You don’t have to believe in Marian apparitions. But I do.

By Fr James Martin SJ, 16 May 2024
A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes is seen in the grotto of the Sanctuary of Lourdes. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


Next week, the Vatican is set to publish a new set of guidelines on apparitions, including Marian apparitions, that is, reports from individuals or groups that the Virgin Mary has appeared to them. There are many kinds of apparitions and visions, but Marian ones predominate in the Catholic Church.

The last major Vatican document addressing the topic is the “Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy,” issued in 2001. It quotes a line from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which sums up the church’s stance with admirable clarity: “Throughout the ages, there have been so-called private revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith” (No. 67).

In other words, you do not have to believe in Marian apparitions to be a good Catholic.

But I do. I’ve never had a problem believing in them. My general approach is: If God could create the universe ex nihilo and raise his Son from the dead, then having Mary appear from time to time, and even being the occasion for some miracles, seems easy by comparison. That statement may sound flip. But it is entirely serious. It is surely within God’s power to enable these things to happen. So, I am always amazed when people say, “God wouldn’t possibly do that.” Oh, really?

I also say this as someone who has visited three major Marian shrines, which have deeply moved me: Lourdes, Fátima and Knock. The stories of the visionaries and what I experienced in those places go a long way to convince me of the veracity of the apparitions. There is also a striking sameness among most Marian apparitions (at least these three) that reminds me of the sameness that one finds as a spiritual director who listens for God’s voice. As St. Ignatius Loyola says in his Spiritual Exercises, there is a certain quality to God’s voice that one can recognize. Likewise in these apparitions.

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The Rev. James Martin, S.J., is a Jesuit priest, author, editor at large at America and founder of Outreach.

With thanks to America and Fr James Martin SJ, where this article originally appeared.


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