Recently you may have
heard or read of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger-head
of the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of
the Faith--affirming last year's report, by Cardinal William Keeler, which judged in the
negative, alleged private revelations in
Emmitsburg in the last decade. Because there is
confusion regarding private revelations today,
and a seeming profusion of them, we publish the
following points, which may help you and others.
The Church seeks to guide souls both thru
clarity and charity. The following content is
partly based upon the following sources: "A
Still Small Voice," by Fr Benedict Groeschel,
which is highly readable and helpful; "The
Graces of Interior Prayer," by Aug. Poulain;
"The Spiritual Life," by Al fred Tanquerrey, and
"The Catechism of the Catholic Church".
Q. What is a private revelation?
A. This is any inspired revelation, from God to an individual, outside the "public revelation" of the Church. The means of these private
revelations (hereafter "PR") include locutions (inner or audible speaking by God or the Virgin Mary); apparitions (an inner or external vision); or miraculous
phenomenon (stigmata, miracles, etc).
Q. Are all private revelations true?
A. No. The Catholic Church does not make pronouncements on all alleged private revelations. In fact, most are not judged "pro" or "con," and for
this reason, some persons have used the term "alleged private revelation" to help the faithful know of unofficial PR's.
Q. What is "public
A. It is the approved revelation of
God in the Bible, ending with the death of St
John the Apostle. Every teaching or
pronouncement by the Catholic Church after this
is based upon Bible facts or principals from it,
and the latter is called Sacred
Tradition--dogmas and doctrines. The guardian
and interpreter of this is the Magisterium
("teacher") of the Church--which is made up of
the Pope in union with the worldwide bishops,
and inspired by the Holy Spirit leading into all
truth (cf. Jn 14:26). This is the essential link
we have with Jesus and His teachings for today.
All Catholics are required to believe the public
revelation of the Church.
Q. Are Catholics required to believe private revelations?
A. Catholics are allowed, even encouraged, to place a "natural faith", in these PR's, but are not required. The Church makes the distinction
between natural faith-a trust which we have in other persons, for instance--and supernatural faith--which we place in God and His teachings. Even when PR's are approved
they are taught as probable and not indubitable. Pope Pius X said that the Church does not guarantee the truth of facts narrated; she simply does not forbid belief in
Q. On what basis does the Church judge PR's?
A. The Church, thru the local bishop examines the doctrine of the alleged revelations, the fruits (good works associated with it), and the
personal character of persons involved.
Q. What are the basic messages of PR's?
A. Turn away from sin and turn to Him, Jesus the Savior of the World--by praying, fasting, sacrifices, living the Gospel, praying the Rosary,
serving others. While each PR has this similar message, each one also has a unique "flavor" to speak within the times and thereby re-inspire the faithful of that period
Q. What are some
examples of approved private revelations?
Guadalupe, 1521, Mexico City: the Virgin
appeared to Juan Diego. Indigenous people there
were practicing human sacrifice. The virgin
impressed her image on Diego's tilma (a cloak
displayed there today), and convinced the local
bishop and, later converted some 15 million
Indians...Fatima, 1917, in Portugal: where three
children saw the Virgin. They were called, and
called others, to make heroic fasts and
sacrifices; to pray the rosary; and who were
shown Hell to prevent people going there;
thousands of people "saw the sun dance" in a
public miracle… Lourdes, 1858, in France: the
Virgin appeared to St Bernadette, and asked her
to sacrifice and suffer, and find happiness not
on earth but in Heaven.
Q. Why does God give private revelations if He has revealed all essential things in the Bible already?
A. The Catechism says: "Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit: it remains for Christian faith
gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries" (#66). God still naturally communicates to inspire the faithful.
Q. What are some dangers regarding "private revelations"?
A. That PR's may become a "Fifth Gospel" or alternative source of belief and piety, either by contradicting or overwhelming the public
revelation of God. PR's may unintentionally attract undue emphasis and infatuation toward the miraculous-"signs and wonders," while the basics of the Faith-reading the
Bible, receiving the Sacraments, helping the poor, meditation upon lives of the saints goes underemphasized.
Q. How do we know some
PR's are untrue?
A. They may include content
against the Public Revelation and also the
fruits (good works) and persons involved may be
Q. What are some rulings regarding possible PR's?
A. No formal investigation is made--if at all-- until the local bishop deems it time-and an arduous study ensues. A judgment may be made--that
the alleged PR is worthy of devotion or not; if so, then official, public pilgrimages may be made. PR's may be judged by Church as:
- Not of supernatural
- The PR is
questionable and later changed-see Joan of Ark
as an example;
- or fraudulent
(person's are directly misleading people; cf.
Magdalena of the Cross, in Groeshchel, p.
45-46). False revelations include people who
are, or may be, sincere but misled.
Q. Why are there so many
reports today of PR's?
A. The following are
possible answers: the Holy Sprit may be very
active in these times--as a needed response to lukewarmness... Some persons see and hear of
possible PR's and are less shy to report their
own... Because of the denigration or denial of
the Catholic Faith, a reaction--sometimes legit,
sometimes not--ensues. These causes may include:
the downplay of the supernatural (i.e..: the
need for grace in one's life; public miracles
denied of Jesus); desacralization of churches
and public ceremonies; the "hijacking" of
illegitimate interpretations of doctrines, and
of Vatican II (which Pope John Paul has stressed
consistently), and the marring of catechetic and
contemporary discipleship--the association of
the Church too closely with the world.
Q. What is the ruling
regarding the alleged PR 's of "Our Lady of
A. The Church ruled, in 2002, thru
a commission established by Cardinal Keeler,
that there is no evidence of supernatural
content or origin to the alleged revelations (in
Latin, the formula is: Non constat
supernaturalitate), and also that "negative
elements" were part of the alleged phenomenon.
Q. What exactly was
Cardinal Ratzinger 's recent "statement"?
A. It was affirmation of the already-established report and finding by Cardinal' Keeler's Commission; there was no new substantial content or
Q. What were some of the "negative elements" regarding the Emmitsburg P R's?
A. They include--doctrinal: the return of Jesus as a child; a questionable coming-reign of chastisement; a supposed universal revelation of
everyone's soul before the Second Coming; the possibility of spurring excessive attachment to the supernatural. All these elements are contrary to Catholic Faith and
Q. If the Emmitsburg PR 's are not supernatural, than what is their origin? A
. The Church has not defined this.
Q. Many have reported positive benefits-conversions, return to the Faith, good works -so, how could the PR 's not be supernatural?
A. These fruits alone-- although possibly many--do not prove in themselves a supernatural origin. God can, and does, use human, fallible
instruments-- (think of priests, esp. after the past two years) and still transmit grace, and produce good works and conversion from questionable origins.
Q. What are some
responses to the Emmitsburg ruling(s)?
Charity: People should be loving to those
involved in any proven or unproven revelations.
Charity should both affect and be the outward
sign of anyone's discipleship: "Love is patient,
love is kind...." (1 Cor. 13). All persons
involved should try to overcome grievances,
reconcile and be charitable with others.
Whenever difficulties exist, as in these times,
saints are needed-and saintly actions. Pope
Pius' aid of crisis times: "It is no time to be
mediocre." Clarity: In Emmitsburg and any
disapproved PR's, people should be clear about
the ruling and acknowledge the official Church,
no matter how difficult. The Church has
"spoken"-variously--on this matter, and has
clearly defined the situation. While the Church
has rarely overturned disapproved PR's in the
past, it seems imprudent to await that here.
Focus: When discerning any PR's, one should
remember the anolgia fidei-the analogy of Faith.
This means practicing and believing the total
Faith, without making essentials secondary. The
analogia fidei includes-faith in God, the
Blessed Trinity; love of the sacraments, prayer
and adoration; the role of Mary in salvation;
meditation upon the Bible and saints; selfless
service to the poor; interaction with others,
and acknowledgement of legitimate authorities in
the Church. We should focus on these essentials,
which Catholics anywhere agree upon. Persons of
faith should continue good works and an active
faith life. Today, we need the clarity of truth
to solidly define faith matters, and also the
charity of love to help heal hurts. When people
focus on the Gospel and the essentials they can
Q. What are some guiding
A. (See Groeschel):
- Rule 1. Keep all
claims of revelations in perspective.
- Rule 2. No private
revelation comes directly from God and
therefore none can be assumed to be inerrantly
true. (Note: This is the all-important
principal called subjectivity, which means
anyone processing sensate experience receives
thru his/her subjective state, personal
history, wants and desires, etc, and not
- Rule3. A private
revelation by definition is personal and
therefore must be carefully applied by those
for whom it was meant and only within the
limits of ordinary human prudence and never in
an unreasonable way or against the teaching of
the Church. It must never be considered an
infallible guide in any situation.
- Rule 4. A person who
is the recipient of an authentic revelation,
even a canonized saint, may indeed make errors
in understanding that revelation or in
reporting experiences which are not authentic
Charity, Clarity and Focus on the
essentials..., St John of the Cross, the
"Mystical Doctor," quoted in the Catechism,
states this important, timeless principle,
pertinent to everyone everywhere: Any person
questioning God or desiring some vision or
revelation would be guilty of not only foolish
behavior but also of offending Him, by not
fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and living
with the desire from some other novelty." One
disciple, said it this way: "In essentials,
truth; in all things, love."
Read more thoughtful writings by Father Jack
"People who expect the world as it is to end soon
do a lot of very strange things."
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