When I was first exploring Catholicism, I was always confused, but intrigued by Marian apparitions. They were overwhelming because it seemed there were so many, and I was confused as to why the Lord would send Mary when He could have just appeared to us.
After being Catholic a few years, I have come to be intrigued and incredibly inspired by Marian apparitions. I see now how the Lord uses His mother to lead us to Him – ALWAYS. She is a messenger to bring us closer to her Son and to help or warn the world.
Since May is the month of Mary, I thought I would answer some common questions about Marian apparitions and then describe “The Big Three” apparitions here (plus one other that is popular and recent site of a synod). I also link to some helpful articles and movies about them. Of course there are a ton of appearances, so I can’t describe all of them.
Public vs. Private Revelation
The Church believes and teaches that public revelation ended after the apostles. However, private revelations have been reported and are continually being investigated by the Vatican. The faithful are never required to accept the approved apparitions (but they aid in devotion!). The Vatican has only approved 16 of more than 250 apparitions so far! Private revelations and apparitions occur to help build up the Church and help the faithful live more faithfully.
How is an apparition approved?
When an apparition has occurred, the Bishop of the area where it occurred begins an investigation. During Pope St. Paul VI’s time as Pope, he approved the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s norms for judging apparitions and revelations. These norms include making sure something miraculous occurred, interviewing witnesses and making sure they are mentally sound and honest, checking the messages of the apparitions for theological correctness, and making sure the apparitions and messages are beyond human explanation. There must also be no financial gains or moral issues connected to the visions and messages.
What are the approved Marian apparitions?
The approved apparitions are:
- Lourdes (France)
- Fatima (Portugal)
- Guadalupe (Mexico)
- Knock (Ireland)
- Lezajsk (Poland)
- Siluva (Lithuania)
- Laus (France)
- Rue de Bac (Paris, France)
- Rome (Italy)
- La Salette (France)
- Flippsdorf (Czech Republic)
- Pontmain (France)
- Giertzwald (Poland)
- Beauraing (Belgium)
- Banneux (Belgium)
- Kibeho (Rwanda)
Many have already written about some other appearances, like Our Lady’s visits to both St. Dominic and St. Catherine Laboure, so I won’t mention them here.
The Scriptures say we should judge by the fruit, right? Well, the fruit of Marian apparitions is SO GOOD. So many have returned to faith in Christ, repented, have been healed physically, mentally, and/or emotionally, and have increased their devotion to the Lord and to Mary. The apparitions have also consistently shown God’s faithfulness to His people and the Church.
The Big Three (Plus One)
Bernadette was a very small lady in a very close-knit family. In her teens, she was struggling from asthma and poor health. She had no schooling and no catechism. She was faithful and knew some Catholic teachings, however.
On February 11, 1858, Our Lady first appeared to Bernadette when she was crossing the stream and collecting bones and dead wood. She didn’t know it was Our Lady, but she appeared dressed in white in the Grotto. She prayed the rosary and Our Lady vanished. Just three days later, Our Lady appeared again to Bernadette when she visited the Grotto again and was praying the rosary there. A few days later, Mary spoke to Bernadette and asked her to come every day for two weeks.
Throughout that time, Mary taught Bernadette how to pray, asked her to do penance for sinners, showed her the spring, and inspired thousands to come to the Grotto with Bernadette. The spring waters healed someone, as well. The local authorities and priests were skeptical and they wanted to know the Lady’s name, so Bernadette stopped going after these 2 weeks.
About 20 days later, Bernadette returned and Mary told her she was the “Immaculate Conception”. Bernadette immediately told the priest. This troubled the priest because four years before the Pope declared Mary to be the “Immaculate Conception”. Mary appeared to Bernadette one last time on July 16, 1858.
After the Apparitions
Bernadette joined the Sisters of Charity and died at age 34 in 1879. However, her body is incorrupt (which they found out when they exhumed her body in 1909). Our Lady requested a church be built at the Grotto and it is now a great pilgrimage site. Thousands of miracles have been reported, but the committee responsible for declaring them miraculous has recorded less than 100. Bernadette was canonized in 1933 and the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is celebrated on February 11.
I highly recommend visiting the Lourdes shrine website were you can watch the Grotto live and learn about pilgrimages. Also, read this article to learn a bit more. You can watch the film, The Song of Bernadette, from 1943 on Youtube (It’s awesome!).
On May 13, 1917, Our Lady appeared to three children, Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta. She asked the children to come on the 13th day of each month and she asked them to pray the rosary every day for peace and an end to the war. The children asked Mary many questions about heaven and whether they would go there, if she could provide a miracle for everyone to see, and they asked her to take them to heaven. She told them that the Lord wanted the world to grow in devotion to her Immaculate Heart and she would use them.
During the visions, rays of light streamed out from Mary’s hands and the children felt her love and care for them. However, they also saw Mary’s pain at humanity’s sins and a vision of hell. Mary revealed to them the need for Russia to be consecrated to her heart so that the world would not suffer Russia’s errors and the Church would not be persecuted. She also gave them the words to pray what has become the “Fatima Prayer”: “O my Jesus, forgive us, saves us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need.” She revealed to them that she was the Lady of the Rosary, that a chapel would be built in her honor at Fatima, and that WWI would end.
At that last apparition in October, the Miracle of the Sun occurred and thousands were present to witness it. The Fatima apparitions were approved in 1930 and the feast of Our Lady of Fatima is celebrated on May 13.
In 1531, Our Lady appeared to a peasant named Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico. She asked him to build a shrine in the spot so she could show her love to the people. Juan Diego went immediately to the archbishop, but he didn’t believe him and asked for proof.
Juan Diego went back up to Tepeyac Hill and found Our Lady who told him to pick flowers to show the archbishop (this was winter!). He found a ton of flowers and put them in his tilma (his cloak). He came to the archbishop and an abundance of flowers fell out of his tilma, but also, an image of Mary appeared inside Juan Diego’s tilma. The tilma with the image is still in the Basilica in Mexico, which was built on Tepeyac Hill. The image contains a ton of symbolism that resonated with the Aztec people of Mexico, showing the Lord and Mary’s superiority over their religion.
The Church celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. Also, in 2000, Juan Diego was canonized a saint.
Our Lady first appeared at Knock, a village in western Ireland, on August 21, 1879. She didn’t appear alone, but St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist were with her, and there was the Lamb on the altar, as well. The people who witnessed this first appearance stayed and prayed in the rain for more than two hours.
Pilgrims began to arrive after news of the apparition spread and soon large crowds were coming on pilgrimage to Knock. The Church investigated the apparition by interviewing the witnesses who gave their testimonies, including John Curry, the youngest witness and immigrant to the United States.
By 1954, more than a million pilgrims were coming to the Shrine (woah!) and Pope Pius XII honored it as a place of Marian devotion. A church was also built in Knock and Pope St. John Paul II made it a basilica in 1979 when he visited. The site became such a pilgrimage site that an airport opened in the 1980s and St. Mother Teresa visited (so cool!)!
You should definitely look at the Knock Shrine website and take a pilgrimage if you can!
The Month of Mary
May is a special time to learn more about Mary’s appearances and to see just how much she desires for us to grow in devotion to her Son and to keep us from harm. She really does have our best interests in mind, and I’m thankful that The Lord sends His Mother to call us to repentance and faith in Him.