otherwise, why not simply reveal the command in the booklet and save a lot of grief?
The Church’s perennial tradition tells us to weigh carefully a visionary’s personal qualities.[xiv] Sr. Lúcia’s ability to be truthful, yet evasive concerning her mystical experiences is no exception.[xv] Her ability has managed to confound many people, Cardinals and theologians among them.[xvi] Imagine: a simple Portuguese nun with a shepherdess background, untrained in theology, confounding theologians (as well as other educated people) and prelates of the Church. This fact can certainly indicate the supernatural depth and simplicity of Fátima.
Fátima treats of eternal salvation and warns us against threats to the life of the Christian and of the Church, as Cardinal Ratzinger once said.[xvii] As these pertain to the third part of the secret, I am convinced that Sr. Lúcia did not leave us without important tools to understand the general sense of the vision.[xviii] These tools are such that the information they convey comes across as her own personal reflections upon the imagery of the third part. This is a very astute distinction supported by the Church’s theology of private revelation and reflected in the Church’s 1978 norms on the subject.[xix] In that guidance, a distinction is made between the revelation itself and the visionary’s interpretation.
One can argue whether or not Sr. Lúcia’s texts reflect the meaning of the third part imparted to her. I think, however, that it is wise to call to mind the words of Pope St. Pius X in his Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis. He reminded us that with pious traditions (private revelation being among them), there is no want of human argument.[xx] When it comes to Fátima, we shall either accept what Sr. Lúcia said about Our Lady’s call, or we will not. Arguing, for example, over an alleged “fourth secret” is nothing more than a distraction from the profundity of what we do have and what we will apparently only have since Sr. Lúcia’s passage into eternity.
In the end, there can be no doubt that Sr. Lúcia was truthful, yet evasive concerning her mystical encounters. The evidence suggests that she also had a habit of hinting at these encounters under certain circumstances. One could attempt to distinguish the statements and ideas originating from Our Lady from those of Sr. Lúcia. If this can be accomplished, there must be good cause to do so. It seems best to take at face value what Sr. Lúcia has said about Our Lady’s call and not try to read between the lines.
[i] Dr. Antonio Maria Martins, S.J., Memórias e cartas de Irmã Lúcia. (Porto, Portugal: Simão Guimarães, Filhos, LDA, 1973), 365. Hereafter Memórias e cartas de Irmã Lúcia followed by page number.
[ii] The question of why Cardinal Bertone claimed that Sr. Lúcia told him that she, not Our Lady, set the date will not be discussed here. The reader is deferred to chapter four of my book On the Third Part of the Secret of Fátima.
[iii] Carmelo de Santa Teresa – Coimbra, Um caminho sob o olhar de Maria: Biografia da Irmã Lúcia de Jesus e do Coração Imaculado, O.C.D. (Coimbra, Portugal: Edições Carmelo, 2013). Hereafter Um caminho sob o olhar de Maria followed by page number.
[iv] Um caminho sob o olhar de Maria, 266.
[v] Ibid., 274.
[vi] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Message of Fatima. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000), 29. Hereafter referred to as The Message of Fatima followed by page number.
[vii] For an example of a similar scene in Sr. Lúcia’s own life, see Um caminho sob o olhar de Maria, 275-276. I am going by a memory I have of the film referenced above.
[viii] Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, The Last Secret of Fatima. (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 30. Bertone himself admitted that he is “not tremendous” in Spanish and Portuguese and Sr. Lúcia did not know Italian. He states that the conversation was “perfectly intelligible” but were there subtle nuances that were not caught?
[ix] General Audience of January 19, 1972 (The Teachings of Pope Paul VI: 1972. [Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1973], 12).
[x] Ibid., 59.
[xi] The Message of Fatima, 8-9; Um caminho sob o olhar de Maria, 203-204; 416.
[xii] The Message of Fatima, 8-9. I have taken the liberty of replacing a phrase that was omitted in the Vatican’s transcription of the text. For some discussion on this omission, see my book, On the Third Part of the Secret of Fátima (St. Louis, Missouri: En Route Books and Media, 2017), 202-203 (footnote 51). Hereafter On the Third Part of the Secret of Fátima followed by page number.
[xiii] Cf. The Message of Fatima, 39.
[xiv] The Church’s norms on private revelation from 1978 reflect this fact (Normae S. Congregationis, I:A:b:1): <http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19780225_norme-apparizioni_en.html> (Accessed 7 February, 2018).
[xv] On the Third Part of the Secret of Fátima, 103-119.
[xvi] Cf. The Message of Fatima, 39.
[xvii] Cf. On the Third Part of the Secret of Fátima, 322-327.
[xviii] Cf. chapter 13 of Um caminho sob o olhar de Maria.
[xix] Cf. Normae S. Congregationis, I:B:b.