“The Church approved it! That means you have to believe it!”
So said someone when I expressed serious doubts about LaSallette or that I was 95-99% certain the Fatima apparitions were genuine. It never ceases to amaze me that so many can fail to grasp how these things work. In the example of approval of apparitions, the approval is not a positive; it simply denotes a lack of negatives at that point in time.
Is it strange that a sudden influx of claimed apparitions occurred in the mid-late 19th Century and continued in the 20th? Popular devotions had reached absurd highs (I only recently learned of the so-called “five-fold scapular” sandwich for she who cannot choose just one) as Catholics in Europe found themselves outmaneuvered at every turn by the post-Enlightenment deconstructionists. They were desperate and turned to the Pope (“The great! The good!”, according to a little song by Cardinal Wiseman) and anything they could grasp that reminded them of the old faith in a changing world. This left them vulnerable, gullible, and malleable to a variety of practices which are most likely superstitious.
Scapl’rs within scapl’rs, fer all yer scapl’r needs!
As far as apparitions go, I take them on a case-by-case basis. The description of what happened at Lourdes (not the sappy 1948 movie about it) is un-fantastic enough to be believable and did not come with a magic cure-all devotion attached. I would find it quite unfortunate and be saddened (I find the alleged miraculous water compelling and something that is worth believing in) if it was revealed to be hoax, but I would move on.
LaSallete though… is quite another story. Popular among the SSPX, the alleged appearance of a woman crying to two children (one who ended up a drunken dissolute and the other who was committed to the mad house) has nothing about it that strikes me as Marian in a traditional sense. The imagery is so far removed from all her portrayals in traditional iconography (Western, Byzantine, Coptic, Ethiopian, etc.) that it can but grab the attention. Even the (satanic?) hoax of Medjugorge remembered that the Theotokos often carries the infant Christ around to symbolize her motherhood. Furthermore, many of the more apocalyptic messages were revealed to have been written years later by an adult Melanie shortly before being locked up.
Not much in common they have, do they?
Most of the rest (Pontmain, Knock, Good Help…) evoke little feeling from me one way or the other as I don’t know much about them. Fatima, on the other hand…
I am mostly sold on Fatima and that something happened (though I do take note that Mary appeared with both a rosary AND scapular as well as the “say the rosary every day” message), but I do not go down the Fatima Center hole. Fatima, if it happened, was a warning of something that has already occurred. We live in the aftermath. We live in the punishment. If we do not wish it to happen again and if we want to climb out of this wreckage we’ll need to remember Fatima as a warning, put it aside for reference and move forward with fixing our current problem (and a daily rosary is not a bad place for many to start). I say this with the full understanding that the whole thing could be a hoax, but for now I will operate as usual.
I discount almost all the 20th century apparitions (with the possible exception of Akita) as knockoffs and attempts to imitate Fatima. Shortly before he died, Michael Davies wrote up an excellent summary of how Medjugorge went against everything that we know of Christ and his Mother and the fact that it defies common sense and logic. Meanwhile, I am open to the possibility that the apparitions of Zeitoun and Assuit are real, as the events around them (more so with Assuit) are out of the ordinary without being fantastic.
On the whole I believe there was a crazed zeitgeist which produced many phony apparitions alongside some genuine ones. It is not like apparitions did not occur exclusively in those two centuries or in the West (for those who have never heard of it, check out the history behind the Byzantine feast of the Protection of the Theotokos) so it is not out of the question that some, if not a significant number, were actually real. I claim that we need to walk a fine line between cynicism and frenzy.
What do the readers think?
EDIT: There were two versions of the La Salette content. While the first was approved in good faith in 1846, the second – written in 1879 (after France had undergone the proto-Bolshevik terror of the Paris Commune) – was not only not approved but condemned and placed on the index of forbidden books.
Regardless of what one thinks of the original apparition (and there is room to believe or disbelieve) the second version with its apocalyptic prophecy has no legitimate backing to it whatsoever.
Be ye ware of false prophets, that come to you in clothings of sheep, but withinforth they be wolves of raven; of their fruits ye shall know them. Whether men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of briers? So every good tree maketh good fruits; but an evil tree maketh evil fruits. A good tree may not make evil fruits, neither an evil tree [may] make good fruits. Every tree that maketh not good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Therefore of their fruits ye shall know them. – Matthew 7:15-20, Wyclffe Bible
“Of their fruits ye shall know them”… and what have been the fruits of the Marian apparition craze, I wonder? Christ did warn of us of false prophets.
Then if any man say to you, Lo! here is Christ, or there, do not ye believe. For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and they shall give great tokens, and wonders; so that also the chosen be led into error, if it may be done. Lo! I have before-said to you. Therefore if they say to you, Lo! he is in (the) desert, do not ye go out; lo! he is in privy places, do not ye believe. For as lightning goeth out from the east, and appeareth into the west, so shall be also the coming of man’s Son. Wherever the body shall be, also the eagles shall be gathered thither. – Matthew 24:23-28, Wyclffe Bible
It is not outside the realm of possibility that the devil could imitate the guise of the Theotokos (especially in a form that Catholics of the time would have recognized), created a bright light in the sky that looked like the sun, and cured some sick people. On the extremely slim chance that Fatima was not genuine, then it could not have been anything else but a demonic deception. There is no possible middle ground.