Praying with apparitions

This is the second in a six-part series exploring the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, 100 years ago. Future installments will run the first issue of every month through October.

The theme of prayer is central to the Fatima apparitions, and, indeed, a variety of prayers arose from the supernatural visions received by the three shepherd children. Several of those prayers are now a treasured portion of many of the faithful’s prayer life. It’s noteworthy in this Fatima centenary year to take a look at aspects of the Faith that some of these prayers emphasize as well as what some of these prayers teach us.

The Pardon Prayer

In the prefatory visits of the angel at Fatima, several prayers were taught to the shepherd children, the first of which is the Pardon Prayer: “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love thee! I beg pardon for all those that do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love thee.”

The prayer fosters an expression of the three theological virtues — faith, hope and charity. These virtues “dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1812). This prayer at the onset of the Fatima apparitions indicates our desire to advance in our participation of the divine life. While these apparitions add nothing new to the Faith, Fatima can offer much assistance in our Christian journey. As Pope Benedict XVI noted during a 2010 visit to Fatima, the “Blessed Mother came from heaven, offering to implant in the hearts of all those who trust in her the love of God burning in her own heart.”

The context of the prayer also is helpful for our consideration. Fatima’s apparitions came as many nations were engaged in World War I — the result of a lack of recognition of God’s love in the hearts of many. Mary’s message is in continuity with the message of all of Scripture: When we allow God’s love in our hearts, God blesses us.

The Decade Prayer

The Decade Prayer, called such because Our Lady instructed its recitation at the end of each decade of the Rosary after the Glory Be, is very much part of the lexicon of Catholic prayers today. The Blessed Mother proposed its use after the children received a vision of hell during her third apparition at Fatima on July 13, 1917. That vision and this prayer can be said to focus on two realities: love of God and love of neighbor. After all, these two themes are at the heart of her Son’s teaching, in the greatest commandment (see Mt 22:34-40, Mk 12:28-34, Lk 10:25-28).

Legitimate love for God stirs within our hearts a true sorrow for those times we have damaged our relationship with him through sin. Likewise, our love for God leads us to love our neighbor, which is possible only when we truly want their good and take the initiative to help procure it. The greatest love we can have for our neighbor — the greatest good we can desire for them — is the gift of eternal life. In many ways the Decade Prayer is an expression of the greatest commandment. It leads us to desire holiness more than anything else for ourselves and others. And this desire must be met resolutely with rejection of the devil and his attempts to lure us from God.

The Rosary

Although the Rosary had been in use for more than a millennium, it is the one prayer that Mary spoke about at each of the six apparitions to the shepherd children at Fatima.

On May 13, at the first apparition, Our Lady asked that the children devote their lives to the Blessed Trinity. She then requested them to “pray the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war,” a request she renewed at each apparition. This request presents several noteworthy observations.

First, why the Rosary? Recall that Mary is speaking to little children with little education. Her apparition to them is iconic of the reality that the Gospel is offered to all people, regardless of their academic abilities. This message is exemplified by the simple and memorizable nature of the Rosary; reading is not required.

Why does Mary ask us to pray the Rosary daily? It takes faithfulness and commitment. Many people acknowledge that as much as they might try, there are days they forget or become too busy to pray. Commitment is an essential quality for any follower of the Lord. The kingdom of God should be our utmost concern — consider the parable of the pearl of great price (see Mt 13:45-46).

Why the daily Rosary and not daily Mass? The Rosary can be prayed anywhere at any time. A priest or church is not needed. Many people will even turn to using their fingers if they do not have the blessed beads of a rosary at their disposal. Moreover, Mary would never request anything more than what God and the Church already expect of us (i.e., the Sabbath).

While it’s meant to be a simple prayer, accessible to all regardless of ability or place, the Rosary also has catechetical and evangelizing components. In many ways the Rosary presents the Gospel in miniature. As Pope Blessed Paul VI taught, the Rosary is “a Gospel prayer.” In meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, the life of Christ and the unfolding of salvation is made known to us. This is one reason that it’s helpful to pray the Rosary with our children.

Meditating on the mysteries, we are drawn into contemplation of Christ himself. Our ordinary human experiences find resonance in Christ’s joys and sorrows. This encounter with the Lord leads us to experience the luminous power of his life and the glory we hope to attain.

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In contemplating Mary, hope is nurtured by knowing that God, rewarding trust and obedience, works through the poor and lowly and bestows abundant life upon them. Mary is egotism’s opposite in her request to pray the Rosary. The purpose of the prayer is consonant with her life’s goal — to bring us to her Son.

World peace is the conclusion of Mary’s request to pray the Rosary daily. Peace comes through Christ, the Son of God who entered human flesh to model for humanity how we are to live. We cannot achieve peace on our own, for we need God’s grace. When our lives are rooted in faith, hope and charity, and when we seek to emulate Christ in our thoughts, words and deeds, we are daily choosing to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14). Then the peace of Christ that resides in the human heart will extend through ripples of transformation to all the world.

The Rosary is a potent tool for us. The late archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis E. George, called the Rosary “a powerful prayer because it helps us identify our lives with those of the Lord and his Blessed Mother.”

When we identify our lives with Christ and his Mother — when we allow God to reign in our hearts — we are learning to live in God’s realm. And it’s then, and only then — when God reigns over every human heart — that true peace will be known.

Michael R. Heinlein is editor of OSV’s The Catholic Answer. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael.

Prayer of Pope Francis at Fatima
Pope Francis prayed in the Little Chapel of the Apparitions in Fatima on May 12. The following is an excerpt from his prayer: