The Happy Childhood of a Privileged Soul
A Precocious and Favoured Child
In her second Memoir, which is an enthralling opening of an autobiography, Lucy writes:
It seems to me that our dear God favoured me with the use of reason even when I was a very young child. I can remember being conscious of my acts, even on the knees of my mother. I can remember being put in the crib and put to sleep, to the sound of different songs. And since I was the youngest of five daughters and one son which Our Lord was pleased to give to my parents, I can remember various quarrels among them, because they all wanted to take me in their arms and talk to me. At that moment, so that no one would be victorious, my mother would take me back in her arms, and if she was occupied and could not keep me there, she would entrust me to my father, who in his turn would cover me with kisses and caresses.
The first thing I learned was the Hail Mary because my mother had the habit of taking me in her arms while she would teach my sister Caroline, who was five years older than I.
Let us observe right away, since all the witnesses agree, that Lucy was an extraordinarily precocious child. She retains very precise memories of her very first years, which she artfully relates, showing a real literary talent. Listen to her relate, in such a lively and alert tone, how as a very young girl she took part in all the feasts of the village where she was cuddled by all:
My two eldest sisters were already grown up. My mother, knowing that I repeated everything I heard like a parrot, wanted them to take me with them everywhere they went. They were, as we say in our locality, the leading lights among the young people. There was not a festival or a dance that they did not attend. At Carnival time, on St. John’s Day, and at Christmas, there was certain to be a dance. Besides this, there was the vintage. Then there was the olive picking, with a dance almost every day. When the big parish festivals came round, such as the feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Anthony, and so on, we always raffled cakes; after that came a dance, without fail. We were invited to almost all the weddings for miles around, for if they did not invite my mother to be matron of honour, they were sure to need her for the cooking. At these weddings, the dance went on from after the banquet until well into the next morning. Since my sisters had to have me always with them, they took as much trouble in dressing me up as they were wont to do for themselves. As one of them was a dressmaker, I was always decked out in a regional costume more elegant than that of any girl around… You would have thought that they were dressing a doll rather than a small child.
At the dances they deposited me on top of a wooden chest or some other tall piece of furniture, to save me from being trampled underfoot. Once on my perch, I had to sing a number of songs to the music of a guitar or the concertina. My sisters had already taught me to sing, as well as to dance a few waltzes when there was a partner missing. The latter I did with great agility, thus attracting the attention and applause of everyone present. Some of them even rewarded me with gifts, in the hope of pleasing my sisters.”
“THE WORLD BEGAN TO SMILE ON ME.” In these village balls, which retained a family atmosphere, there was doubtless nothing gravely reprehensible. Neither the good Father Pena, nor the austere Maria Rosa, who very shrewdly always found a discreet means of watching over her daughters – “my mother, knowing that I repeated everything I heard like a parrot, wanted them to take me everywhere they went” – neither one found anything to object to.
Yet, Lucy will avow that even for her, still so young, this disordered passion for dancing was not without danger for her soul. “To tell the truth, the world was beginning to smile on me, and above all a passion for dancing was already sinking its roots deep into my poor heart.”
Soon, fortunately, things would change in the village:
Reverend Father Pena was no longer our parish priest, and had been replaced by Reverend Father Bocinha. When this zealous priest learned that such a pagan custom as endless dancing was only too common in the parish, he promptly began to preach against it from the pulpit in his Sunday sermons. In public and in private, he lost no opportunity of attacking this bad custom. As soon as my mother heard the good priest speak in this fashion, she forbade my sisters to attend such amusements.
From that time on, relates Maria dos Anjos, “cost what it might, our mother wanted us all at the house by sundown. Even on festival days, when we would have loved to amuse ourselves like the others, nothing doing! The supper hour was sacred.”28 “As my sisters’ example led others also to refrain from attending”, Lucy adds, “this custom gradually died out. The same thing happened among the children, who used to get up their little dances apart.
Lucy concludes with this anecdote which reveals clearly the exemplary docility of her mother:
Somebody remarked one day to my mother: “Up to now, it was no sin to go to dances, but just because we have a new parish priest, it is a sin. How can that be?” “I don’t know”, replied my mother. “All I know is that the priest does not want dancing, so my daughters are not going to such gatherings any more. At most, I would let them dance a bit within the family, because the priest says there is no harm in that.”
EVENINGS IN THE DOS SANTOS FAMILY. Maria Rosa excelled in making good Christian joy reign in family life. In the evening, she would have her children spend the time in music and singing, prayer and holy reading.
At certain times of the year, my sisters had to go out working in the fields during the daytime, so they did their weaving and sewing at night. Supper was followed with prayers led by my father, and then the work began. Everyone had something to do: my sister Maria went to the loom; my father filled the spools; Teresa and Gloria went to their sewing; my mother took out her spinning; Caroline and I, after tidying up the kitchen, had to help with the sewing, taking out basting, sewing on buttons, and so forth; to keep drowsiness away, my brother played the concertina, and we joined in singing all kinds of songs. The neighbours often dropped in to keep us company, and although it meant losing their sleep, they used to tell us that the very sound of our gaiety banished all their worries and filled them with happiness. I heard different women sometimes say to my mother: “How fortunate you are! What lovely children God has given you!
When the time came round to harvest the corn, we removed the husks by moonlight. There was I sitting atop a heap of corn, and chosen to give a hug all round whenever a dark-coloured corn cob appeared.
My mother was accustomed to teaching catechism to her children during the summer at siesta time. In the winter, we had our lesson after supper at night, gathered round the fireside, as we sat roasting and eating chestnuts, and a sweet variety of acorns.
Every evening, especially in winter (recalls Maria dos Anjos), our mother would read to us something from the Old Testament or the Gospel, or the story of Our Lady of Nazare or Our Lady of Lourdes… During Lent, we knew that the readings would always be on the Passion of Our Lord. Lucy immediately would retain everything by heart, and would then give her version to the children.
Let us note that Lucy already was demonstrating unusual qualities: attentive and reflective, with a profound piety, she was also very exuberant and overflowing with affection.
A LOVABLE AND AFFECTIONATE CHARACTER. The few photos that we have of her, taken at the time of the apparitions, are misleading. They show us a face that is somewhat scowling and not very attractive. Of course, being a strong, robust little peasant, she did not have very delicate traits. But her big, black eyes, shining under the thick eyebrows, often lit up in a radiant smile which would transfigure her face. If the photos did not show it, numerous witnesses assure us, that Lucy was a very attractive and affectionate child. Let us hear her elder sister, Maria dos Anjos:
We loved her because she was so intelligent and affectionate. Even when she was older, when she came home with the flock, she used to run and sit on her mother’s lap and be cuddled and kissed. We, the elder ones, used to tease her and say: “Here comes the cuddler!” – and we would even get cross with her. But she always did it again the next day.
“THE DEVIL WOULD HAVE BROUGHT ABOUT MY RUIN.” Her uncle, Ti Marto, had well understood the richness of her character: “She was very outgoing, very frank and very refined, very affectionate, even with her father. Already I predicted her future: “You will be either very good, or very bad…””
Such a temperament, and so many signs of tenderness and favour lavished on the young child could undoubtedly, in the long run, have harmed her soul:
Amid the warmth of such affectionate and tender caresses, I happily spent my first six years. To tell the truth, the world was beginning to smile on me, and above all, a passion for dancing was already sinking its roots deep into my poor heart. And I must confess that the devil would have used this to bring about my ruin, had not the good Lord shown His special mercy towards me.
But thanks to the indefatigable zeal of her mother who had already succeeded in teaching her the whole catechism when she was not even six years old, the beautiful truths of the Faith, the Love of Jesus, the ardent hope of receiving Him soon struck roots in her heart that were much more profound than the first attractions of the world. The altogether gratuitous predilection of the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary would do the rest.
The Smile of Our Lady and Her First Communion at Age Six
At a time when, in spite of the recent decrees of St. Pius X, pastors were so strict about the age for first communion, Lucy obtained the signal favour of being able to make her first communion at the age of six.
We must read attentively the admirable account where Sister Lucy relates for us, so ingenuously and with such charming candour, this first mystical grace which marked her whole life so profoundly: “I do not know”, she writes at the end of the narration, “whether the facts I have related above about my First Communion were a reality or a little child’s illusion.” We must admire in this passage the prudent modesty of the seer who does not wish to give this intimate and personal grace, received at the age of six, the same degree of certitude as the great apparitions of 1916 and 1917. “What I do know”, she goes on, “is that they have always had, and still have today, a great influence in uniting me to God.”
These few pages, which for us are reminiscent of some similar texts of St. Therese of the Child Jesus or of Marie Noel, are one of the high points of the Memoirs, and to read them, one does not know what to marvel at more: the smile of Our Lady to her predestined child, or the resplendent beauty of our Church at that time, shining with a marvellous brightness even in the tiniest hamlets of Christendom. What fervour in those souls! What a spirit of faith penetrating the liturgy and family customs, what divine wisdom in the arrangements, what overflowing supernatural joy! And all this in a charming simplicity and perfectly natural atmosphere.
LUCY’S DISAPPOINTMENT. The day which the parish priest had appointed for the solemn First Communion of the children of the parish was drawing near. In view of the fact that I knew my catechism and was already six years old, my mother thought that perhaps I could now make my First Communion. To this end she sent me with my sister Caroline to the catechism instructions which the parish priest was giving to the children, in preparation for this great day. I went, therefore, radiant with joy, hoping soon to be able to receive my God for the first time. The priest gave his instructions, seated in a chair up on a platform. He called me to his side, and when one or another of the children was unable to answer his question, he told me to give the answer instead, just to shame them.
The eve of the great day arrived, and the priest sent word that all the children were to go to the church in the forenoon, so that he could make the final decision as to which ones were to make their First Communion. What was not my disappointment when he called me up beside him, caressed me and then said I was to wait till I was seven years old! I began to cry at once, and just as I would have done with my own mother, I laid my head on his knees and sobbed.
THE INTERVENTION OF GOOD FATHER CRUZ. It happened that another priest who had been called in to help with the confessions, entered the church just at that moment. Seeing me in this position, he asked me the reason for my tears. On being informed, he took me to the sacristy and examined me on the catechism and the mystery of the Eucharist. After this, he took me by the hand and brought me to the parish priest, saying, “Father Pena, you can let this child go to Communion. She understands what she’s doing better than many of the others.” “But she’s only six years old”, objected the good priest. “Never mind! I’ll take the responsibility for that.” “All right, then”, the good priest said to me. “Go and tell your mother that you are making your first Communion tomorrow.”
It is not without importance that Lucy had this rare privilege from a priest who undoubtedly will one day be raised to the altar and who was an expert on the knowledge of souls. We are speaking of the good Father Cruz who, in 1947, confirmed to Canon Barthas the exactness of all the facts reported by Sister Lucy in her Memoirs. Now Father Cruz was known as a saint in all of Portugal, where he was going all over preaching from parish to parish. Having become a Jesuit, he died at Lisbon on October 1, 1948, and the renown of his sanctity was so great that the process for his beatification was opened in the spring of 1951.
In 1917, he was one of the first priests to openly come out in favour of the apparitions. He came back several times to Aljustrel to counsel and encourage the three seers, whom he loved as a father. But now let us return to Lucy’s narrative:
I could never express the joy I felt. Off I went, clapping my hands with delight, and running all the way home to give the good news to my mother. She at once set about preparing me for the confession I was to make that afternoon.
THE PUBLIC CONFESSION. My mother took me to the church, and when we arrived, I told her that I wanted to confess to the other priest. So we went to the sacristy, where he was sitting on a chair hearing confessions. My mother knelt down in front of the high altar near the sacristy door, together with the other mothers who were waiting for their children to confess in turn. Right there before the Blessed Sacrament, my mother gave me her last recommendations.
When my turn came round, I went and knelt at the feet of our dear Lord, represented there in the person of His minister, imploring forgiveness for my sins. When I had finished, I noticed that everyone was laughing. My mother called me to her and said: “My child, don’t you know that confession is a secret matter and that it is made in a low voice? Everybody heard you! There was only one thing nobody heard: that is what you said at the end.” On the way home, my mother made several attempts to discover what she called the secret of my confession. But she obtained nothing but a stony silence.
THE WORDS OF A SAINT. I am now going to disclose this secret of my first confession. After listening to me, the good priest said these few words: “My child, your soul is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Keep it always pure so that He will be able to carry on His Divine action within it.” On hearing these words, I felt myself filled with respect for myself, and asked the kind confessor what I ought to do. “Kneel down there before Our Lady and ask Her, with great confidence, to take care of your heart, to prepare it to receive Her beloved Son worthily tomorrow, and to keep it for Him alone?”
THE SMILE OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY. In the church there was more than one statue of Our Lady, but as my sisters took care of the altar of Our Lady of the Rosary, I usually went there to pray. That is why I went there on this occasion also, to ask Her with all the ardour of my soul, to keep my poor heart for God alone.
As I repeated this humble prayer over and over again, with my eyes fixed on the statue, it seemed to me that She smiled, and with a loving look and kindly gesture, assured me that She would. My heart was overflowing with joy, and I could scarcely utter a single word.
THE FERVENT WAIT. My sisters stayed up that night making me a white dress and a wreath of flowers. As for me, I was so happy that I could not sleep, as it seemed as if the hours would never pass! I kept on getting up to ask them if the day had come, or if they wanted me to try on my dress, or my wreath, and so forth.
The happy day dawned at last; but nine o’clock – how long it was in coming! I put on my white dress, and then my sister Maria took me into the kitchen to ask pardon of my parents, to kiss their hands, and ask their blessing. After this little ceremony, my mother gave me her last recommendations. She told me what she wanted me to ask Our Lord when I had received Him into my heart, and said goodbye to me in these words: “Above all, ask Him to make you a saint!”
Her words made such an indelible impression on my heart, that they were the very first that I said to Our Lord when I received Him. Even today, I seem to hear the echo of my mother’s voice repeating these words to me. I set out for the church with my sisters, and my brother carried me all the way in his arms, so that not a speck of dust from the road would touch me. As soon as I arrived at the church, I ran to kneel before the altar of Our Lady to renew my petition. There I remained in contemplation of our Lady’s smile of the previous day, until my sisters came in search of me and took me to my appointed place. There was a large number of children, arranged in four lines – two of boys and two of girls – from the back of the church right up to the altar rails. Being the smallest, it happened that I was the one nearest to the “angels” on the step by the altar rails.
THE SACRED MOMENT. Once the High Mass began and the great moment drew near, my heart beat faster and faster, in expectation of the visit of the great God who was about to descend from Heaven, to unite Himself to my poor soul. The parish priest came down and passed among the rows of children, distributing the Bread of Angels. I had the good fortune to be the first one to receive. As the priest was coming down the altar steps, I felt as though my heart would leap from my breast. But he had no sooner placed the Divine Host on my tongue than I felt an unalterable serenity and peace. I felt myself bathed in such a supernatural atmosphere that the presence of Our Dear Lord became as clearly perceptible to me as if I had seen and heard Him with my bodily senses. I then addressed my prayer to Him: “O Lord, make me a saint. Keep my heart always pure, for You alone.” Then it seemed that in the depths of my heart, Our Dear Lord distinctly spoke these words to me: “The grace granted to you this day will remain living in your soul, producing fruits of eternal life.”
I felt as though transformed in God. It was almost one o’clock before the ceremonies were over, on account of the late arrival of priests coming from a distance, the sermon and the renewal of baptismal promises. My mother came looking for me, quite distressed, thinking I might faint from weakness. But I, filled to overflowing with the Bread of Angels, found it impossible to taste any food whatsoever. After this, I lost the taste and attraction for the things of the world, and only felt at home in some solitary place where, all alone, I could recall the delights of my First Communion.
“The Children Adored Her”
“I was rarely able to obtain this solitude,” Lucy continues. In fact very often she had to take care of the children of the neighbourhood. As Maria dos Anjos tells us:
She knew how to look after children and the mothers used to leave them in our house when they went out to work. When I was at my weaving and my sister Caroline at her dressmaking, we used to keep an eye on them, but when Lucy was there, even when she was quite tiny, we didn’t have to bother.
She loved children and they adored her. Sometimes they would collect in our yard, a dozen or so, and she would be quite happy decorating the little ones with flowers and leaves. She would make little processions with saints, arranging flowers and thrones and singing hymns to Our Lady as if she were in church. I can still remember the one she liked best:
To Heaven, to Heaven, to Heaven,
There shall I see my Mother again,
O pure Virgin, Thy tenderness
Comes to soothe my pain;
Day and night shall I sing
Of the beauty of Mary!
This hymn is a Portuguese adaptation of the French, “I shall go to see Her one day”, which made St. Bernadette weep with emotion. When she would sing it, even from before the time of the apparitions, Lucy could not forget the smile of Our Lady.
Continue reading: Francisco and Jacinta: Two Exquisite Souls