What is the significance of the apparitions at Lourdes and other places? What is the meaning of Marian apparitions in general?

In our world of rationalism and secularism, of materialism and consumerism, God and the supernatural realm seem far removed from most people. Yet He continues to intervene in human history by sending the mother of Jesus when the Christian faith is challenged and under attack.

The human family needs to be reminded, sometimes in a dynamic and supernatural way, that God exists, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a universal call to goodness and holiness, that we are all responsible before our Maker for our choices.

Apparitions are a wake-up call for a corporate examination of conscience about how well we may be responding to God’s manifold invitations to personal salvation and world peace. So how are we responding to Him?

Private Revelation

The Church is necessarily both cautious and open in the matter of private revelation. She must discern what is false. And she must avoid the risk of losing credibility as the guardian of public revelation by too hastily confirming a reported private revelation or apparition.

Yet we can clearly observe the abundant blessings of Mary’s action in private revelation. Her appearance is a heaven-sent reminder, an invitation to the world to live the Gospel fully and to assist the Church in its continuing mission of evangelization.

What would the 16th century have been without Guadalupe? Or the 19th and 20th centuries without the Miraculous Medal revealed at Rue de Bac in Paris, without Lourdes, without Fátima? We can thank God for the tremendous graces and blessings that result from authentic apparitions of Mary.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms, the purpose of private revelation is never to replace public revelation contained in Scripture and Tradition. Rather, the goal of authentic private revelation is to “help people live out their faith more fully” (Glossary; see No. 67). It accentuates the challenge of the Gospel to prayer, penance, fasting and conversion, which lead to peace of heart and the peace of all human societies.

In contemporary times we have seen more apparitions approved than in any other era of Church history. What does this say about our individual and communal faithfulness and relationship to God? If true Marian apparitions are on the increase, perhaps our age is in greater need of encouragement to live generously the Christian life.

Recall the words of Pope St. John XXIII about Lourdes in 1959: “Listen attentively to the salutary warnings of the Mother of God, who seeks to guide us in our conduct.”

Mother and Son

Pope St. John Paul II taught us to see that Marian doctrine and devotion are indeed both Christ-centered and Church-centered. He noted the harmony of her unique participation as Co-Redemptrix in the redemption earned by Jesus Christ with her continuing maternal mediation and advocacy for all humanity. Mary is the perfect model for the People of God in their journey to become, with Jesus and herself, co-redeemers and intercessors for each other and all humankind.

Knowing and teaching the whole truth about Mary is thus the best means to teach the whole truth about Jesus and His saving incarnation, about His redemption and about His Church. The full truth about Mary safeguards the full truth about Jesus.

Mary is the most effective guiding star and mediating force for the new evangelization. The mother prepares the way for the Son. Is it any wonder, then, that He sometimes sends her to appear in our midst, so she can call us once again to draw close to God?

Brother John M. Samaha, S.M., writes from the Marianist Center in Cupertino, California.