“Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High! .. the Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications”
– the Angel of Fatima, 1916
The events of Fatima did not begin in May 1917, but in the Spring of 1916, more than a year before the appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary. During that year, an Angel appeared to the children on three successive occasions. The Angelic appearances were designed to prepare the children for the great mission which the Lady of the Rosary would later give them; these appearances would serve to develop within Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, a sense of the divine and a great love of prayer and sacrifice – all of which would be required later on. And so, from the earliest days of the events at Fatima, the themes of prayer and penance were already forming a core element of what would eventually become the Message of Fatima, developed by the Blessed Virgin.
The Angel of Peace appeared to the children in the Spring of 1916, teaching them how to pray with great reverence; the prayer he taught them had as it’s foundation the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, so-called because these particular virtues relate directly to God Himself;
“My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You.”
As well as these virtues, the prayer had as it’s focus both the adoration of God and supplication for those who do not adore Him; in other words, the prayer had a distinct reparative focus.
Appearing again to the children during the summer, the Angel told them –
“Pray! Pray very much! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High! Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.”
What is clear from these first two appearances is that the Angel focussed on our primary duty – to love and adore God; and then on our secondary duty – to love our neighbour as ourself. And, as pointed out by the Angel, we can do this by offering prayers and sacrifices on behalf of our neighbour. This is an echo of the words of the Lord in the Gospel when asked what is the greatest commandment.
The third appearance of the Angel, in the autumn of 1916, reminds us very explicitly to Whom we are offering our prayers and sacrifices, and the reasons for doing so. The Angel taught the children this prayer –
“Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly and I offer You the most precious Blody, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the Tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And, through the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners”.
Now we have come to the crux of the matter. God, Who is entirely deserving and desirous of our love and adoration, is not always loved and adored; and He is particularly mistreated in the Holy Eucharist – sometimes through direct actions, and at other times through sheer indifference. And because of this, the Lord seeks reparation from us – not only for our own sins, but for the sins of others. He desires that we atone and ask Him for the grace of conversion for sinners – mindful always that we, too, are sinners who are in need of on-going conversion.
In case there was any uncertainty about what was being sought, the Angel then gave the children Holy Communion, telling them as he did so –
“Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men and women. Repair their crimes and console your God”.
Writing about all of this many years later, Sister Lucia offered her reflections on this part of the Message of Fatima, and especially the theme of offering sacrifices on behalf of sinful humanity –
“Sacrifice is the bulwark of our prayer, it is the power that sustains it. First, the sacrifice of ourselves, of our illegitimate pleasures, the renunciation of our sinful appetites derived from our sensuality, egoism, self-indulgence, ambition. Then, the sacrifices voluntarily accepted and sought in order to offer them to the Lord as a humble offering of our love and gratitude. It is to this prayer and these sacrifices that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive, in order to carry them to the Father, as the on-going fruit of His redeeming work, for the salvation of the whole of humanity”.
When we think about it carefully, these words provide something of a masterclass on what the Second Vatican Council would later refer to as ‘the universal call to holiness’ – a theme echoed by all of our recent Popes. It also gives us very clear directives on how best to respond to the overall Message of Fatima given by the Blessed Virgin. During Her appearances in 1917, She would tell us about the results of doing as She requested – and She would also warn us about the effects of not heeding Her requests.
‘Sacrifice’ is a word that often scares us – how on earth can we make sacrifices? Of what should they consist? For all of us, the most fundamental form of sacrifice is our acceptance of our daily duty. This will be different for each of us, depending upon our state in life; but the lives of so very many Saints show us that our daily duty is the simplest path to true sanctity, for it contains all we need to become holy.
One great example of this is Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who lived a perfectly ordinary life within an enclosed convent doing ‘nothing very much’ (as some of her fellow sisters described it) – and yet, doing all things, even the least, with great love of God and of souls. By doing so, she developed her ‘Little Way’ and became a great Saint. So can we.
Our acceptance of our daily duty, carried out with great love in even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant of acts, is the way of holiness. Some of us will be called to do great things, certainly – but most will be called to do very little things, but we must do them with great love. Remember those three theological virtues of faith, hope and love; and the greatest of them is love. At the end of our lives, love is what we will be judged on, as the Saints remind us. God desires that we show our love for Him and for our neighbour, as the Lord tells us in the Gospel.
Another way of describing our embrace of daily duty is encapsulated in some other words of the Lord which we read in the Gospel –
“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mt.16:24).
Is this not the embrace of our daily duty? Is this not what made the little Thérèse so great? Is it not precisely the secret of how Jacinta and Francisco advanced so greatly in sanctity in such a very short time, and were raised to the honours of the Altar despite their very tender ages? Is it not the very example lived out by Sister Lucia from the days in the Cova to her death in Carmel in 2005? Is it not, then, exactly what is asked of us, too? Like these holy ones, we should continually and faithfully take up the little crosses which form our daily duty, as this provides us with a means to great sanctity.
Pope Francis comments on this idea at some length in his beautiful document ‘Gaudete Et Exsultate’ (‘On The Call To Holiness In Today’s World’). In this, he speaks not only about ‘the Saints who encourage and accompany us’ but also about ‘the saints next door’. We are all called to be those ‘saints next door’. The Holy Father gives us excellent examples of ways of achieving this even in the midst of the most ordinary and mundane of lives – the same lives that many of us lead day after day.
The Message of Fatima, begun by the Angel in 1916, then developed and refined by the Mother of God in 1917, and lived out heroically by the children of Fatima as an example for all of us, is addressed to each and every one of us.
How, then, will we respond to this Message?