The Three Secrets of Fatima Explained
Few things seem to enflame people’s imaginations within Catholic circles more than the secrets of Fatima, especially the third secret. Perhaps you are quite familiar with Fatima and the secrets of Fatima and set great stock in them or perhaps you know very little or even doubt the credibility of the secrets. Whichever camp you find yourself in, it still is good to get an overview of what happened at Fatima, what the secrets actually are and what some key theologians have said about them.
Our Lady Appears at Fatima
The basic background to Fatima is this- in 1917, over the course of six months, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three children in Portugal. The most well known of these children is named Lucia Santos, and she was with a pair of cousins during these apparitions named Jacinta and Francisco Marto. The reason Lucia is more famous is specifically because of the secrets and her revealing of the secrets at the request of the local bishop. As news of the apparitions grew during the six months they occurred many people naturally asked for some kind of proof. So, during the final apparition of Fatima, in October of 1917, Mary had the sun dance in the sky—an event that was reported in newspapers and witnessed by tens of thousands of people. But this is not what gets people’s imaginations enflamed; it is the secrets.
The Secrets of Fatima
The children, especially Lucia, maintained that Our Lady gave visions to the children which they were to keep secret. These visions were given to the children during one of the middle visits, so not the first visit nor the final visit. Twenty three years after the events themselves Lucia was ordered by the local bishop of Fatima to write the secrets and she willing did so for the first two. However, she was not convinced that she should release the contents of the third secret. The bishop ordered her under holy obedience to do so and so she wrote out the secret and placed it in a sealed envelope that was not to be opened for 19 years, or 1960 when she said it would be clearer to understand.
The First Secret
The first secret is not really what we could consider a secret in our common understanding. It is important to note that this is because these are not so much secrets of Fatima in reality, but really the visions of Fatima. The first secret, or vision, was of hell. Lucia wrote that the Blessed Virgin showed the children what hell was like, complete with the suffering experienced by the souls who are there. The vision lasted only a second, but the children say that it was almost unbearable. It lead to a great trust in the promise of Mary to lead her devotees to Christ to save souls from this great eternal suffering.
The Second Secret
The second secret is more along the lines of what we think a secret involves. In this vision, the Blessed Virgin shows the young children a vision in which they learn that World War I (which is going on during the time of the visions) will end, however another World War will ensue under the papacy of Pope Pius XI (who reigned from 1922 until 1939) unless people stop offending God and Russia is converted. The Virgin asked that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart.
The Third Secret
And that leads us to the third secret; the one that gets all the attention. Before we get into what the vision was of we need to remember that it was placed in an envelope and was not opened until 1960. Although the envelope was opened in 1960 the secret was not made public until 2000 when the Vatican released the text that Lucia had written. She wrote,
“The third part of the secret revealed at the Cova da Iria-Fátima, on 13 July 1917.
I write in obedience to you, my God, who command me to do so through his Excellency the Bishop of Leiria and through your Most Holy Mother and mine.
After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: 'Penance, Penance, Penance!'. And we saw in an immense light that is God: 'something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it' a Bishop dressed in White 'we had the impression that it was the Holy Father'. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.
The secret of a bishop in white that was presumed to be the pope who was killed by having bullets and arrows fired at him was naturally assigned to the failed assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II. But some people claim that this cannot be the event as the Pope did not die in the attempt and the bishop in white in the vision does die. Therefore some claim that the pope being killed is a prophecy of a future event.
However, at the time the third secret text was released then-Cardinal Ratzinger, one of the 20th century’s greatest theologians, who would become Pope Benedict XVI, wrote an accompanying text. In it he writes that the secret “will probably prove disappointing or surprising after all the speculation it has stirred. No great mystery is revealed; nor is the future unveiled.” He writes that “the purpose of the vision is not to show a film of an irrevocably fixed future. Its meaning is exactly the opposite: it is meant to mobilize the forces of change in the right direction. Therefore we must totally discount fatalistic explanations of the “secret”, such as, for example, the claim that the would-be assassin of May 13, 1981 was merely an instrument of the divine plan guided by Providence and could not therefore have acted freely, or other similar ideas in circulation. Rather, the vision speaks of dangers and how we might be saved from them.” This, however, did little to quell the excitement around this third secret.
So, there you have it, the three secrets, or rather visions, of Fatima from the Blessed Virgin to the three children. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of devotedness to Fatima and these secrets, hopefully you can agree that at the heart of Mary’s message is the need to turn to Jesus Christ, her Son, for our Salvation- a message we can all get behind.