The True Meaning of Reparation.
The Third Saturday of Easter.
Lessons from the feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Acts 9: 31-42.
• Psalm 116: 12-17.
• John 6: 60-69.
The Fourth Class Feria of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday.
Lessons from the common "Salve, sancta Parens…" of the Blessed Virgin in Eastertide, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Sirach 24: 14-16.
• [The Gradual is omitted.]
• John 19: 25-27.
The Saturday of the Ointment-Bearers; and, the Feast of the Holy & Just Job, the Long-Suffering.
Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Acts 9: 19-31.
• John 15: 17—16: 2.
6:50 AM 5/6/2017 —
It was December 10th, 1925. I was in my room, when suddenly the room lit up and it was the light of my dear Mother in Heaven who came with the Child Jesus on a luminous cloud. Our Lady, as if wanting to instill courage, rested her hand on my shoulder, and as she did so, showed me her Immaculate Heart encircled by thorns which she was holding in her other hand. The Child Jesus said: “Have compassion on the Heart of your most holy Mother, covered with thorns, with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no one to make an act of reparation to remove them.”
Then Our Lady said: “Look, my daughter, at my Heart surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce me every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You at least try to console me and say that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with all the graces necessary for salvation, all those who on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess, receive Holy Communion, recite one decade of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.”
After this grace, how could I take myself away from the least sacrifice that God asks of me to console the Heart of my beloved Mother in Heaven, happy that Mary depletes the bitter drops of the Chalice.*
Now, if you know anything at all about the life of Sister Lucia and the devotion of keeping the consecutive Five First Saturdays of the month, you will know that quote; but, given that this is the first time, here at the Shrine, that we're observing these Five First Saturdays in a major way, we should presume nothing.
When Lucia was granted this particular vision, she had just entered the convent of the Dorothean Sisters at Pontevedra, Spain; she was not yet a Carmelite—that wouldn't happen until much later—and, being the last survivor of the three children to have seen the Mother of God at Fatima, she was already a famous person; so, her identity was hidden behind a religious name: she was known as Sister Maria das Dores. This was totally proper: in many religious communities even today, it's common for someone entering the convent or monastery to take a new name to signify the complete change of life that consecrating oneself to God requires; in Lucia's case, it served a double purpose, as it allowed her to settle into her new life without being distracted by the attention her baptismal name would have caused.
The Dorothean Sisters were a quiet and reserved community of nuns, not well known, not very large; the convent at Pontevedra was off the beaten track, the perfect place for Sister Maria das Dores to pray and reflect on the great things the Mother of God had said and shown to her and her two cousins at Fatima; so, it was the perfect place for the Mother of God to visit her again, and give her the mandate which is our reason for gathering here today: to entrust her with the task of transmitting to the world Her request for what we know today as the devotion of the Five First Saturdays.
We should begin by realizing that Saturday was, at the time Sister Maria was given this mandate, already a day the Church had set aside for prayer to the Mother of God. It had been for centuries, and was formally confirmed as such by Pope Saint Pius X in a decree he issued in 1905, in which he offered several indulgences for doing so, before Mary ever appeared at Fatima. And the reason that's significant is because it reminds us that everything Mary has told us through her servant Lucia was said always in obedience to—and under the authority of—Christ's Holy Church. Some of us sometimes forget that. Sometimes we imagine that the veneration of the Mother of God and the messages of Our Lady of Fatima constitute some sort of religion unto themselves, with the Church being an entity of officialdom which we judge as worthy or unworthy of our Lady's favor to the degree that the Church conforms herself to what Mary says. Mary does nothing apart from Her Son and His Church, and this is illustrated so beautifully by the fact that our Blessed Mother inaugurated this devotion we come here today to practice on that day of the week that the Church had already set aside for prayer to the Mother of God.
Now, moving along more quickly than we should for the sake of time, the first Saturday devotion is comprised of four basic elements, and this most of you already know: Confession, Holy Communion, the Holy Rosary, and a meditation on at least one of the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary and the promise of salvation; but, all of this—and this is the difficult part—must be done in a spirit of reparation, and this is what so many of us often fail to understand. Our Lady indicated five consecutive First Saturdays to Sister Maria das Dores because she wanted particularly to be consoled over five specific ways in which people offend her Immaculate Heart; and this you also know: blasphemies committed against Her Immaculate Conception, blasphemies against her Virginity, blasphemies against her Divine Maternity, blasphemies committed by those who try to poison the hearts of children against her Immaculate Heart, and blasphemies done by those who profane and insult her sacred images. They are not arbitrary. God willing, when we look at each of these in detail as the summer progresses, you'll be able to see how these five offenses strike at the very heart of pretty much everything that's wrong with the world today. It's hard to see that simply by listing them, as they sound very esoteric; but, everything that upsets us when we turn on the news is right there in these five offenses; it simply remains for us to train ourselves to see them.
But recognizing them is not enough: our Lady wanted this devotion to be done in reparation for these things, and reparation is a difficult concept, because when we see our Lord and our Lady being offended in these particular ways, our human reaction as people of faith and devotion is to want justice and revenge. These blasphemies, when we see them, enrage us; they make us angry; that's a purely natural reaction for someone of faith. When we see these blasphemies, deep down inside we want to see justice, we want to see revenge, we want those who offend our Lord and our Lady to be punished. And that is exactly the opposite of reparation. And that's why reparation is such a difficult concept for us.
I think the best way to look at the concept of reparation is to consider the incarnation and the passion of our Blessed Lord. In the Book of Genesis, man, who had been created in grace and in the image and likeness of his creator, offends God and is stripped of sanctifying grace. What was the offense that man committed? He ate an apple. It wasn't because God was opposed to fruit. How is the tree in the Garden of Eden described? It is called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It's a metaphorical tree; the fruit on that tree symbolizes the authority of God to decide the difference between right and wrong: things are right and wrong, good and bad, because God says so. By eating the fruit off the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, man attempts to take that authority away from God and give it to himself, so that he, man, becomes the one to decide for himself what's right and what's wrong. That's why it's called the Original Sin: because all other sins are derived from it. Every sin that we can commit is basically the same: it reflects a desire on our part to decide for ourselves what's right and what's wrong. When Adam eats the fruit off the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he's trying to become God. He is saying to God, “You will no longer tell me what's right and what's wrong; I'll do that for myself.” Every time we commit a sin, we are saying to God, “It's none of your business, God, to tell me that this is wrong. I have decided that it's right for me, so I will do it anyway.” We are trying to be God.
That's why I never fail to tell people how wrong this whole idea of conscience is that they think came out of Vatican II. “The Church teaches that contraception is wrong,” they say, “but Vatican II says I can follow my conscience, so I'll pray about it and decide that it's not a sin for me, and I can still go to Holy Communion.” Some people have even been told that by priests. But that's not conscience. That's Original Sin. That's trying to be God, deciding for oneself what's right and what's wrong.
And the Book of Genesis is very clear: the penalty for wanting to be God is death. Man tried to be God, so man must die. But God doesn't want to kill man; he made man because of love, and must find a way to save him in spite of his sins. So, what does God do? He can't simply let man off the hook, because that would completely obfuscate the whole concept of God's justice. What does He do? He becomes a Man Himself, and allows Himself to be punished with death so we can be spared. That's reparation. Reparation is sacrificing ourselves in order to spare someone else from being punished, even if that person doesn't know or even admit that they've sinned. It's difficult because it means that we do not want the sinner punished, and that means that we can't make reparation if there is even a hint of bitterness and hatred in our hearts.
We watch the news, we see offense after offense against our Lord, our Lady, the Church, the Faith; it seems, at times, that the whole world exists to offend the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God. If we harbor in our hearts the desire to see the guilty punished, we cannot make reparation, and we cannot do as our Lady asked. The Five First Saturday devotion requires that we offer our confession, our Holy Communion, our Rosary, our meditation, for the specific intention of appeasing our Lord and lifting from sinners the punishment their sins would otherwise deserve. We can't do that if we are obsessed with justice; we can only do that if we are obsessed with mercy.
Look, my daughter, at my Heart surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce me every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You at least try to console me and say that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with all the graces necessary for salvation, all those who on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess, receive Holy Communion, recite one decade of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.
Confession, Communion, Rosary, meditation, “with the intention of making reparation…” There it is, summed up on one simple sentence, what the Mother of God wants from us. Very simple instructions to obey.
But there's an aspect of this that often escapes us—at least I've not seen it mentioned in any of the Fatima literature that I've read—and that's how none of this is new. Maybe it had not been said before in these words until Mary spoke those words to Lucia; but, remember, that all valid and authentic apparitions of the Mother of God never give us any new revelation; they only present to us what has been revealed before by Christ through His Church; that's how the Church judges an apparition as authentic: that it reveals only that which has been revealed, simply giving it a new emphasis for the needs of a new age. And what is revealed in our Lady's words to Lucia here is what we all know from our childhood catechism as the Communion of the Saints. Why do we pray for the souls in Purgatory? Why do we ask the saints in heaven to pray for us? Why do we pray for one another? Because the Church Triumphant, the Church suffering and the Church militant are all one Church, linked together in prayer and sacrament to the Lord who rules them all. We make donations to the priest so that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass may be offered for our deceased relatives and friends; we pray for those who are sick and suffering; we implore the saints to make our needs known to God with the increased clout, as it were, that we presume they have before the thrown of God. Why? Because of the Communion of the Saints. What our Blessed Mother asks of us by means of reparation in keeping the Five First Saturdays is an extension of the Communion of the Saints, repackaged, as it were, for our needs in these troubled times.
How many of us here today have children who are living in sin? How many of us are married to someone who does not share or practice the Catholic Faith? How many of us live and work day to day with people who do not know God, or who have fallen away from the faith, or are married outside the Church? These are people we love, and the fact of their sins doesn't cancel our love for them; and, more often than not, we find ourselves walking that emotional tightrope of knowing that our Lord's justice demands the punishment of hell for these sins, but we can't bring ourselves to even think of it because these are people whom we love. Any priest will tell you that, particularly when he's hearing the confessions of the elderly, half of the confessions made to him are of somebody else's sins: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My daughter-in-law makes me so mad…” Sometimes the priest actually has to tell people, “I'm sorry, but I can only absolve you of your sins; I can't absolve your daughter-in-law's sins unless she comes in here herself.” And we try—God knows, we try—to persuade them to abandon the life of sin and return to the love of God; but, more often than not, the more we say to them, the more intransigent they become, until we realize that the more we try and persuade them, the more their hearts become hardened. In these kinds of confessions, the most common phrase a priest will hear is, “Father, I don't know what to do.”
But, we do know what to do. Mary told Lucia, and Lucia faithfully told us: we make reparation. We imitate the passion of our Lord, and accept upon ourselves the sacrifices that the sins of those we love demand. We kneel before the image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, or—better yet—before Her Son in the Tabernacle, and we say, “Lord, punish me instead. Accepted this confession, this Communion, this Rosary, this meditation as if the one who has offended you is doing it. As I pray before you, see not my face, hear not my voice, but see and hear this person whom I love, and accept these prayers as if they are coming from him or her.”
When a man is ordained a priest, he typically has printed up a set of Holy Cards to give out to people with his name and the date of his ordination printed on it, so that they can put it in their prayer books and always remember to pray for him; and, I chose as the image for my ordination card the Curé of Ars, Saint John Vianney. On the surface it seemed to many of my friends an unimaginative choice: Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests, so it was certainly appropriate, just not very original. But there was a particular reason why I chose him as my particular patron: Vianney spent most of his time in the confessional, and people came from great distances to confess to him, even though they could have just as easily gone to confession to their own parish priests. And one of the reasons everyone wanted to confess to Vianney was because he always gave very light penances. Someone could come into confession and confess that he committed adultery nine times, stole four million dollars from his employer, murdered his uncle for the inheritance, blew up the local IRS office, poisoned the local water supply, all since his last confession two weeks ago, and Vianney would send him to say one Our Father and one Hail Mary. Why was Vianney giving such light penances? Because he knew that, if he imposed the kind of penance that the penitent's sins actually deserved, the penitent would never be able to do it; so, he would impose a token penance, then, when confessions were over, he would go and do that person's penance himself. And that person would never know that the priest was doing his penance for him. By doing this, Vianney was imitating his Lord, who suffered and died for sins on the Cross; it's the primary reason that we call a priest alter Christus—“another Christ.” What he was, in fact, doing was reparation.
But you don't have to be a priest to make reparation. Anyone can make reparation for anyone else; and, by giving us, through Sister Lucia, the devotion of keeping the Five First consecutive Saturdays, our loving Mother Mary has given us an easy way to do it.
* Carmel of Coimbra, A Pathway Under the Gaze of Mary, 2015, World Apostolate of Fatima, p. 158.