On March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope Francis, at the urging of Ukraine’s Latin Rite Catholic bishops, will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In conjunction with the Holy Father’s Consecration, Cardinal Krajewski will carry out the same act in Fatima.
The pope’s announcement sent shockwaves through the Church, as the consecration of Russia is one of modern Catholicism’s most controversial topics. The announcement also raises more questions than it answers, including whether the Consecration has already occurred and what happens when (if) it is performed properly.
To discover the origins of the Consecration controversy, let’s go back to the beginning. In 1917, three children in Fatima, Portugal claimed that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to them over a period of five months and gave them various messages. One of these messages mentioned the consecration of Russia.
To prevent this I come to ask the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If they listen to my requests, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will scatter her errors through the world, provoking wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyrized, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated.
In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and it will be converted and a certain period of peace will be granted to the world. (The Third Apparition – July 13, 1917)
It’s important to note the timing of this message. Only a few months later, and just weeks after the last apparition to the three children, the Bolshevik Revolution overwhelmed Russia, thus beginning the Communist reign of the Soviet Union, which would last for seven decades. During this time all religion, including Christianity, was mercilessly persecuted and driven underground in Russia and the various Soviet satellite states.
Within three years of the apparitions two of the three child visionaries died, leaving only Lucia, who would become a religious sister. Sr. Lucia would continue to receive apparitions, including one in 1929 in which Our Lady repeated her request to have Russia consecrated to her Immaculate Heart:
The moment has come in which God asks the Holy Father, in union with all the Bishops of the world, to make the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, promising to save it by this means. There are so many souls whom the Justice of God condemns for sins committed against me, that I have come to ask reparation: sacrifice yourself for this intention and pray. (The Sixth Apparition – June 13, 1929)
What might seem like a simple request has turned into a decades-long controversy. Over the years there have been various papal consecrations—one chart I saw listed eight different consecrations over the years. But two in particular stand out.
In 1952 Pope Pius XII consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart, but he did not request anything of the world’s bishops; therefore, most observers do not think this satisfied Our Lady’s request that the consecration happen “in union with all the Bishops of the world,” although some Catholics disagree.
In 1984, Pope John Paul II performed a Consecration of the whole world to the Immaculate Heart and asked all the bishops to join him in “spiritual union.” Critics claimed that this Consecration also did not fulfill Our Lady’s request since he did not name Russia specifically in his Consecration (and critics also noted that “spiritual union” was not the “union” Our Lady requested).
In 2000 the Vatican sought to quell the controversy by announcing that the 1984 Consecration did fulfill Our Lady’s request, stating “Sister Lucia personally confirmed that this solemn and universal act of consecration [the 1984 act] corresponded to what Our Lady wished.” This statement, however, did not satisfy many of the devotees of Fatima, who said the Consecration was not done properly, and therefore the fruits promised (“Russia will be converted and there will be peace”) did not occur. (There’s also the request of “the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays,” but I’m not going to address that aspect of the controversy in this article.)
Now with Pope Francis’s announcement that he will consecrate Russia and Ukraine, new questions arise. For example, if the Vatican determined that the 1984 Consecration fulfilled Our Lady of Fatima’s request, why is there need for another Consecration? Beyond this are other questions that need to be addressed.
Before I continue I want to make clear that I believe that Our Lady did appear to the three children in Fatima in 1917, and again later to Sr. Lucia on various occasions. I believe the visionaries are honest and sincere in their statements of what happened to them and what Our Lady said to them. I also think that Our Lady’s call to conversion, prayer, and penance desperately needs to be answered today. No questions I raise are meant to place doubt on those facts, although it being a private revelation, no Catholic is obligated to believe that the apparitions were of supernatural origin.
Beyond the question of whether or not the Consecration already took place, there are many other ambiguities related to the messages of Fatima. For example, what does it mean when Our Lady said that if the Consecration doesn’t happen, then Russia “will scatter her errors through the world, provoking wars and persecutions of the Church?”
What are Russia’s “errors?” The most obvious answer, given the context of the times in which the apparitions appeared, is Soviet Communism. This demonic ideology did in fact during its existence provoke wars and persecute the Church. However, when I asked on social media what these “errors” were, I received a diverse number of answers, ranging from the legalization of abortion to the schismatic nature of the Russian Orthodox Church. One thing is clear: Our Lady did not detail what the errors were, and we are left to speculate.
We also must ask: what does it mean that the Consecration must occur “in union with all the Bishops of the world?” As was pointed out by Wendell Hull in a recent article for Crisis, there is no set formula for consecrating a country, and likewise there is no set formula for making such a consecration in union with all the world’s bishops.
Some have argued that every single bishop in the world must do the act of consecration in their Cathedral church at the same time as the pope and in the same manner. Others have said that it is sufficient for the pope to request their union. And still others have suggested that a “spiritual union,” as John Paul II referred to it, is sufficient. I’ve even heard it said that since the bishops are in union with the pope anyway, any act of the pope is automatically in union with all the bishops. Again, one thing is clear: Our Lady did not specify exactly how this union would be accomplished.
Another question is whether the Consecration must be applied to Russia only. In the 1984 Consecration John Paul II did not mention Russia by name, likely for political reasons since this was the height of the Cold War and such a mention could have inflamed the situation. He did consecrate the world, which obviously includes Russia. But was that enough?
Pope Francis is mentioning Russia by name, but he’s also including Ukraine. Does this make his Consecration contrary to Our Lady’s request? Some would say yes. We should note, however, that when the request was given (1929), Ukraine was actually part of Russia, so perhaps including it explicitly now is still within the boundaries of the request. When we look at what Our Lady said, she explicitly mentions Russia, but she does not say, “and Russia only.”
Again, none of these questions are intended to raise doubts about the authenticity of the apparitions. They do, however, reveal the inherently ambiguous nature of all revelations, particularly private revelations. A revelation occurs in a specific time and place and so will be influenced by that time and place. Even Our Lord was bound in a way by this—he used parables that related to the life of a first century Jew, not a 21st century American. Of course the principles of His message are timeless, but it is necessary to separate the timeless quality with the earthly part (Christ’s parable of the sower, in other words, was not about farming in 1st century Judea).
Even more does this principle apply to a private revelation, which is not intended as a public message to which we are all bound for our salvation. The apparitions of Fatima took place in a specific time and place, and for a specific—and limited—reason. The work of salvation history will not be stopped if Our Lady’s requests are not fulfilled, although it will surely be helped if they are. We are not Mormons who believe a later, post-apostolic revelation is necessary for our salvation.
Because of the ambiguous nature of any revelation, we should also be careful not to apply near-magical qualities to such revelations. Some Catholics assert that if the Consecration occurs as it is supposed to, then all of Russia will quickly convert to Catholicism and all wars and conflicts around the world will cease.
God doesn’t work like that. Even when He sent His Son, it took three centuries for the Roman Empire to be converted, and the rest of the world was relatively untouched by Christianity for centuries. Further, peace did not break out even when the Prince of Peace arrived, because we live in a fallen world and will continue to do so until the Lord’s Second Coming.
We must be careful not to fall into the same trap as many first century Jews did with the coming of Jesus Christ. From their reading of the Old Testament prophecies, they believed the coming Messiah would usher in a political reign of peace in which all the enemies of Israel would be destroyed. While it’s easy in hindsight to criticize their assumptions, an honest reading of the Old Testament makes one at least sympathetic to their misunderstanding.
When we read about the “errors of Russia” and that Russia will be “converted” and “there will be peace,” we should remember those Jewish misunderstandings. It’s quite possible that the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the reemergence, albeit only partial, of Christianity in Russia was the fulfillment of the Consecration performed in 1984. That might not be the results we were hoping for, but most first century Jews were disappointed in Jesus as well.
Whether the 1984 Consecration fulfilled Our Lady’s request or not, we can be sure that the upcoming Consecration is a good thing. Why? Because it will focus our prayers on an area of the globe that desperately needs it. No matter what one thinks of the controversies surrounding Fatima, Our Lord and Our Lady will hear the cry of so many Catholics for Russia and Ukraine and have mercy on those people.
The status of the Consecration is ultimately not vital to our salvation. We are obliged to follow and accept all public revelation, which means we must live a sacramental and prayerful life, follow the Church’s teachings on faith and morals, and care for the poor and needy. Surely that’s what Our Lady requests more than anything.
[Photo Credit: LUSA Press Agency]