An estimated 25,000 people gathered together at the Cova da Iria on September 13, 1917 for Our Lady’s promised fifth apparition to the little shepherds. The crowd was so thick it was difficult for the children to make their way through. Everyone wanted to see them, speak to them, make requests and petitions to place before Our Lady. As Lucia described in her memoirs: “All the afflictions of poor humanity were assembled there.”
We know that not everyone who went to the Cova came as a true believer. There were those who came simply out of curiosity, others came disbelieving, wanting to scoff at what they considered a grand deception in the name of religion. But many devout people came in faith-filled expectation.
Finally reaching the spot in the Cova where Our Lady had been appearing, they began to pray the Rosary with the people when suddenly they saw the flash of light that always preceded Our Lady’s coming. Then she appeared above the holmoak tree. The brief conversation between Our Lady and the visionaries began with Lucia’s usual question, “What do want of me?” Our Lady gave her usual response: “Continue to pray the Rosary in order to obtain the end of the war!”
Our Lady’s continuous insistence on the need for the Rosary to obtain world peace should make a lasting impression on all of us. Mary is telling us that if we are careful to carry out her request to pray the Rosary every day for peace in the world and for the conversion of sinners, it will likely follow that we will carry out everything else she asks of us.
The Mysteries of the Rosary
During her September apparition, Our Lady foretold a sequence of appearances that the children would see in October along with the promised miracle that would convince the people that Our Lady had been appearing in the Cova:
“In October Our Lord will come, as well as Our Lady of Dolours [sorrows] and Our Lady of Mount Carmel. St. Joseph will appear with the Child Jesus to bless the world.“
These images are rich in meaning and have an unmistakable relation to the mysteries of the Rosary. They can be seen as a call to holiness in every phase and experience of human life. Let us reflect upon their relationship with the mysteries of the Rosary in order to deepen our commitment to this devotion that Our Lady has requested of us.
The Joyful Mysteries – In October when the children see Saint Joseph with the Child Jesus blessing the world, Our Lady is with them, not in her usual appearance as Our Lady of Fatima, but dressed in white with a blue mantle. This vision of the Holy Family allow us to focus on the true meaning and dignity of marriage and family life. A central part of the message of Fatima is a call to renew Christian family life.
The Sorrowful Mysteries – The October appearance of the Blessed Virgin as Our Lady of Sorrows reminds us of our need to carry our cross daily. We have seen Our Lady’s urgent plea for prayer and a willingness to suffer for others. In the sorrowful mysteries we see that Our Lady herself willingly shared in the sufferings of her Son. These mysteries give us the courage we need to endure the struggles of the Christian life and lift them up for the salvation of souls.
The Glorious Mysteries – The story of our Christian faith does not end with a sealed tomb. That tomb was only necessary so that Christ might come forth from it in glory. He conquered sin by dying on the Cross; He rose again from the dead to conquer death itself. The glorious mysteries give us the hope we need to continue our earthly struggle so that we might win a heavenly crown. Hope gives us courage (because we know we can overcome all obstacles by the power of Christ), perseverance (because we know Christ has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us in His Kingdom where we long to be), and joy(because we know that someday by God’s grace we will possess the eternal joys of Heaven for which we were made.)
We may ask how the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel can point us in the direction of the glorious mysteries of the Rosary. In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah remained faithful to God at a time when many children of Israel had adopted the worship of Baal, a pagan deity whose rites included the sacrifice of human infants. Because of Elijah’s faith, God was able to perform on Mount Carmel a miracle that discredited the prophets of Baal and proved He alone is the Lord. This miracle caused many lost children of Israel to repent of their idolatry and return to the One True God. (See 1 Kings 18.) As Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mary can be seen as the faithful daughter of Israel whose obedience to the Lord allows her to share in His victory over Satan and the many forms of idolatry that lead souls away from God. In praying the glorious mysteries for the conversion of sinners, as Our Lady of Fatima has asked, we can help rescue souls from the snares of false ‘gods’.
Our Lady Speaks to the Children About Their Penances
Like the good and kind mother she is, Our Lady gave the children words of praise and encouragement about their penances. (We must always be prudent in choosing acts penance.) The zeal and generosity of the children in making their sacrifices to God was truly heroic, to a degree characteristic of saints! Sorrow for our sins is one of the most pleasing and effective penances we can offer the Lord, as we see in the psalm King David prayed after his fall into serious sin: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:19).
Lucia Offers Petitions to Our Lady
The conversation ended with Lucia offering petitions to Our Lady. As we saw, just a short time before the apparitions began, many people pressed against the children and anxiously poured out their petitions for Our Lady’s intercession. These needs no doubt touched the hearts of the children very deeply.
With the ending of the September 13 apparition, the stage was set for October and the promised miracle that would convince the multitudes that Our Lady was truly appearing at the Cova and giving a message of great importance for the world. The waiting, however, would not be easy for Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta.
[This is an abbreviated adaption taken from the book by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R., “FATIMA FOR TODAY.]