NEW APPROACH TO ASSESSMENT OF APPARITIONS

Preliminary Remark

Events related to Marian apparitions in the last decades have been appealing to more and more people, even though much information from so-called inauthentic apparitions has turned out to be provably untrue. That is why some theologians tend, often in good faith, to distance themselves from these problems.  

However, another group of theologians, including Pope John Paul II and many people believing in God, are aware that authentic apparitions are the source of good, concrete, current and stimulating spiritual impulses for acquiring and reviving faith today, when religious practice and, for example, reading of the Bible do not apostrophise people. Moreover, these theologians understand well that God links authentic apparitions with exceptional graces, which people could not be given otherwise, and it would be a pity to ignore this great offer of God, particularly now, when the faith of many believers has become formal and is generally dying out.

We, as believers, know very well how to live; but we miss the necessary enthusiasm springing from God’s grace. And it is exactly Marian apparitions that today are the greatest exceptional source of these graces. These extraordinary blessings then enable people to gain God’s grace from the strongest ordinary sources such as Holy Mass, sacraments, prayer and Bible reading.

Then, an impartial observer finds it obvious that it is useful to utilise authentic apparitions – after all, they are the gift of God. However, nobody should be forced or compelled to do so, and whoever does not want for various reasons to make use of this gift, let him not use it, but it would be wrong to prevent others from accepting it through ridicule or disparagement. It would be irresponsible for any unauthorised clergyman to issue negative statements or bans regarding the current apparitions based on his personal views, unsubstantiated conjectures or gossip.

Cardinal Hans Urs Von Balthasar, one of the foremost experts on Catholic mysticism of the 20th century, gave a very strong opinion on Marian apparitions:

“Marian apparitions of the newest times are not only multiplying, but they also seem to be reaching a higher level of intensity. Mary’s remarks, enlightenment, exhortations and demands addressed to believers are more concrete. Today, peace in the world is the most burning question of today and Mary enlightens us on how to prevent catastrophe: more prayer, more love and something quite omitted – fasting. These apparitions astonish many people. Why must it always be just Mary? Do we not have other saints? Is the Lord not able to reveal His will Himself? Those people have not understood yet who Mary is. She is the archetype of the Church as it should be, or, since we all are sinners, as it should try to be. Mary is not a private person, but it is possible to say that she is a universal person. Being the obedient handmaid of the Lord, she is now also available to her Son to show Christians what the Church is actually and what it should be like. Since she is full of perfect humility, she is free to draw attention to herself, appearing with the rosary and presenting herself as an intercessor and Mediatrix of All Graces leading us to her Son. Everything about her is grace. Why should she be reluctant to present this magnificent work of God to the world, then? She does not do it in order to be venerated, but to reveal the power of God and the power of her Son. The term “private revelation” is not appropriate. This expression is justified when we mean that after the Word of God in the New Testament we cannot expect any other revelation of the Triune God to the world. However, have we already understood God’s revelation in all its depth and entirety? Do we not constantly need new enlightenment to understand the depth of grace it contains and, on the other hand, what demands it makes upon us? How absolutely does it bind us? And who, except Mary, ‘Ecclesia immaculata’, would always be able to provide us with the necessary new explanations? Actually – let us mention Lourdes – the great apparitions always behave as if they beat their path out spontaneously, above all ‘privateness’, into the universal community of the Church”.

The main problem, however, should be seen somewhere else, namely in the issue of how it can be recognised which apparition is authentic and which inauthentic. Decisive for the definitive official view is the standpoint of the Church, which is, however, usually not expressed until several years after the apparitions have ended. This view is based on precise analysis of the content of apparitions with respect to the dogmas and ethics of the Church and on the evaluation of the spiritual fruit that the apparition has brought to people. To fulfill this goal, it is necessary to inform people about the occurrence of apparitions so that they may visit the place, accept the extraordinary graces of God and arrange things for the good fruition of the apparition to become obvious.

In the course of apparitions the Church acts in a reserved manner in case discrepancies from the teachings of the Church have occurred. Believers are not prevented from being interested in the apparition and drawing positive inspiration from it for their conversion, if faith and morals are not endangered, which is pursuant to the Decree of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith passed on 29 December 1966, by which were repealed the articles of Canon Law no. 1399 (about publishing works on apparitions …) and no. 2318 (punishments for persons who have broken the laws on censorship).

When having any doubts about the authenticity of an apparition, the Church forbids the circulation of information on the ecclesiastical level. Only after the circumstances of the apparition are reliably revised does the Church countermand this ban and officially confirm the apparition. This has happened several times in the Church; for the last time, recently, in connection with Sister Faustyna, whose visions of God’s Mercy have been accepted by the Church. Faustyna was beatified in 1993 and canonised in 2000. A similar situation also happened to the Holy Padre Pio.

Many apparitions appear to be good and in accordance with the teachings of the church, especially during their initial phase, because they include basic calls for prayer and conversion, but an experienced specialist in apparitions may note some minor or major signs characterising inauthentic apparitions. What is more, these signs do not have to come from flashy testimonies and information contradictory with the teachings of the Church. Likewise, it does not have to be sensational and catastrophic information such as, for instance, rumours that on 1 January 1965 New York shall be destroyed by atomic bomb, or, that on 3rd of May 1970 a meteorite shall fall into the sea and a giant wave created by it shall wipe out Italy, France and England, etc.

Gaudy and sensational messages induce suspicion and few people believe them and pay attention to them, but greater problems are connected with unimpressive spurious apparitions, sometimes appearing initially to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church. If one begins to believe them, then a danger arises that in a critical period – and these days are apparently nearing – from such apparitions he can suddenly receive some false and fallacious, even though often surprising information. In such cases, he may fanatically disseminate the false information with the assumption that he is fulfilling a great apostolic mission. In fact, he can cause much evil. The gravest consequence of inauthentic apparitions is that they make inexperienced people act fanatically, causing general disorientation and disharmony.

To help people at least a little bit in their proper orientation and to become aware of the complexity of this subject, we shall now mention some signs and characteristics of authentic and inauthentic apparitions. We will immediately state at the beginning that even spurious apparitions may announce some generally recognised truths. This particularly confuses inexperienced people and mistakenly gives them a feeling of authenticity regarding the apparitions.

 
 
 
 

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