Lucia’s First Direct Experience of the Supernatural—April/October of 1915
Lucia’s first direct experience with the supernatural was not shared by Francisco or Jacinta. It was at a time that remains uncertain, though she was probably eight years old. Her own recollections set the event between April and October of 1915 and it must have occurred during one of her first assignments with the sheep. She was with three other girls who still remember, though in a kind of grey confusion, what happened that day on the slopes of the Cabeco.
Lucia’s companions were Teresa Maitias, Teresa’s sister, Maria, and a little girl named Maria Justino.
“We’d had our lunch,” Lucia remembers, “and were just beginning the Rosary, when suddenly we saw, above the trees in the valley below us, a kind of cloud that was whiter than snow. It was transparent and in human form.”
The exact emotional reactions of these children are not clear, and later awareness that the figure was an angel has not prompted them to colour the event with imagination. The figure, or visitor, was vague, and admittedly did not etch itself very clearly in their minds.
One of the children reported home to her mother that she had seen something white on a tree and that it looked like a headless woman. This account was enough to raise some lively speculation, but it was a puzzle so beyond solution that, when curiosity had wearied, the problem was shrugged away. Twice again in the days that followed the same strange figure appeared to these children, leaving with Lucia a reaction she could neither describe nor explain.
“The impression slowly disappeared,” she has said in this same memoir, “and I fully believe if it hadn’t been for the events that followed, we’d have forgotten all about it.”
The Angel of Peace’s First Visit—Spring 1916
A year or more passed. Lucia, now a veteran shepherdess, was an almost daily companion to Jacinta and Francisco. Only then did the angel appear with radiant clarity at the Cabeco. This was not a gauzy, uncertain citizen of paradise. Its identity was overpowering. Lucia confesses her complete inability to deal with the event in adequate words, but at least has tried her very best. This is her account of what happened in the spring of 1916:
We went on that occasion to my parents’ property, which is at the bottom of the Cabeco, facing east. It is called Chousa Velha.
About the middle of the morning it began to drizzle and we climbed up the hill, followed by our sheep, in search of a rock that would shelter us. And so it was that we entered for the first time into that blessed place. It is in the middle of an olive grove that belongs to my godfather, Anastacio. From there one can see the village where I was born, my father’s house, and also Casa Velha and Eira da Pedra. The olive grove, which really belongs to several people, extends as far as these places.
We spent the day there, in spite of the fact that the rain had stopped and the sun was shining in a clear sky. We ate our lunch and began to say the Rosary. After that we began to play a game with pebbles. We had only been at it a few moments when a strong wind began to shake the trees and we looked up to see what was happening, since it was such a calm day. And then we began to see, in the distance, above the trees that stretched to the east, a light whiter than snow in the form of a young man, quite transparent, and as brilliant as crystal in the rays of the sun. As he came near we were able to see his features. We were astonished and absorbed and we said nothing to one another. And then he said: “Do not be afraid. I am the angel of peace. Pray with me.”
He knelt, bending his forehead to the ground. With a supernatural impulse we did the same, repeating the words we heard him say:
“My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask forgiveness for those who do not believe, nor adore, nor hope, nor love You.” (8) After repeating this prayer three times the angel rose and said to us: “Pray in this way. The hearts of Jesus and Mary are ready to listen to you.” And he disappeared. He left us in an atmosphere of the supernatural that was so intense we were for a long time unaware of our own existence. The presence of God was so powerful and intimate that even among ourselves we could not speak. On the next day, too, this same atmosphere held us bound, and it lessened and disappeared only gradually. None of us thought of talking about this apparition or any pledge of secrecy. We were locked in silence without having willed it.
This silence was long maintained. The weight of mystery was on them heavily. Their games and songs and dances were begun again, but as though by a controlling plan they chose now to play less with other children, and to remain much more by themselves. It should be mentioned here that while Francisco witnessed and felt the power and glory of the angel, he did not hear what was said. Later, too, in all the apparitions that followed, the partial privilege of seeing and knowing but not hearing the words of our Lady was to be his allotment.
When it is summer on the Serra da Aire, the sun of the middle day is merciless. It parches the hills and wilts nearly everything. The sheep are therefore pastured in the early and the late parts of the day. Always before noon they are returned to the sheep folds while the shepherds themselves find shade from the sun and ease from their morning tasks.
The children often spent these glaring hours in Lucia’s garden where an old well rests in shade. The well in summer is covered by a great flat stone, since it is not spring-fed, but is rather a kind of catch-all, used to gather what water it can in the brief season of rain.
The Angel of Peace’s Second Visit
The children liked to sit and play on the great rock covering the well, shaded by the laden limbs of fig, almond and olive trees. One day, in the time of siesta, the angel came to them again, and this is Lucia’s account:
Suddenly we saw the same angel near us.
“What are you doing?” he said. “You must pray! Pray! The hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs for you. You must offer your prayers and sacrifices to God, the Most High.”
“But how are we to sacrifice?” I asked.
“In every way you can offer sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for sinners. In this way you will bring peace to our country, for I am its guardian angel, the angel of Portugal. Above all, bear and accept with patience the sufferings God will send you.”
Again Francisco, hearing nothing of what the angel had said, could hold his curiosity no longer than evening. “Lucia,” he asked then, “what did the angel say?”
But Lucia was so stunned by the weight of the supernatural that she asked him please to wait another day, or else to ask Jacinta. But Jacinta, too, found herself not willing or prepared to repeat a word of the angel’s message.
“Tomorrow I will tell you, Francisco,” she said. “But I just can’t talk about it tonight.”
On the following day (relates Lucia), the first thing Francisco did was ask me, “Did you sleep last night? I was thinking all the time of the angel and what he could have said.”
I then told him everything the angel had said in the two apparitions. But it seemed he did not understand all the words. “What is the Most High?” he asked. “What does it mean that the hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to your supplications?” And when I gave him the answer he remained thoughtful for a while before he began to ask other questions. But my own spirit was not yet free to talk of these things. I asked him once more to wait another day. He seemed content then to wait a little, but at the very first chance he was asking questions again, which caused Jacinta to say with some alarm, “Be careful; one should not talk about these things!”
It is strange, but when we talked about the angel, I cannot explain how it was that we felt. Jacinta said, “I don’t know what it is that I feel. I can’t talk or play or sing or anything.”
“I can’t either,” Francisco said, “but it doesn’t matter. The angel is better than anything. Let’s think of him.”
It was no problem to dwell on the angel. For days they were without capacity to think of anything else. The exhortation to “Pray… pray… offer your prayers and sacrifices to the Most High,” did not register with them like some order or recommendation from a parent or a priest. Their senses were barely able to carry the weight of what had been said.
The words of the angel were like a light (Lucia has written), which made us understand who and what God really is—how He loves us and wishes to be loved. The value of sacrifice was for the first time clear. Suddenly we knew its appeal to God and its power to convert sinners. From that moment we began offering to Him all that mortified us, all that was difficult or unpleasant, except that we did not then seek extra sacrifices and penances as we later learned to do. We did, however, spend hours and hours prostrated on the ground, repeating and repeating the prayer the angel taught us.
The summer passed and siesta times were over: Now the sheep were pastured in the fields the length of every day. The children understandably had become more thoughtful, their prayers habitual. One day, Lucia remembers, they led their flock from other fields to the slope of the Cabeco. And there by a strange, high-standing stone, they knelt to say first the Rosary, then the prayer the angel had taught them.
The Angel of Peace’s Third Visit
While we were there (Lucia has testified), the angel appeared to us for the third time, holding in his hand a chalice, and above the chalice, a Host, from which a few drops of blood were falling. Leaving the chalice and Host suspended in air, he prostrated himself on the ground and repeated three times this prayer:
“Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the most precious body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He is offended. And by the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.”
Afterwards, he rose and took again the chalice and the Host and gave the Host to me and the contents of the chalice to Jacinta and Francisco, saying to them:
“Take and drink the body and blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Repair their crimes and console your God.”
Once more he prostrated himself and repeated with us three times the prayer, “Most Holy Trinity… etc.” He then disappeared. As in the other instances of the angel’s appearance, exhaustion and the lock of silence held both little girls. Only Francisco, not having heard the angel, had a question to ask. “Lucia,” he said, “I know the angel gave you Holy Communion, but what was it that he gave to Jacinta and me? “That was Communion, too, Francisco. Didn’t you see the blood that dropped into the chalice from the Host?”
The little boy, rich with the Feast that was in him, seemed satisfied. “I knew that God was in me,” he said, “but I didn’t know exactly how.” Then he knelt in love and thanksgiving to repeat and repeat the beautiful prayer of the angel.
Some feeling of impudence must invade any writer who attempts by himself to interpret the work of God. Yet it seems here so entirely clear that the angel, in addition to preparing the children for the spiritual privileges yet to come, undertook to demonstrate and underline for our theological health and guidance that the binding orthodoxies of the Church have not been vitiated by time or error. The centuries have left them undamaged. The frailties of all men, including the Church’s membership, or even the sins and weaknesses of her priests, so often pointed at in triumph by the Church’s enemies, have not chipped the Rock of Peter, nor diminished in any way the irreducible God who supplants the bread in the uplifted hands of any ordinary priest. The Trinity, the Eucharist, the Mass, the Rosary—all have been declared unnecessary trappings by dissenting Christians who, not through God’s revelation, but by the fiat of rebellion, have chosen the wilderness of their own convenient interpretations. But here, at Fatima, it does appear that an angel has walked among us with a catechism open in his hands. Lucia has written:
I don’t know why, but the apparitions of our Lady produced in us effects quite different from the angel’s visitations. We felt in both instances the same intimate happiness, peace and joy, but instead of the physical prostration the angel imposed, our Lady brought a feeling of expansion and freedom; and instead of this annihilation in the divine presence, we wished only to exult in our joy. There was no difficulty of speech when our Lady appeared; there was rather on my part a desire to communicate.
8. This prayer spoken by the angel to children who could not read or write, nor by any means other than memory retain what they had heard was so indelibly etched in their minds that the verbatim original remains: Meu Deus, eu creio, adoro, espero e amo-Vos. Peco-Vos, perdao para os que nao creem, nas adoram, nas esperam e nas Vos amam. (return)