The First Mary (Part 5)
"...weeping, exhortation, pleading, threatening, and miracles..."
Up until the middle of the 20th century it looked like the Roman Catholic Church was going to promote Mary all the way to the top of the divine pantheon. No one said it openly, but that was the thrust of Church policy as enunciated by pope after pope.
In 1954 Pius XII declared that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was ‘the Queen of all creatures, the Queen of the world, and the Ruler of all’. Although for this pontiff Jesus was the undoubted king, Mary was more than just the king’s mother - she was his queen, his ‘associate in the redemption’.1
However, the momentum towards the deification of Mary came to a halt during the 1960s. The Second Vatican Council, with its emphasis on ending divisions with the other Christian denominations, made this inevitable. Protestants generally honour and revere Mary, but they draw the line at any suggestion that she is on the same level as Jesus. So they had to be appeased.
From the time that Cardinal Angelo Roncalli assumed the papacy in 1958 as John XXIII, popes have tended to play down Mary’s posthumous role so as not to offend Protestant sensibilities. Nonetheless they still assert her position as a kind of universal mother. When the present incumbent, Pope Francis, insisted recently that Mary should not be regarded as either a ‘goddess’ or a ‘co-redeemer’, he also affirmed her status as ‘our mother, the Mother of the Church’.2
The post-Vatican II concept of Mary as ‘mother’ is probably more apt today than depicting her as a ‘queen’ who rules the roost. When anyone thinks of Queen Elizabeth II, for instance, they hardly imagine that she exerts real political power over the UK government or the British people. These days she is regarded as more of a maternal figure, whose advice and influence are valued by her adult children.3 So too with Mary, at least as far as many Roman Catholics are concerned. And if anything has boosted this image of Mary as mother it is surely the Marian apparitions that have been reported around the world.
Thanks for reading History In The Making! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Many Christians believe that Mary has appeared miraculously in various places since she lived in Palestine 2,000 years ago. While reports of Marian apparitions have been recorded since the earliest days of Christianity, they have become more frequent in the last two centuries. According to one commentator, during these appearances Mary is
intervening with weeping, exhortation, pleading, threatening, and miracles, to turn people away from their folly and wickedness and to urge them to pray and do penance.4
Of the scores of Marian apparitions reported to have taken place since the early 19th century, only a few have received ecclesiastical sanction. Probably the best known of these are Lourdes and Fatima. While these places attract thousands of visitors each year, large numbers of pilgrims also flock to unapproved sites like Medjugorje in Bosnia.
It seems that, in their eagerness to show their devotion to the mother of Jesus, ordinary Catholics are not prepared to wait for the Church’s seal of approval. The apparitions could be interpreted as Mary bypassing the official Church in order to speak directly to her people.
How can these apparitions be explained? Are they the result of human trickery or could some at least be supernatural in origin? Whatever the answer, one thing is certain. Those who believe that the apparitions are genuine are in no doubt that Mary is on their side, even to the extent of intervening from time to time to save humanity from the fierce retribution of a vengeful God.
The belief that Mary is more than an intercessor between God and his people - that she is uniquely able to prevent God or Jesus from destroying us all - goes back a long way. Two medieval legends portray Mary as either beseeching Jesus on her knees to show mercy when he was aiming three lances at the world, or physically restraining him as he was about to wipe humanity off the map.5 The same idea can be detected in two of the approved Marian apparitions: La Salette and Fatima.
In 1846 a woman, assumed to be Mary, appeared to two peasant children near the village of La Salette in the French Alps. Years later the older of the two, Melanie Calvat, wrote her own account of the apparition, including details of what the woman said to them. Here are a few extracts from the utterances of the woman, who Melanie referred to as ‘the Beautiful Lady’.6
If My people do not wish to submit themselves, I am forced to let go of the hand of My Son. It is so heavy and weighs Me down so much I can no longer keep hold of it.
All the time I have suffered for the rest of you! If I do not wish My Son to abandon you, I must take it upon Myself to pray for this continually. And the rest of you, you think little of this. In vain you will pray, in vain you will act, you will never be able to make up for the troubles I have taken for the rest of you.
Mankind must expect to be ruled with an iron rod and to drink from the chalice of the wrath of God.
At La Salette Mary presented herself as a mother defending her children against a tyrannical male. He could be the woman’s husband or her adult son, i.e. God the Father or Jesus. Whoever he is, Mary implied that the struggle to keep him in check was taking its toll and making her weary. In fact she seemed thoroughly fed up at the lack of appreciation for her efforts from those whom she was protecting.
She then alluded to a passage from the Book of Revelation in which the author wrote of ‘a woman clothed with the sun [who] brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron’.7 If, as many theologians and biblical scholars believe, the woman is Mary herself then her son wielding the ‘iron rod’ must be Jesus.
In 1917, seventy years after La Salette, Mary is said to have appeared several times to three children who were tending sheep in a remote part of Portugal, outside the village of Fatima. In one of her visits she showed the children a vision of hell that, according to the young witnesses, ‘horrified us and made us tremble with fear’. Mary told them that, in order to save souls from this terrible fate, ‘God wishes to establish devotion to my Immaculate Heart in the world’. Mary then added, ‘If you do what I shall tell you, many souls will be saved and there will be peace’.8
Although here Mary set down a new condition for continuing to act on our behalf, her message is fundamentally the same as at La Salette: only she has the authority and the wherewithal to save us from God’s anger.
It is impossible to authenticate definitively any of the Marian apparitions. Despite the Church’s approval of a handful of the modern claims, belief in them rests with the individual – no one is compelled to regard any apparition as an article of faith. However, for me, Mary’s alleged appearances at La Salette and Fatima carry the ring of truth because they seem to shed light on an incident I discussed in Part 1 of this series. This is the gospel account of Mary’s arrival at Jesus’ home with her other children during an apparent attempt to denounce her eldest son as the devil.9
Could what Mary is reported to have said during the apparitions be interpreted as her take on that confrontation with Jesus? Do the apparitions give Mary (or her spirit) the opportunity to reiterate the allegation that Jesus is deranged or possessed by evil? Could this explain the extraordinary claims she has made, or which have been made on her behalf, that she has to intervene from time to time to protect the world from her intemperate son?
Yet there is nothing in the New Testament to support this picture of Jesus. The only event that comes close is his reported expulsion of the money-changers from the temple in Jerusalem.10 But, as I explain below, that could not justify his depiction in the apparition accounts as an angry and impatient fanatic.
In an earlier article I argued that Jesus wanted to end our dependence on money because he believed it held us back from God. However he was tolerant towards those who worked in finance – after all one of his disciples was a tax collector. What enraged him about the temple episode was that the money-changers were plying their trade inside his ‘Father’s house’, an activity he must have found insufferable in such a holy place. In general, however, the gospels reveal Jesus to have been a considerate and thoughtful man who displayed a high level of understanding towards those whom the clerical authorities condemned as “sinners”.
As I contended last time, humanity has been hoodwinked about the true nature of Jesus’ attitude towards his mother. The Marian apparitions add further weight to the duplicity. The overall effect is to distance people from God and from Jesus, while simultaneously drawing them into an ever-stronger dependence on Mary as their protective mother.
Finally, I ask readers to reflect on those descriptions of Mary left to us by Pope Pius XII and John the Evangelist. Pius called Mary ‘the Ruler of all’, while John referred to her as the mother of ‘one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron’. Although written many centuries apart, these two phrases are eerily similar to each other.
They also bring to mind another description I discussed here, i.e. ‘the ruler of this world’, a term that Jesus applied - not to himself - but to Satan.
Pius XII, ‘Ad caeli reginam’, 11 Oct. 1954 [https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_11101954_ad-caeli-reginam.html], 30 Aug 2022.
Francis, ‘General audience’, 24 Mar. 2021 [https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2021/documents/papa-francesco_20210324_udienza-generale.html], 30 Aug. 2022.
Former British prime minster, John Major, is reported to have observed: ‘At about the time the Queen Mother died, the Queen effectively became the “mother of the nation”’. (Mail Online, 25 Sep. 2011 [https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2041776/Queen-Elizabeth-Private-thoroughly-modern-monarch.html], 31 Aug 2022).
Sandra Zimdars-Swartz, Encountering Mary: From La Salette to Medjugorje (Princeton, N.J., 1991), p. 246.
Ibid, p. 7.
Abbé Gouin, Sister Mary of the Cross, Shepherdess of La Salette (Guildford, c. 1981), pp. 61-9.
Fr. Louis Kondor (ed.), Fatima in Lucia’s own words: Sister Lucia’s memoirs (16th ed., Fatima, 2007), pp. 123-4.