14 January 2009

Stopping the Marian madness (Updates)

Question. . .

I just read on the internet that the Holy Father is trying to curb claims about apparitions of the Blessed Mother. What do you think about this?

Answer. . .

Before I can say anything concrete about this story, I will need to read to the actual papal document from the Vatican's own website. Never, never, NEVER trust the media (not even FOXNews) to get a story about Christianity right, especially if the news item is about the Catholic faith. They are invincibly stupid when it comes to telling the simple truth about what we believe as Catholics. Check, check, and triple check again anything they say about the Church.

UPDATE: John Allen has a few more details on this story. Unfortunately, the link takes you the site of the NCR, so have holy water and the Padre Pio Shorter Prayer of Exorcism ready in order to clean your computer of dissenting mal-ware and the infamously destructive McBrien-Chittister Trogan Horse virus. (h/t: Allan).

Now, generally speaking, Marian apparitions are almost always false. . .they are reported by either perfectly wonderful Catholics who truly believe the Blessed Mother is speaking to them, or crackpots with some high priced rosaries to sell, or seriously mentally disturbed individuals in need of pastoral help.

Does the Virgin appear to people and give them messages? It is entirely within the realm of possibility. However, belief in the authenticity of the alleged apparitions and veracity of the alleged messages in no way impinges on the salvation of Catholics. In other words, you can be a perfectly good Catholic, fully redeemed, true, good, and beautiful and never once pay the least bit of attention to any Marian apparition. You can, in fact, actively disbelieve that they occur without eternal consequence.

Why? before any apparition can be considered authentic, the Church--the Body of Christ on earth--must investigate the claims of those allegedly receiving the messages and verify the orthodoxy of the messages. If a message is found to be wanting in terms of its orthodoxy, then we know the message is not from Mary and cannot be held as true. If the message is deemed orthodox, that is, fully in line with the tradition of the Church's teaching on divine revelation, then all Mary is doing is repeating what we already know to be true. If Mary is simply repeating what we already know to be true, then there is no point in claiming that we must all listen to the message. We already have the message.

You will object here and say, "But Father, shouldn't people listen to Mary?" Yes, they should. And she has plenty to say to us in scripture. But not listening to her as an apparition is not going to send you to Hell. Our salvation is determined by one thing and one thing only: the degree to which we freely choose to cooperate in the "once for all" salvific death/gift of Christ on the Cross and his glorious resurrection from the tomb. Nothing an apparition of Mary can say or do can change that.

Well, what about people who find comfort and strength from these apparitions? More power to 'em! Go for it! If an apparition brings you closer to God through Christ and his Church, then I say: buy those place tickets and pack your bags for a trip to see Mary. But you are no more "saved" for going and no less "saved" for staying home. If the Church has declared that a particular apparition is false or the messages delivered are errorenous. then you are obligated to avoid those apparitions. Mary, the woman who said YES to becoming the Mother of God, is the model of ecclesial obedience. She would never tell anyone to disobey those given authority by her Son.

What I have no tolerance for is the false claim that Catholics are required to believe in this or that apparition because the Church has approved the apparition. I was told once that belief in the Fatima message is required for salvation. The only thing the Church says about any Marian apparition is whether or not there is sufficient objective proof that the apparitions are supernatural in origin and whether or not the messages conform to infallible Church teaching. Church approval simply means that it appears as though the apparitions themselves are legitimate and that the messages delivered are free form error. Apparitions that deliver heretical message are ipso facto false. Nothing more can be assumed about this imprimatur.

Scripture, tradition, and right reason clearly teach that there can be no new revelation to the Church. None. If Mary appears and proclaims her Son to be the Messiah and asks all present to pray the rosary, fast, do charitable works. Great. But we already know to do all of that. If she appears and proclaims herself to be the Messiah and asks those present to start consecrating bread and wine to become her body and blood for our salvation, it's Satan, lying to them. There was a Marian cult in the U.S. a few years back that actually celebrated "Marian Masses" where the priest "changed" bread and wine in the body and blood of Mary in imitation of the real Mass. He and his cultists would take a "Marian communion" after the regular, sacramental communion. Some of my own Dominican brothers were involved in preaching the gospel to these people and bringing them back into the Church.

Mary herself was no doubt upset at this blasphemy againstg he Son.

No new revelation. Not from a priest. Not from a bishop. Not from a pope. Not from a angel. Not from the Mother of God herself.


  1. I would add "Not from an Angel" :-)

  2. yes but I really wanted that grilled cheese sandwhich!!


    honest to goodnesss miracles seem much fewer than "claims" of miracles. My question is WHY? Beyond the sucker born every minute and 2 born to take em theory that is.

  3. Anonymous10:12 AM

    I believe the highest level of approbation the Church gives to private revelation is "Worthy of Belief", which suggests caution in how we approach even the most reputable events.

    I find a lot of Catholics take the Rick-Warren-esque perspective of "Don't criticize what God is blessing", which is folly for him and for us.

  4. Anonymous11:10 AM

    One thing that concerns me about some modern apparitions that have not yet been studied and found to be worthy of belief (or not) by the Church is the emotionalism surrounding them. I've been told that this or that one must be true because the speaker felt a great spiritual connection to the site during a visit, or that a rosary turned to gold and this proves the apparition. It's possible to feel a spiritual connection to something that is unorthodox/misleading. It is also possible for a rosary chain made of base metal to discolor from use. I wouldn't call a color changing rosary gold unless I had had the metal assayed to determine it really was gold. Likewise, I would be very uncomfortable visiting a apparition site and making a judgment based on how I feel about it. I would rather wait for the Church to decide.

  5. RBH,

    I couldn't agree more. One of my concerns with all devotional practices is how easily some use them to undermine the established liturgies of the Church.

    Fatima, Lourdes, etc. are all good and holy places. But the holiest place to be is in your parish, Sunday morning, with your family at Mass.

    The emotionalism is deeply rooted in our sacramental nature and in celebrating God's presense at these sites, we sometimes quickly forget that God is at all sites, all the time...most especially in a unique way in the Blessed Sacrament.

  6. or that a rosary turned to gold

    And if one did, so what?

    I'm not being flip; I agree 110% with Fr. Philip's post.

    We also know that there are principalities and powers which can turn rosaries to gold.

    However, without the "OK" from the local Bishop, it means nothing.

  7. Plus since we are to "test every spirit" this only makes sense.

    But when a story from the British press comes out on the Church we can be even more skeptical until we see the document.

  8. Father,

    The official statements often say something like "find no evidence of supernatural activity."

    Would not the appearance of Mary be a preternatural, not a supernatural event? Would not a supernatural event be something like Juan Diego's tilma and roses, rather than the appearance of Mary?

    I have wondered about this for some time.


  9. John Allen has a relatively sane report about the British press report of this from the otherwise insane NCR.

  10. "It is also possible for a rosary chain made of base metal to discolor from use."

    I've had this happen to me. Apparently many rosary chains are made of cheaper allows like brass and then nickel-plated to make them shiny.

  11. Odd. Sometimes things just coincide. Just yesterday I posted a photo from an alleged Marian apparition. Do I believe it? Well...better to state in the negative. I don't disbelieve it. For me it's like evolution -- I don't disbelieve it, but I'm not exactly betting the farm on it either.

    I don't really have any more to add - I just wanted to point out the coincidence.

    God Bless,

  12. Anonymous9:22 PM

    Oh man, you know my feelings on stuff like this. So many decent Catholics get lured in by things that won't ultimately help them in their journey of theosis. The "Apostalate of Holy Motherhood" drives me absolute batty, and I've seen Catholic women calling eachother out for not living it well enough. Just not good. Not good at all. Of course I believe in the mystical. I just tend to distrust a lot of the quasi private apparitions that spring up.

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  14. Having skimmed through the actual news story from CNS, it sounds to me like a fairly minor but definitely need direction to the Bishops.

    Real apparitions will be judged according to their fruits. However, all of the these "Virgin in a window" and "Virgin on a tortilla" episodes are another issues.

    I can probably Google up at least 25 people in the USA who claim to be having apparitions or locutions.

    The Vatican seems to be encouraging the Bishops to be more aggressive in educating the faithful and encouraging proper discernment (i.e.; discouraging undiscerning cult like emotionalism).

    Thanks be to God

    Paul in the GNW

  15. Aspiring,

    One of the things that simply infuriates me about the media, especially in the UK, when they report on the Pope and other things Catholic, is the consitent use of terms that paint the H.F. and the Church as angry, violent, physically abusive Father...you never see a headline that reads: "Pope Charitably Teaches the truth of Christian marriage" No, it's always: "Former Vatican Inquisitor Lashes Out in Condemnation of Marriage Alternatives."

    Ya know, with all that lashing out and cracking down and squashing dissent, the Pope must one solid block of papal muscle.

  16. Mark,

    I have always used supernatural and preternatural interchangeably.

    Here's the entry for preternatural in the Etymology Dictionary Online:

    1580, from M.L. preternaturalis (c.1255), from L. phrase præter naturam (præterque fatum) "beyond nature (and beyond fate)," from præter "beyond" (see preterite) + acc. of natura "nature" (see natural).

    Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper

    Almost all of the other dictionaries I consulted listed the two as synonyms.

  17. Aspiring,

    When the document is published by the Vatican I will post on it.

    Knowing how to navigate the Vatican website should be considered a sign of future martyrdom.

    I just click and search until I find what I need.

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  19. Anonymous1:23 AM

    thanks for this, Father... the holiest place to be is in your parish, Sunday morning, with your family at Mass

  20. Aspiring,

    Your take on emotion is correct. We are "rational animals," that is, animals who are gifted with reason so we can deliberate. Since the higher should always govern the lower, reason should govern emotion. This does NOT mean that we are supposed to be Christian Vulcans. It does mean that we are acting most humanely when we act out of our reason rather than our emotion.

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  22. Anonymous6:47 PM

    Speaking about "emotionalism", do you know what has always bothered me? Remember when the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux were "touring" the United States? People became fanatical about it. I thought to myself, "Here we have Our Lord, truly present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, in tabernacles in every Catholic Church, and these people are going nuts about some bones of a mere mortal" (even if she is a saint).


  23. I have a coworker who is an avid follower of Fr Gruner, even going so far as to calling him a 'modern day martyr' because the Church is not on his side. When he told me that not believing in the message from Fatima would put my salvation at risk, I told him "I have a better chance of getting to heaven in disbelieving Fatima than you do for following Gruner." It probably wasn't the most charitable thing to say, but I got my point across.

    Needless to say, we don't talk anymore about that subject.

  24. Larry, et al...

    I've been told more than once that believing in Fatima and Medjugorje are the only signs that a Catholic is truly Catholic. This is utter nonsense, of course, but people get so enmeshed in the whole experience of the apparitions that they forget the basics...it's like ignoring the turkey and stuffing and eating only the gravy!

    I've also been told that the only way to save the world is for all Catholics to wear brown scapulars.

    It's these sorts of Pelagian practices that hand the fuel to anti-Catholic bigots.

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  26. Father Philip,
    Thanks for this post. If I can add to those who already commented on the emotional aspect of devotions, Marian apparitions; I have several aquaintances that have very strong Marian devotion and that's wonderful. However their extreme emotion over it always unnerves me a bit. The "warm-fuzzies" of spiritual consolation are nice, but not necessary and probably not even something we should ask for. All Mary wants to do is lead us to her Son. Those are the things we should look for. Please don't misunderstand- I am not trying to put down Marian devotions or Mary. I pray my Rosary every day and I love our Lady. I know I repeated a lot of what was already said. I just wanted to add to it. Thanks.

  27. What I have no tolerance for is the false claim that Catholics are required to believe in this or that apparition because the Church has approved the apparition. I was told once that belief in the Fatima message is required for salvation.

    A follower of Fr. Gruner, right? I would contend that in elevating Fatima to a dogma, they have separated themselves from the Church.

  28. Anonymous4:32 PM

    Some people define themselves by the narrow field of what differentiates them from everyone else. Thus, some Catholics hold only those things that only Catholics believe to be the true mark of a Catholic.

    I have a tendency to do this myself: To poo-poo an idea just because Protestants wouldn't mind it.