The Significance of the Eucharist in the Apparitions at Fatima

Introduction.
One hundred years ago in May of 1917, Our Lady began a series of apparitions to three Portuguese children named Lucia Santos, Francisco Marto, and Jacinta Marto in the village of Fatima. In the very first apparition, Mary gave the children an experience of God’s grace in the form of a light so intense that they then referenced the Trinity and the Eucharist in the prayer, “O most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the Most Blessed Sacrament.”1 Our Lady’s apparitions, however, were prefaced by three earlier visits to the children by the Angel of Portugal, the Angel of Peace. His visits, likewise, involved the veneration of the Eucharist and the children’s reception of Holy Communion. Thus, the apparitions of Our Lady to the children of Fatima were rooted in the Eucharist. Why is this so?

Nearly fifty years earlier, in May of 1868, St. Peter Julian Eymard, the founder of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers and an authority on the Eucharist, gave the title of “Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament” to Mary. In reflecting upon the meaning of this title, he said, “It was her consent to the Incarnation of the Word in her womb that inaugurated the great mystery of reparation to God and union with us which Jesus accomplished during His mortal life, and He continues in the Eucharist.”2 Through her free consent in the words “let it be done to me according to your words” (fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum) [Lk 1:38], Mary entered into a covenantal union with her Lord and gave the Word of God an immaculate dwelling place for His incarnation, for His presence in the world. St. Peter Julian recognized that this incarnate presence began at Mary’s acceptance of her Lord’s offer of a covenant and it continues throughout history by His real presence in the Eucharist. Thus, the Eucharist is indeed, as St. Irenaeus said, “the prolongation of the incarnation,” the incarnation begun in the womb of the Lord’s mother. Decades later, St. Pope Pius X (1903-1914), commenting on the relationship between Mary and the Eucharist, stated similarly, “this title, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, is perhaps the most meaningful of all [her titles].”3 It is the most meaningful title because where Mary is, there likewise is her Son ˗˗ be He historically present 2000 years ago or sacramentally present in the Eucharist today. Similarly, the apparitions at Fatima ultimately point to and draw us in a more intimate relationship with Mary’s Son, His real presence in the Eucharist, and the Gospel. Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) made this same point with the statement that “Fatima is a reaffirmation of the Gospel.”4 Given this relationship between Our Lady, Our Lord, and the Eucharist, what do the apparitions at Fatima teach us about our Eucharistic Lord? How do they expound upon and contribute to our understanding of the Eucharist? What is the relationship between the apparitions, the Trinity, the New Covenant and its sacramental manifestation, the Eucharist? And how does an understanding of this relationship strengthen our faith and spiritual lives one hundred years later?

The Apparitions by the Angel and Their Theological Significance.
The first event of Fatima occurred when the Angel of Portugal, the Angel of Peace appeared.5 The Angel addressed the children in a manner similar to that which another angel used in addressing Zechariah, Mary, and the nativity shepherds: “Do not be afraid”(Lk 1:13; see Lk 1:30 and 2:10)6 After he taught them a prayer,7 he said, “The hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.”8 This is a significant statement because the reference to the hearts of Jesus and Mary lays the foundation for our later discussion of covenantal love. In Scripture, the heart is metaphorically regarded as the source of a person’s thoughts, affections, emotions, desires, conscience, character, and actions (see Dt 15:9; Jgs 18:20; Ps 13:6; Mt 12:34; Mk 7:21-23, 11:23; Lk 6:45). The prophet Jeremiah (see 31:31-34) foretells the transition from the Old Covenant where the Law is externally written in stone to the New Covenant where the Law is internalized, accepted, and written on the heart. A person not only does the right thing out of obligation but now he does the right thing for the right reason, out of a sense of responsibility and love. Why a person acts, the motive in a person’s heart, is as important as what he does in those actions.

By mentioning the heart of Jesus, the Angel was referring to the fact that love is the reason why Jesus became incarnate and offered Himself in sacrifice to redeem us. St. John’s Gospel speaks to this issue very beautifully: “Yes, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may not die but may have eternal life….that the world might be saved through Him” (3:16-17) and “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend” (15:13; see I Jn 4:9-10). In respond to her Son’s act of love, Mary gave her entire heart (intellect, will, affections, emotions, character, etc.) over to the service of God’s salvific and redemptive will. With both Jesus and Mary, there is a mutual expression and reception of love, one to the other, with the purest of intentions. In their mutual gift of self to the other, the new covenantal union prophesied by Jeremiah becomes a reality. We too are called to sacrifice our entire selves for the sake of Christian love.

The second apparition built upon the notion of a covenantal union forged in the heart. During this appearance, the Angel spoke to the children about sacrifice, an act of self-denial done in love for the benefit of another: “Pray, pray very much! The most holy hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High.”9 When Lucia asked him how they were to perform sacrifices, he replied, “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.”10 Sacrifice is an essential element in fostering our covenantal union with God. The reason is that we are called to offer ourselves freely to God in response to His prior offer of Himself to us, and self-denial testifies to the depth of our love in making this response. What then is the foundation for this union?

In the first apparition, the Angel gave a hint as to what this foundation might be when he prayed three times, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You.”11 The number three is often understood as a symbolic reference to the Trinity especially in the liturgy. While we cannot say this with certainty, the Angel could have been making this implication here as well. What is certain is that the Trinity is clearly invoked during the third apparition. At that time the Angel revealed a sacred host and chalice and kneeling before them he prayed, “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I offer you the most precious body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ . . . .”12 The Angel did not say this prayer once but three times. He gave the children Holy Communion and then repeated the prayer three more times. When one considers that the Angel appeared three times to the children in 1916, followed by a recitation of this Trinitarian prayer in two sets of three, it is reasonable to conclude that the Trinity has a significant role in the message of Fatima.13

One reason the Trinity has a significant role in the message of Fatima is that it lays the foundation for our understanding of covenantal union mentioned above. God is a union of three persons in one divine nature. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each possess the one divine nature in its fullness. They are all divine yet they are three distinct persons united in one divine nature. What explains their uniqueness is not the nature but how they relate to each other. This means that the Father is Who He is because He comes from nowhere and gives all that He has to the Son. The Son is Who He is because He is eternally from the Father alone and receives all that He has from the Father. The Holy Spirit is Who He is because He comes from the mutual recognition and love eternally expressed between the Father and the Son. In other words, the Father begets by giving all that He has to the Son. The Son is eternally begotten and receives all that He has from the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. To use an analogy from St. Augustine: a) the Father is the Lover; b) the Son is the Beloved, the object of the Father’s love; c) and when the two persons encounter each other, there is an exchange of love, Who is the Holy Spirit. Each person within the Trinity is distinct then because He relates to the other two persons differently.

By involving the Trinity in his encounter with the children, the Angel is reminding us that we are created in the image and likeness of God (see Gen 1:26-27). When God created us, He did so in a manner consistent with His own being. God is a communion of persons and we too are created to be in a communion of persons. We are most like God when we are in covenantal union with another person. Covenantal union is achieved when we give ourselves in sacrifice, freely, completely, and unreservedly to another person. This other person freely, completely, and unreservedly receives the self-donation and then gives himself in a similar sacrificial manner to the other who receives him in love. The result of this mutual self-donation is a covenantal union. The two persons and their covenantal union are analogous to the three persons of the Trinity.14 It is interesting to note here that the Fathers of the Church made a distinction between image and likeness. According to them, we are in the image of God because we are rational (i.e., have an intellect, memory, and will), as He is. We are in the likeness of God when we are in covenantal union with Him.

The Angel then provided an expression of the reality that we are created to be in communion with other persons when he gave the children Holy Communion. In the Eucharist, Jesus Christ presents His entire self (body, blood, soul, and divinity) in sacrifice to the communicant. He loves the communicant so profoundly that He holds back nothing of Himself. He has laid down His whole life for His friends (see Jn 15:13). The communicant receives Christ’s self-donation. He then gives himself in return and, in so doing, strengthens his covenantal union with God. Yet there is a problem. The communicant’s self-donation is not all that it could be because it is marred by sin. It is not totally free, complete, and unreserved. This leads us to the role of Mary.

God the Father sent His Son to give the Holy Spirit. The goal or object of this divine mission was to establish a covenantal union with creation. Through original sin Adam and Eve refused to enter into this covenantal union with God. Yet God’s mission would not be thwarted by human sin. In order to accomplish His goal, God created the New Eve who was preserved from all sin and thus free to enter into covenantal union with His Son. By divine initiative, Mary accepted freely, completely, and unreservedly the offer to embrace her Lord at the moment of the incarnation when she proclaimed, “[L]et it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Through these words from Mary’s heart, the Word of God exists in human form and the New Covenant was established proleptically.

While Jesus and Mary have a perfect union due to the absence of sin in themselves, for the rest of creation sin is still an obstacle to a union with God. As a result, Jesus Christ, the God-Man, took upon Himself the sins of all Adam and Eve’s children (with the exception of Mary). Genesis 2:15-17 tells us that death is a consequence of sin (see Rom 5:12). Since Jesus Christ was sinless, He was not obligated to undergo death. Yet the God-Man freely embraced death because by doing so, He defeated it and its cause, sin. St. Paul expressed it this way, “For our sakes, God made him who did not know sin, to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). With this supreme act of sacrifice, Christ’s laying His life down for His friends (Cf. Jn 15:13), the obstacle of sin was ultimately removed and the New Covenant was made actual.

The New Covenant is manifested to us through the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is mediated sacramentally because we continue to sin. While sin definitely has been defeated by the sacrifice of the Cross, we still have the ability to reject God’s offer of the New Covenant. This ability to sin will remain until the Second Coming of Christ when those who are in covenantal union will be saved and those who are not, will be condemned.

At Fatima, the Angel teaches us that a true covenantal union with God can only be fostered in a sincere heart that proves its love through sacrifice. Such sacrificial love is a reflection of the love that is the triune God. It is a love that is willing to give all that it is and has for the sake of another. It is a love that is willing to receive all that another person gives without reservation or condition. It is a love that also loves the bond itself that is created when the two people give of themselves completely. Such a love should guide the relationships we have with one another. When we receive Holy Communion with the devotion that the Angel exemplified to the children, we should allow the Son, the Beloved of the Father, the Lover, to deepen our love, a love that is given in the Holy Spirit, Who is Love. To love one another in imitation of the Trinity is part of our calling as persons created in the image and likeness of God.

The Apparitions by the Our Lady and Their Theological Significance.
The Angel’s work was preparatory. Now Our Lady would refine and elaborate on the foundation he laid and would strive to draw us deeper into the mystery of New Covenant. All her apparitions, with the exception of the fifth, entailed Lucia’s asking the question, “What do you want of me?” This question is very similar to Our Lady’s fiat mihi. It implies an openness and willingness to do God’s will. Being in covenantal union with God is based on this freedom. The Lord always respects a person’s freedom because there can be no love without true freedom. Once this consent is freely given, then the Lord can establish and strengthen the covenantal bond.15 In the first apparition, Lucia’s consent was even more explicit. She directly stated for herself and for Francisco and Jacinta, “Yes, we are willing.”16 Then, as with Mary at the Annunciation, God rushed into their souls through the power of grace. “Our Lady opened her hands for the first time, communicating to us a light so intense that, as it streamed from her hands, its rays penetrated our hearts and the innermost depths of our souls, making us see ourselves in God, Who was that light, more clearly than we see ourselves in the best of mirrors ” (emphasis added).17

We too need to give our free consent to God in order to have Him reside with us.18 When we are in the state of serious sin, we are not free to have Him reside with us sacramentally through Holy Communion. Serious sin prevents us from being in covenantal union with God. When in this state, we are also not in the likeness of the triune God.19 The consequence of unforgiven serious sin is hell which Our Lady showed to the children in a graphic vision during the fourth apparition. But when we are in the state of grace, we can then respond as the children did to this profound presence of God in their souls. They broke out and prayed to the triune God with these words: “O most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the most Blessed Sacrament.”20

During the second apparition, the children had another experience with “the rays of that same immense light,”21 an experience analogous to the experience we have when we receive Holy Communion and its sacramental grace. This time the context was different. It involved Our Lady telling Lucia that she would have much to suffer and that her Immaculate Heart would be Lucia’s refuge and strength.22 Our Lady was instructing the children in a very important lesson. Being in the presence of God is absolutely essential and reception of the Eucharist is the most profound means to experience His real and substantial presence this side of heaven. Jesus Christ made this point in these words: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:53-54).

Once we have received Our Lord in the Eucharist, more is required. As St. Augustine said centuries earlier, the reception must be made beneficial and fruitful.23 The sacrament must bear fruit in our lives and strengthen our covenantal union with God and others concretely. There are innumerable ways to strengthen the covenantal union and Our Lady delineated specific ways in her apparitions to the children. If the number of repetitions is an indication of importance, Mary asked that the rosary be recited and done so every day in all six of her apparitions. Praying the rosary is truly fitting for the rosary involves an extended meditation on the major events of the Paschal Mystery which led to the establishment of the New Covenant. Mary also developed the Angel’s insistence on the importance of sacrifice. Sacrifice and suffering, as well as recitation of the rosary, must be connected to a higher salvific purpose. These too she delineated. She spoke of offering sacrifices as: a) an act of reparation for sins; b) a supplication for the conversion of sinners (especially those who go to hell because there is no one willing to pray for them) and of Communist Russia; c) a plea to end war and obtain peace; and d) a pardon for sin. It should be noted that the children were asked to do all these things for the benefit of others and, in so doing, they fostered their sanctity. These acts of charity were fitting as well since the Eucharist is ordered to the building up of the entire Mystical Body of Christ. The Eucharist involves the recipient indeed, but it also involves all those who are in covenantal union with God and it works to include those who are not.

In addition, Our Lady reassured the children that while the sacrifices and sufferings would be intense, her Immaculate Heart would be their refuge and “the way that will lead you to God.”24 She also told Lucia that she was to remain on earth after Francesco and Jacinta died in order to establish devotion to her Immaculate Heart. The Angel mentioned the merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary a year before but now Our Lady instructed the children to take refuge in and establish devotion to her Immaculate Heart. Why might this be the case? One possible answer might be what was mentioned above: the heart symbolizes the whole person and in order to enter into the New Covenant most profoundly, a person must give his whole self to God. We continually strive to do so but our sins mar our efforts. The New Covenant, however, has been established between Christ, the New Adam, and Mary, the New Eve. Only Mary can claim to have given herself totally and perfectly to her Lord. She then is the model of the perfect covenantal disciple. Thus, in times of suffering and persecution, we need to seek refuge in and be strengthened by her Immaculate Heart. It is there that we draw on the merits of her perfect discipleship so as to live in the New Covenant more faithfully and boldly.

Summary. The title of “Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament” is indeed a fitting and meaningful title for Mary especially in light of her teaching at Fatima as it pertains to the Eucharist, the sacramental manifestation of the New Covenant. This teaching flows from and elaborates upon her role in the Gospel. It was through her free consent (fiat mihi) that the Word of God was given an incarnate presence in a fallen world. His presence continues today sacramentally through the Eucharist. In order to experience His Eucharistic presence as the children at Fatima did, we should follow Mary’s teaching and example. While she was perfectly sinless when she receives her Lord in the incarnation, we too must be free from serious sin when we receive our Lord in the Eucharist. Covenantal union with God must be based on the free, sinless, gift of self. Once we are in covenantal union with the Lord, once we have received Him in the Eucharist, more is required. The fruits of this union must be applied and made beneficial. At Fatima, Our Lady gave explicit directions on how these fruits were to be applied to others in a spirit of sacrifice. When we act upon these directions, we are living according to the image and likeness of God in Whom we are created. We are loving as the three persons of the Trinity love. While the Angel of Peace laid the foundation for this understanding of covenantal union with God, Our Lady is the perfect human expression of it because her consent and self-gift were not marred by the effects of sin. At Fatima, she shared this expression with us so that we too might achieve the eternal prize. As St. Pope John Paul II put it, “the message [of Fatima] imposes a commitment to her.” May this commitment be as strong one hundred years later as it was with the Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta.25

  1. William Thomas Walsh, Our Lady of Fatima (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1954), 52.
  2. Peter Julian Eymard, “Blessed Peter Julian Eymard’s Reflections on Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament” (salvemariaregina.info).
  3. As quoted in Eymard, “Reflections.”
  4. As quoted in Rev. Robert J. Fox, Rediscovering Fatima, (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1982), 125. In his homily at Fatima on May 13, 1982, Pope John Paul II made a similar statement: “The appeal of Our Lady of Fatima is so deeply rooted in the Gospel and the whole of Tradition that the Church feels that the Message imposes a commitment to her” (w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/it/homilies/1982/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_19820513_fatima.html), 10.
  5.  The reference here is to the 1916 apparitions and not to the three 1915 presages.
  6. Sr. Lucia dos Santos, Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words: Sister Lucia’s Memoirs (Fatima, Portugal: Postulation Centre, 1976), II, 62.
  7. “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You.”
  8.  Santos, II, 62.
  9.  Santos, II, 64.
  10.  Santos, II, 64.
  11.  Santos, II, 64.
  12.  Santos, II, 64.
  13. This conclusion is further supported when one considers Lucia’s vision at Tuy, Portugal on June 13, 1929 where all three persons of the Trinity are present along with Our Lady of Fatima.
  14.  Marriage is an excellent example of this type of union.
  15.  For an infant, consent is given by the parents or godparents at baptism. For an adult, a person who has reached the age of reason, consent is give on his own behalf. If covenantal union is lost after baptism due to a serious sin, the adult gives his consent for its restoration ordinarily through the sacrament of confession. Once restored, covenantal union is strengthened and nourished by reception of the Eucharist. This article is written with an adult Christian in mind.
  16. Santos, IV, 161.
  17. Santos, IV, 161.
  18.  See footnote 15.
  19.  The distinction made by the Fathers of the Church between image and likeness is being employed here. This distinction holds that the “image of God” refers to being rational as God is and the “likeness of God” entails participating in God’s life as a child of God.
  20.  Santos, IV, 161.
  21. Santos, IV, 165.
  22.  Santos, IV, 164-65.
  23.  The reception of the Jesus Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity (the res et sacramentum) remains a mere reception unless it achieves the higher reality to which it is ordered, namely, the fruits of the sacrament (the res tantum).
  24.  Santos, II, 69.
  25.  Homily given at Fatima on May 13, 1982 (Homily given at Fatima on May 13, 1982), 10. An earlier version of this article appeared in the January-March, 2008 edition of Immaculate Heart Messenger.
Dr. Richard Nicholas About Dr. Richard Nicholas

Dr. Richard Nicholas, Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Francis, Joliet, Illinois, has taught at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and at Benedictine College, Atchison, Kansas. Dr. Nicholas earned his Ph.D. in religious studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His research interest is in covenantal theology. This article is his second one for HPR.

Comments

  1. The Law is written in our hearts when we have the Spirit of Christ within us prior to the Eucharist. The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are listed before the Eucharist because of this. Mary said yes to the Incarnation. Why was this also a covenant? Mary had faith and trust in God. An oath or a covenant doesn’t necessarily require faith and trust because it is a verbal agreement. The basis for the New Covenant is God’s oath (see Hebrews 7:21-22). This is the New Covenant. When we surrender ourselves to God and cast all of our care on Him, it is more than a covenantal union, and it is not for reparation of sins that offend God; it is to open us up to peace and strength from the Holy Spirit in order to have power over our sin natures, and to have the capacity for agape love. This is the only self-donation that is possible for us. This is why Christ came into the world. No amount of reparation on our part can give us this power. No amount of imitation of the Trinity brings this power.
    Christ’s Spirit must be in us before we participate in the Eucharist otherwise we are not in the state of sanctifying grace. The Eucharist cannot be a substitute for this. This is not its purpose.
    How could the angel offer the Trinity the most precious body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ? Christ already did that. He offered Himself to the Father and not to us. Then the Father poured out the Spirit of Christ to inhabit us. This brings us the presence of Christ within us and it is what unifies us with each other. Mary could not have had the Pentecost Spirit of her Son before His death and ascension, prior to Pentecost. No one did.

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