Most Rev. Valerian M. Okeke reconsecrating and entrusting the Archdiocese and Anambra State to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the presence of Bishop Denis Isizor, Priests, religious and many faithful at the event of Archdiocese of Onitsha concluding her Marian Year Celebration.
THE PURPOSE, MANNER OF CELEBRATION AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MARIAN YEAR AND THE CENTENARY
OF FATIMA APPARITIONS 2017
A Marian Year is a year specially dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) declared 2017 a Marian Year in Nigeria during their Plenary Session held in Akure, Ondo State in September, 2016.
The Catholic Bishops Conference declared 2017 a Marian Year in Nigeria to give all Christians in the country the opportunity to give special honour to our Lady, to seek her maternal intercession with her only begotten Son, Jesus Christ who is our Lord and Saviour, for our needs as individuals and as a nation, especially that God may save our nation from the moral, economic and political problems plaguing her and, through personal study and participation in seminars, workshops and congresses to have a better understanding of Catholic devotion to Mary and her role in the salvation of mankind.
A “Centenary” means 100 years. The year 2017 is the Centenary of the Apparitions of our Lady at Fatima because the year is the 100th year since the apparitions of our Lady took place in 1917 to three shepherd children — Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta in Fatima, Portugal.
Pope Francis declared that the celebrations of the Centenary of Fatima Apparitions should begin on 27th November 2016 and end on 26th November 2017.
The Apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima
In the Spring of 1916, three shepherd children at Fatima in Portugal, Jacinta, aged 6, her brother Francisco, 8, and their cousin Lucia, 9, encountered an Angel who identified himself as “the Angel of Peace”. He taught them to pray thus: “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You. I ask pardon of you for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You”. He told them that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary were attentive to their prayers.
The Angel appeared to them again in Summer and told them to pray very much, saying, “the Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High. Make of everything you can a sacrifice and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. You will thus draw down peace on your country”.
In the Autumn the Angel appeared again holding a Chalice in his hands, with a host above it from which some drops of blood were falling into the sacred vessel. Leaving the chalice and the host suspended in the air, the Angel prostrated on the ground and repeated three times the prayer to the Most Holy Trinity:
“Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore you profoundly. I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended. Through the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of you the conversion of poor sinners”.
Then, rising, he took the Chalice and the Host in his hands. He gave the Sacred Host to Lucia and shared the Blood from the Chalice between Jacinta and Francisco, saying as he did so:
“Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men! Make reparation for their crimes and console your God”.
Once again, he prostrated on the ground and repeated with the children three times more, the same prayer: “Most Holy Trinity …”, and then disappeared.
Such was the prelude to the apparitions of our Lady of Fatima.
A year later, precisely on May 13, 1917, our Blessed Mother appeared to the three shepherd children (Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta) in Fatima. She appeared to them again on June 13, July 13, August 19, September 13 and October 13. During the course of her apparitions, she delivered some important messages to the children to announce to the world. In all the apparitions, our Lady told them to “pray the Rosary everyday”. She also told them to pray very much and make sacrifices for sinners for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them. She warned: “Do not offend the Lord, our God anymore, because He is already so much offended”. She told them to continue to pray the Rosary everyday in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war (First World War) because only she can bring peace. She assured them that in the end, her Immaculate Heart will triumph.
The Message of Fatima
The Message of Our Lady of Fatima can be summarised as follows: First is our Lady's requests for prayer, reparation, penance and sacrifice, and the abandonment of sin.
Our Lady stressed the importance of praying the Rosary in each of her apparitions. She told the children to pray the Rosary every day for peace. Another principal part of the Message of Fatima is devotion to our Lady's Immaculate Heart, which is terribly outraged and offended by the sins of humanity. She showed her Heart, surrounded by piercing thorns (which represented the sins against her Immaculate Heart), to the children, who understood that their sacrifices could help to console her.
The children were also told to pray and sacrifice themselves for sinners in order to save them from hell. The children were briefly shown a vision of hell, after which our Lady told them: “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace”. She said that if people did not stop offending God, He would punish the world severely by means of war, famine, persecution of the Church, and persecution of the Holy Father. To prevent these chastisements, our Lady offered a remedy: she would return to ask for the Consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart and the Communion of Reparation on the Five First Saturdays. If her requests were heeded, there would be peace. If not, Russia's errors (atheistic communism) would spread throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions against the Church; the Holy Father would suffer much, the good would be martyred and various nations would be annihilated.
Our Lady indicated to us the specific root of all the troubles in the world, the one that causes world wars and such terrible suffering: sin. She then gave a solution, first to individual people, then to the Church's leaders. God asks each one of us to stop offending Him. We must pray, especially the Rosary. By this frequent prayer of the Rosary, we will get the graces we need to overcome sin. God wants us to have devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and to work to spread this devotion throughout the world.
To Sr. Lucia (and to all who are devoted to the Blessed Virgin) our Lady said, “My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God”. If we wish to go to God, we have a sure way to Him through true devotion to the Immaculate Heart of His Mother. When Sister Lucia questioned our Lord as to why He would not convert Russia without the solemn public consecration of that nation specifically, Jesus answered: “Because I want My whole Church to acknowledge that consecration as a triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so that it may extend its homage later on, and put the devotion to the Immaculate Heart beside the devotion to My Sacred Heart”.
Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is central to the Fatima Message. God determined that the Consecration of Russia and the Communion of Reparation on First Saturdays of the month be the means of implementing this devotion throughout the world, and gave this task to His Pope and Bishops and to individual souls to practice and promote the devotion.
The Purpose of the Centenary of the Fatima Apparitions
In explaining the purpose of the celebration of the Centenary of the Fatima Apparitions, I would like to start with a quotation from the Letter of Most Rev. Antonio Marto, Bishop of Leiria-Fatima, “......In the Centenary of the Fatima Apparitions, we express our praise and gratitude to the Most Holy Trinity for the love poured out, through Mary, on humanity in need to be reconciled with God...... to hasten the fulfilment of the prophecy of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to the Glory of the Most Holy Trinity!”
The objectives of the celebration of the Centenary of our Lady’s Apparitions at Fatima include the following:
· To stress the importance of the apparitions of Fatima for the Church and for the world.
· To spread the message of Fatima nation-wide and world-wide.
· To deepen our knowledge of the theology of the message of Fatima.
· To develop pastoral proposals in the light of the message of Fatima.
· To promote the living out of the spirituality of Fatima.
· To develop the Marian dimension in the Christian expression of the faith.
Manner of Celebration
The Fatima Centenary is to be celebrated in accordance with the programmes of celebration at national, diocesan and parish levels which will be recommended by our Bishops. While details of the programmes of celebration will have to be worked out by the Committees which the Bishops will set up for the purpose, it is hereby suggested that the celebration should include the following:
1. Eucharistic celebrations in honour of Our Lady of Fatima in the Cathedral or other appropriate location in the diocese at which the Bishop is the Chief Celebrant in union with all the priests of the diocese as Co-Celebrants during the official opening and closing of the Marian/Centenary Year and on the anniversary days of the Apparitions (May 13, June 13, July 13, August 19, September 13 and October 13).
2. Daily Rosary in all parishes.
3. Eucharistic Adoration with Benediction/Holy Hour of Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
4. Rosary procession with the statue of Our Lady of Fatima in which at least 20 decades of the Rosary are devoutly recited round the town, accompanied with Marian hymns.
5. Talks on the Message of Fatima and how to live the message in today’s world as well as on topics that explain Catholic devotion to Mary for the enlightenment of non-Catholics and Catholics who have poor understanding of the role of Mary in the salvation of mankind.
6. Consecration of the nation/diocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (or its renewal if the consecration had already been done) either on May 13 or on the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary which is on Saturday June 24, 2017 or on Friday October 13, 2017 (Centenary of the last Apparition of Our Lady of Fatima) with an Act of Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The consecration can be done at any other time considered appropriate by the Bishop/Bishops.
At the national level, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the country should consecrate the nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary or renew the consecration if it had already been done. October 13 is strongly recommended for the national celebration as many bishops, priests and lay faithful may be making a pilgrimage to Fatima for the May 13 celebration there in which the Pope will be present. Care should be taken to ensure that the date chosen for the national celebration is one of the dates of the Fatima apparitions to honour our Lady’s Apparition on that day.
The programme for Parishes and Groups for days specified for them in the general programme of celebration in the Diocese/Archdiocese (e.g. A Day with Mary for All Marian Societies) should include:
1. A Talk on the Blessed Virgin Mary
2. Rosary Procession with the Statue of Our Lady of Fatima during which the 20-Decade Rosary is recited accompanied with Marian Hymns
3. Eucharistic Celebrations in honour of Our Lady of Fatima and in reparation to her Immaculate Heart on the anniversary days of the Apparitions.
4. Act of Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
5. Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
6. Prayer in honour of Our Lady of Fatima (before the Statue of Our Lady of Fatima)
7. Prayer for the intentions of our Holy Father, the Pope (1 Our Father, 1 Hail Mary, 1 I Believe in God, 1 Glory Be)
Personal Obligations for Celebration of the Marian Year (in Nigeria) and the Fatima Centenary
Among the personal obligations for celebration of the Marian Year (in Nigeria) and the Fatima Centenary are the following:
1. Pray the Rosary every day.
2. Participate more frequently and actively in Eucharistic celebrations.
3. Pay more visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as acts of reparation to our Eucharistic Lord who is greatly offended by the sins of men.
4. Participate actively in the spiritual exercises and programmes for your group (e.g. Christian Women Organisation) and those organised by your parish including lectures, seminars and workshops to deepen your understanding of the role of Mary in the salvation of mankind.
5. Practice the First Saturday Devotion fervently as required by our Lord and our Blessed Mother.
6. Imitate the virtues of Mary especially her ardent charity, purity, humility, obedience, lively faith and submission to the holy will of God in all things, etc.
The Centenary celebration should be adequately publicised in all parish Sunday bulletins and in the diocesan and national Catholic newspapers.
Throughout history, Mary has always intervened to save Christians from defeat at the hands of an often far militarily superior enemy. Her special weapon in these cases has always been the Rosary. In all the six apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, she always requested for the praying of the Rosary to end the war (world war) and for peace in the world. The examples of the victories won in the past through the Rosary should encourage and spur us into action.
In 1683, Austria was saved from the Muslim Turks of the Ottoman Empire. It was not generals, nor battalions, nor arms that brought victory, but our Lady of the Rosary as thousands of Austrians said the Rosary for deliverance. Over 270 years later, on 13th May 1955, the anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, the Four powers – U.S., U.K., France and Russia, signed an agreement in Vienna to restore freedom and sovereignty to Austria. Other enslaved Communist countries, like Hungary, revolted and failed. Austria succeeded without effort. WHY? 700,000 people or 10% of the seven million population had pledged themselves ten years earlier to say the Rosary daily. A modern example of how God can spare many for the prayers of the few.
The highlight of the Spanish Civil War in 1938 was the Battle of Alcazar when the Communists laid siege to this ancient fortress. The 1700 defenders including 500 women and 52 children, under constant bombardment from several thousand Communists, gathered to say the Rosary twice daily. They held out for 71 days till General Franco finally arrived to rout the Communists.
In addition to the elements of the Centenary celebration stated above, Bishops should encourage First Saturday Devotion as requested by Our Lord and Our Lady of Fatima in 1925 in their dioceses.
The Marian Year and the Fatima Centenary are significant because “the Centenary of Fatima Apparitions is a historical occasion on which we will express our praise and gratitude to the Most Holy Trinity for the love poured out, through Mary, on a humanity in need to be reconciled with God and longing to get up from the abyss”. The message of Fatima is as relevant and significant today as it was 100 years ago. For even though the world has witnessed the demise of the Soviet Union, we find ourselves faced with many of the same evils as faced the world in 1917. We have only to look around us to see how the world is engulfed in sin. An unparalleled explosion of sexual immorality, contraception, abortion, divorce, cultism, corruption, mindless bloodletting across the world and a host of other crimes abound today because too few people are fulfilling our Lady’s request at Fatima. We should renew our dedication to the Holy Rosary and pray it at every opportunity. Prayer and penance can bring our sinful world back to God.
Fr. McGlynn pointed out in his book VISION OF FATIMA, that Fatima is, first of all, a dreadful warning to the world to stop sinning. The enormity of mankind's rebellion against God, and God's infinite aversion to sin, form the foundation of the Fatima message. It is a warning that the time of God's justice will come to pass, if men do not take advantage of this time of His mercy, this special opportunity of making reparation through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Pope Francis on 11th May 2016 said Our Lady of Fatima “invites us once again to turn to prayer, penance, and conversion. She asks us to never offend God again. She forewarns all humanity about the necessity of abandoning oneself to God, the source of love and mercy. Following the example of St. John Paul II, a great devotee of Our Lady of Fatima, let us listen attentively to the Mother of God and ask for peace for the world”.
Prof. Michael Ogunu
Prof. Michael Ogunu is the President of the Executive Board of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Africa and Coordinator of the Fatima Apostolate in the continent.