Collecting the 34 known and accredited apparitions of the Virgin Mary, this study applies an intellectual clarity, precise scholarship, and overall rigor so often absent from Marian studies. Offering detailed evidence, supported by thorough theological and scientific investigationincluding the circumstances of each apparition and their legacythis entertaining and provocative resource gives validation to each event, while connecting their significance to civilizations past, present, and future. Marveling at each phenomenon deemed most holyoften calling on to humanity to pray, do penance, or predicting cataclysmic eventsmainstream Catholics and seasoned Theologians alike will find reassurance and guidance in each account of real life miracles. Also included are a chronology of the officially sanctioned apparitions and the exact text of the words spoken by the Virgin to the mystic or seer who bore witness.
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About the Author
Roy Abraham Varghese is the coauthor of the award-winning There Is a God and the author of The Wonder of the World. He lives in Garland, Texas.
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1. Who Is the Virgin?
Just as the question of who Jesus was cannot be answered without reference to the Old Testament, the purported appearances and messages of the Virgin will make no sense if we know nothing about her depiction in the Bible and the primordial Christian community of faith. As the Church Fathers saw it, Scripture portrayed Mary as the New Eve whose obedience to God's command as delivered by the angel Gabriel opened the door to the coming of the New Adam — in contrast to the Old Eve whose disobedience to God's command under the influence of a fallen angel led the Old Adam to his fatal choice. For her oblation of herself she became a model for Christians who was universally venerated. Second, both in Scripture and in the Fathers, Mary is closely associated with the Holy Spirit. It was her overshadowing by the Holy Spirit that preceded the Virgin Birth. It is the Holy Spirit who is recorded as directly speaking through Elizabeth and Simeon in praising Mary. And it is surely significant that Scripture refers to Mary's presence at the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Finally, it was Mary's compassionate request that led to her Son's first miracle at the beginning of His ministry, and so Mary's intercession especially as it relates to miracles was widely accepted.
The significance of Mary is above all as a link to her Son. The fundamental driving force of all Marian doctrine and devotion is the perception that it is only through her we can fully accept and appreciate both His divinity and His humanity. Her divine maternity — human mother of God the Son — is the most telling testimony to His true humanity. Her special status — immaculately conceived, perpetually virgin, assumed into Heaven, New Eve — presupposes and confirms His divinity. We know too that in the entire Bible, only two human persons beheld God in His supernatural splendor: Moses on Mount Sinai and Mary who was "overshadowed" by the Holy Spirit.
But the key to understanding Mary's apparitions is one obscure yet powerful verse in the Book of Revelation: "Then the dragon was enraged with the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, that is, all who obey God's commandments and bear witness for Jesus" (12:17). All those who "bear witness for Jesus," then, are children of the Woman. And who is the Woman? On the face of it, there can be little doubt that the Woman Clothed with the Sun in Revelation 12 is the Virgin Mary. For the text says earlier that she is the mother of "the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron scepter" (12:5). By reference to Psalm 2 and to the account of His ascension to Heaven (Rev. 12:6), it is apparent that the son is Jesus. Also the dragon is referenced (12:9) to "the primeval serpent known as the devil or Satan" of Genesis 3. Revelation 12 is thus linked to Genesis 3, which refers to the future conflict between the serpent and the Woman and her Son. Historically, Christians (including Martin Luther) have seen Genesis 3 as a prophecy of the coming of Christ and His Mother and their war with Satan. This dovetails with the Revelation 12 account of the war between Christ and His Mother on the one side and Satan on the other (the recently released International Bible Commentary notes that Rev. 12:17 is a clear reference to the messianic text of Gen. 3:15).
Some have tried to say that the Woman here is merely allegorical, perhaps she symbolizes Israel or the Church. But this is at best a second layer of meaning since consistency (as some scholars point out) demands that the Son be treated like His Mother. Either both are mere symbols or they are both real individuals (not one a symbol and the other real). It is unlikely too that Christ would be seen here as an offspring of either Israel or the Church. First, He had been rejected by Israel and so Israel would not be the mother of those who witness to Him, and, second, the Church springs from Him, not vice versa. The Woman is not a spirit because spirits do not give birth to children or need physical nourishment (Rev. 12:6). Thus the Woman Clothed with the Sun is Mary, and Revelation 12 is an account of the first Marian apparition (after the death of the Virgin)!
Revelation 12:17 is doubly important because here we see that the Woman is the mother of all who "bear witness for Jesus." Thus, she is the mother of all Christians (again acknowledged by Luther) and like any other mother comes to the aid of her children when they are in need, as we see in the great Marian apparitions in history. Moreover, she who is the mother of all those who witness to Jesus has historically been the greatest of the witnesses!
The great apparition scholar René Laurentin suggests that Revelation 12 seems to foretell apparitions because the Mother of the Messiah appears in the heavens but also shows herself present on earth and in the struggles of her children (Rev. 12:17). He notes too that in many of her famous apparitions — from Guadalupe to the Miraculous Medal to Medjugorje — the Virgin appears clothed with the sun and crowned with stars as in Revelation 12.
In a nutshell, to grasp the nature and significance of Marian apparitions we must first understand that Mary is the New Eve who is united with her Son the New Adam in the war with the dragon, second, that she is the human vehicle most closely associated with the Holy Spirit, and, third, that she is the Mother of all Christians who comes to their aid at all times and places. This is the underlying rationale and dynamic behind the appearances of the Virgin in history.
Moreover, human beings are creatures of flesh and blood. We have to touch, see, and feel. We are not angels. That is why God became man, and why He came to us in His Risen Body. That is why He manifests the means of salvation through the material: in baptism, for instance, a salvific event acceptable to all Christians. Marian apparitions are simply an extension of the divine response to the human need to touch and feel and see the Holy.CHAPTER 2
The Words of the Virgin in Scripture
One astounding but little noticed feature of the biblical narratives is the fact that every word uttered by Mary — and these were numerically few in number — had momentous consequences in the divine plan of salvation.
When she said to the angel Gabriel, "Let what you have said be done to me," the Holy Spirit "came upon" her and she became the Mother of the Redeemer of humanity.
When she greeted her cousin Elizabeth, the Holy Spirit Himself spoke to her through Elizabeth saying that at the sound of Mary's voice, "the child in my womb leaped for joy" — an event that has historically been regarded as the sanctification of John the Baptist in the womb.
When the inspired Elizabeth praised her for the act of faith and obedience that caused her to be "blessed," Mary responded with the proclamation of praise we call the Magnificat. Two things should be noted about this hymn: first, Mary attributes her glorification to God and, second, she says "all generations will call her blessed" because of what God has done for her (and God bestowed this blessing, we find from Elizabeth's statement just before, because Mary "believed"). Those who believe that Scripture is inspired by God will acknowledge that, in proclaiming the divine decree that she is to be called blessed, Mary is not showing a lack of humility. In praising Mary, we are implicitly praising God's infinite generosity and love in working through the humble and the lowly and in richly blessing those who obey Him. Jesus Himself has told us not to hide our light under a bushel for, in bearing testimony to the blessing we have received, we bear testimony to God.
Finally, in the most famous wedding in history, her Son changes His own timeline for His ministry in response to her words, "They have no wine." Mary already knows He will do what she requests and tells the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." The miracle that follows not only begins the public ministry of Jesus but also causes His disciples "to believe in him."
Once our minds and hearts focus on these words of Mary, the Mary we see in the apparitions will be seen as a mirror-image of the "blessed" handmaid of Scripture and the messages of the apparitions will be heard as an echo of the voice that resonates so momentously in Scripture. In the apparitions, Mary speaks of three things: we are reminded of the importance of doing God's will ("Let what you have said be done to me," "Do whatever he tells you"); we are told about her own key role in the divine plan, and, in telling us this, she simply restates what she proclaimed in the divinely inspired Magnificat; we see her referring to her own vocation of intercession, a ministry she began at Cana.
The importance that Mary's words have in Scripture is matched by the importance attributed to her at key events in the biblical narrative: at the presentation in the Temple the Holy Spirit inspires Simeon to say to Mary that, when her Son is rejected, "a sword will pierce your own soul too"; at Calvary her Son establishes her as mother of all believers, "This is your mother"; at the birth of the Church the author of Acts notes that "the mother of Jesus" is present when the Holy Spirit descends on all the believers gathered in prayer; and in Revelation 12 we are given the glorious vision of her as the mother of all those "who obey God's commandments and bear witness for Jesus."
When you couple the impact of her words in the biblical narratives with her presence at key salvation events, it should be apparent that none of her accredited apparitions are in any sense inconsistent or incompatible with the Mary who appears and speaks in Scripture. Marian apparitions make Scripture come alive in history.CHAPTER 3
The Veneration of the Virgin
One consistent characteristic of Marian apparitions is the impetus they lend to veneration of the Virgin. This aspect of apparitions is objectionable to those critics who consider such veneration "unbiblical."
But whether a practice is biblical or not is decided not by one's own historically isolated interpretation of the biblical narratives but by a study of how the Christian Church interpreted these narratives throughout history and across the world. On the question of the veneration of the Virgin (as opposed to the adoration which one owes to God alone), the historical record is unmistakably clear: Christians from the beginning and across the Christian world interpreted Scripture as not only permitting but demanding veneration of the one whom all generations are to call blessed.
We know, from five different sources, that Christians have historically thought and felt that Marian veneration is warranted:
1. The catacombs of the Christian martyrs of the second and third centuries not only show images representing the scriptural stories but also images of the Virgin in which her mediation is invoked for protection and defense. The Sub Tuum Praesidium prayer — "We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin" — is certainly at least as old as the third century (this is known from the discovery of a papyrus from that period).
2. The second-century apocryphal gospels and the fifth-century transitus mariae narratives are obviously fantasies with no basis in fact. They do, however, show us something important: the idea that the Virgin was the most important participant in salvation history after her Son was so rooted in the minds and hearts of the faithful that some of them felt compelled to invent stories about Jesus and Mary that paid homage to their exalted status. What is important here is not the story but the state of mind that led to the invention of the story: these stories were written by and for people who already took the adoration of Jesus and the veneration of Mary for granted.
3. The writings of all of the Church Fathers, the teachers of the earliest Christian communities who interpreted Scripture for the faithful, bear eloquent testimony to Marian veneration. In their scripturally derived understanding of Mary as the New Eve and the New Ark of the Covenant (see the next two chapters), the Fathers established an unassailable basis for Marian veneration that was accepted for centuries by the Christians of East and West.
4. Perhaps the truest witness to the faith of the believing community is the language of their prayer and liturgical celebration. All of the ancient liturgies, even those before the Council of Ephesus, testify to the firm belief of the Christian faithful in the veneration of Mary and the invocation of her intercession. The Eastern liturgies, the most ancient of them all since Christianity originated in the East, resonate with hymns, odes, and prayers to the Virgin. Thousands of the canons in the Byzantine liturgy are written in honor of the Virgin: "While we sing the glories of thy Son, we praise thee, too, O Mother of God, living Temple of the Godhead. O purest One, do not despise the petitions of the sinner." "Hail, Mother of God, Virgin full of grace, Refuge and Protection of the human race." The Alexandrian liturgy is also replete with Marian veneration and invocation: "Hail to thee, O Virgin, the very and true Queen; hail glory of our race." "Hail Mary! We beseech thee, holy one, full of glory, ever Mother of God, Mother of Christ, lift up our prayers to thy beloved Son, that He may forgive us our sins." The Antiochene liturgy, perhaps the oldest of the ancient liturgies, includes the liturgy of St. James. The Marian invocations in this latter liturgy are profoundly moving, for example, the following recited during the breaking of the Host, "My blessed Lady Mary, beseech with thine only Begotten that he be appeased through thy prayers and perform mercy on us all." In the Western liturgies, Marian veneration and invocation appears in the liturgy of the Mass and also forms a prominent part of regular prayers (offices) and feasts. These liturgies celebrate all of the privileges of the Virgin ranging from her Divine Maternity to her Virginity, Sanctity, Assumption, and Mediation.
5. Finally, the great Councils of the undivided Church proclaim the convictions held in common by all Christians for the first ten centuries about the role of Mary in salvation history. No Christian can reject these Councils since to reject them would ipso facto mean rejecting the teachings of the Councils about such articles of faith as the Holy Trinity and the two natures and one person in Christ. The Trinity is not a word used in the Bible, but it is an interpretation of certain biblical passages ratified by the Councils of the Church. To believe in the Trinity is implicitly to accept the authority of the Councils that taught the doctrine of the Trinity. If one accepts the doctrine of the Trinity, then one has also to accept the Marian doctrines taught by the Councils — since both doctrines are ultimately accepted on the authority of the bodies that taught them. Among the Councils, the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus (431), which taught that Mary was Theotokos, Mother of God, gave a new doctrinal momentum to the great wave of Marian veneration and invocation that had been building up in previous centuries. After this Council, more churches were named after her, new prayers were addressed to her, and great feasts in her honor were introduced into the Church's calendar. The language of the first seven Ecumenical Councils, accepted as authoritative by Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox alike, gives some idea of the reverence that Christians had for their Mother: the Fifth Ecumenical Council (Second Council of Constantinople, 553) describes her as "the holy, glorious and ever-Virgin Mary." "The Virgin Mary" was "really and truly the Mother of God" says the Third Council of Constantinople (680). Finally, and most significantly, the Seventh Ecumenical Council (the Second Council of Nicaea, 787) proclaims, "The Lord, the apostles, and the prophets have taught us that we must venerate in the first place the Holy Mother of God, who is above all the heavenly powers. If any one does not confess that the holy, ever virgin Mary, really and truly the Mother of God, is higher than all creatures visible and invisible, and does not implore with a sincere faith, her intercession, given her powerful access to our God born of her, let him be anathema."
The ancient veneration of the Virgin has been lost in modern times. Did this loss come about from a rediscovery of what the Bible teaches? The answer is no since the ancient authors were familiar not just with the New Testament narratives but with the authors of these narratives. Moreover, if the Christian community had been wrong for all these centuries in its fundamental beliefs about Mary, then there is no reason to believe it was right on any other doctrine, including the doctrine of the Trinity.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "God-Sent"
Copyright © 2000 Roy Abraham Varghese.
Excerpted by permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company.
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