Apparitions are a hot topic among Traditionalists. I have, unfortunately, seen the exaltation of private revelation over public revelation too many times to count. Rather than study what the Church teaches (in public revelation which ended with the death of the Apostle St. John in 100 AD), they seek to quibble over what Our Lady of (fill-in-the-blank) is alleged to have said to the seer (private revelation). Note well that the term "private revelation" has nothing to do with the number of people who witnessed the revelation, but rather that it never needs to be accepted as authentic, unlike the Deposit of Faith which comes to us from Christ and the Apostles (deemed "public revelation"). As a matter of fact, in the comments section of one of my posts earlier this year, a person accused me of sin/heresy for stating that private revelations need not be accepted!
I will attempt to demonstrate Church teaching on apparitions, and how we must not let devotion to them (even when approved by Holy Mother Church), obfuscate what is really of the Faith. The apparitions most talked about involve the appearances of the Mother of God, Mary.
Apparitions, Visions, and Their Causes
In Catholic theology, "visions" (when authentic) are of an internal nature; i.e., God produces a concept or image in the seer without anything external to the person. An "apparition" (when authentic) occurs when God causes something external to the person to be seen through the senses--it is usually, but not necessarily---seen by people present other than the seer. Notice I mention authentic visions and apparitions, because in the words of theologian Farges, "True visions are rare, but visionaries are legion ..." (See Farges, Mystical Phenomena,Burns, Oates and Washbourne, London, , pg. 323). All apparitions are caused by one of three things, God, people, or demons.
People who see authentic apparitions (i.e. "seers") are usually children, because of their innocence and due to the fact that visions usually occur in the saintly to whom God can act more directly on the soul as they have grown close to the Almighty. According to Farges, "Amongst sinners ... visions are always very rare, and therefore must always seem suspect and attributable to illusion or the devil, unless there is a proof to the contrary." Since most of us adults in the world fall into "the sinner" category, it follows that apparitions that come from God are very rare. From the sixteenth century until the Great Apostasy at Vatican II, only nine (9) apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary have been approved as "worthy of belief" by the Church.
The vast majority of "seers" are either charlatans or have mental illness. Hallucinations, whether from schizophrenia, drugs/alcohol, brain tumors, or highly suggestible states, comprise most false apparitions. Mass hysteria, whereby a group of people exhibit similar physical or emotional symptoms, can manifest itself in shipwrecked people all apparently seeing a rescue ship, and can equally explain how some people "see" what the false seers "see." Some, such as in Medjugorje, are perpetrated by individuals who never cease to have these so-called apparitions. They even operate an online store and pilgrimages costing thousands of dollars "not including tips" to the tour guides of the numerous "holy places." A sure case of charlatan-ism.
In discussing the diabolic origin of some apparitions, it is important to know what demons and Satan can and cannot do. They cannot:
- Raise the dead, since this would entail allowing the soul back into the body after final judgement by God. God can suspend such judgement and raise the dead (Lazarus, etc.), but Satan and his demons cannot. They can make it appear as such, perhaps by allowing a demon into the corpse, but this is doubtful.
- Create anything, because substances can only be created by God.
- Know the future or read minds. According to theologian Delaporte, the devil does not know the future as God does. However, "A pure spirit, not subjected to ...know only through the medium of corporeal organs, sees more things at once, and sees more than we do. He may, besides, thanks to his potent intelligence and long experience draw better from the present, what he knows by conjecture of the future. Finally, he may announce things he counts on accomplishing himself, or having accomplished by those who willingly receive his inspiration." (The Devil pg. 70).Therefore, Satan can "know the future" and "read minds" in that sense. However, he does not know the future as God does, and is not infallibly sure of what will transpire, unlike God Who is omniscient.
- Produce corporeal or imaginative visions.
- Falsify ecstasy.
- Instantaneously cure sicknesses that have been caused by diabolical influence. Tertullian writes, "First of all, they [the demons] make you ill; then to get a miracle out of it, they prescribe remedies either completely novel, or contrary to those in use, and thereupon withdrawing hurtful influence, they are supposed to have wrought a cure." (Apology of the Christian Religion, 22)
- Simulate miracles (i.e. walking on water, levitation, etc.)
- Make people or objects seem to disappear by interfering with a person's sight
- Cause a person to hear sounds or voices.
- Cause a person to speak in tongues.
- Have someone reveal a fact which is hidden or distant.
Whatever nature or science can cause, the demons can cause, according to what God may permit by His Will. (See e.g., the Book of Job, and Exodus 7:11-12; 7:22; 8:7; 8:18-19; 9:11 N.B. The magicians of Pharaoh were able to replicate only some of what was done by Moses and Aaron). With this impressive arsenal, it wouldn't be too hard for demonic forces to produce an apparition.
How to Discern the Real from the False/Evil
My advice is to stay away from apparitions other than the nine approved by the Church since the 16th century and prior to Vatican II. There are six (6) "warning signs" you need to beware when hearing of an "apparition" of Our Lady, Our Lord, or any angel or saint. In the case of the first warning sign below, it is a clear indication that the apparition is a fraud and must be rejected, as God cannot contradict Himself; He is Truth itself. The second warning sign below means the apparition should be rejected, or you may wind up a heretic. Warning signs three through six indicate you should have (at the very least) suspended judgement regarding said apparition. Here are the warning signs:
1. Any apparition that states something against Traditional Faith and/or morals must be rejected as false. (e.g. Palmar de Troya declared Our Lady "Irredeemed"; meaning "not redeemed." This is a total misunderstanding of the Immaculate Conception and rank heresy.)
2. Any apparition that states something contrary to the unanimous (or even common) teaching of the approved pre-Vatican II theologians.
3. A fulfilled prophesy being claimed as automatic proof of authenticity. Demons could be responsible.
4. Apparitions that contain mundane (and even strange) matters (e.g. in one apparition, it was stated that the so-called Blessed Mother "played hide-n-seek" with the seers).
5. Apparitions where novel doctrines (not incompatible with Church teaching) are introduced, a definitive date is given (or strongly suggested) for the Second Coming, or the "Blessed Mother" either "blesses" objects or demands that only un-blessed sacramentals be brought to the site (as was the case regarding the "apparitions" in Bayside, NYC).
6. The seer is neither a child nor an adult known for great sanctity and mental stability. Also where the apparitions never end, and there is profit to be made by the "prophet" (think: "Medjugorje").
Tried and True
Rather than obsess over unapproved apparitions (and we have no hierarchy with authority to approve new apparitions since 1958 when the last known pope, Pius XII died) stick to the nine major apparitions that have the solemn approbation of Church authority:
1. Our Lady of Guadalupe (1531): The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared four times to Juan Diego in 1531 at Tepeyac hill near Mexico City. She proclaimed herself the Spiritual Mother of all humanity and left her miraculous image on Juan Diego's outer garment, his tilma.
2. Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (1830): The Mother of God appeared to St. Catherine Labouré, in the chapel of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, at Rue du Bac in Paris, three times in 1830. She showed her the design of the the medal of the Immaculate Conception, the "Miraculous Medal." This medal, when propagated, helped to renew devotion to Our Lady throughout the world.
3. Our Lady of La Salette (1846): Our Blessed Mother appeared to two children, Maximin Giraud, aged 11, and Mélanie Calvat, aged 14, in 1846, while they were looking after their animals high up on the mountain. She asked for penance, an end to work on the Sabbath (Sunday), and an end to blasphemy.
4. Our Lady of Lourdes (1858): The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous, aged 14, a total of eighteen times at Lourdes in southern France, at the Grotto of Massabielle. She called herself "The Immaculate Conception" as Heaven's delight in (and affirmation of) Pope Pius IX's infallible decree Ineffabilis Deus of December 8, 1854 defining the Immaculate Conception of the BVM a dogma of the Faith. A miraculous well sprung up there, and has been the occasion of many miraculous cures.
5. Our Lady of Hope (1871): Our Lady appeared in the sky over the small town of Pontmain in north-western France to a group of young children for about three hours in January 1871, as the Franco-Prussian war was threatening the area. Slowly, a message appeared beneath her: "But pray, my children. God will hear you in time. My Son allows Himself to be touched." The crowd prayed and the Prussians, for reasons unknown to secular historians, abandoned their advance on the little town. The Prussian general is reported as having said, "We cannot go farther. Yonder, in the direction of Brittany, there is an invisible 'Madonna' barring the way."
6. Our Lady of Knock (1879): The Blessed Mother appeared at Knock, a small village in County Mayo, Ireland, in August 1879. A number of villagers of diverse ages saw a silent apparition, which lasted about three hours, outside the gable end of the local church. They saw three figures, Mary, St. Joseph, and St John the Apostle, as well as a lamb on an altar and angels. Many speculate the silence of the apparition was to show the future silencing of Fatima as well as the destruction of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
7. Our Lady of Fatima (1917): Our Blessed Mother appeared to three children, Lucia de Santos, aged 10, and her two cousins, Francisco Marto, aged 9, and Jacinta Marto, aged 7. Our Lady asked for recitation of the Rosary, prayers and penance for poor sinners, the Five Saturdays Devotion to Her Immaculate Heart, and the consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart. There were three secrets given (one never revealed in 1960 by Roncalli), and a Miracle of the Sun witnessed by thousands.
8. Our Lady of Beauraing (1932-1933): The Immaculate Mother of God appeared thirty-three (33) times to a group of children in the winter of 1932-33 at Beauraing in Belgium. She called herself "the Immaculate Virgin" and "Mother of God, Queen of Heaven," while asking for prayers for the conversion of sinners.
9. Our Lady of Banneux (1933): The Ever-Virgin Mary appeared eight times to Mariette Beco, aged 11, outside the family home at Banneux, a small village, in Belgium. She called herself "The Virgin of the Poor" and promised to help the poor, sick and suffering who turn to her. She said, "If you believe in me, I will believe in you."
No one must believe in any apparition; even those approved by the Church. If you have a devotion to an approved apparition, please do NOT let it become some kind of "dogma," and do not waste valuable time and energy debating with others over the "true meaning." Instead, read the approved theologians and learn about what the Church really teaches, since we live in this time of near universal apostasy. As far as "new" apparitions, my advice is to stay away. Some are obvious frauds (Medjugorje, Bayside) and others are highly dubious because we have no hierarchy in the aftermath of Vatican II which can make a definitive judgement. Don't let a dangerous curiosity of the spectacular detract from your spiritual life. The next time someone wants you to read about "the true meaning" of an apparition, or believe in some alleged new apparition of Our Lady or Our Lord, remember the warning of Our Savior Jesus Christ Himself, "If therefore they shall say to you: Behold he is in the desert, go ye not out: Behold he is in the closets, believe it not." (St. Matthew 24: 26).