This past weekend, the Church celebrated the 100th anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima, Portugal to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco back in 1917. In addition to commemorating the 100th anniversary, Pope Francis also canonized Jacinta and Francisco Marto, the siblings who were present for the apparitions, but died just a few years later. With the centenary year upon us, a lot of talk is going on about Fatima, usually focusing on the meaning of the secrets which were only finally made public in full in the year 2000. That’s interesting stuff to read and think about, for sure, but today I want to focus on a different angle.
When reading Lucia’s account of the apparitions, as well as her recollections about her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco, I’ve been profoundly struck by the way Lucia’s First Confession and First Communion impacted her life. What I’d like to do here is tell that story.
In the early 1900s, it was very common for people to receive their First Communion at much higher ages than we typically think of today. The contemporary practice of children receiving the Eucharist around the age of 7 is actually the result of Pope Pius X, who wrote in Quam Singulari that children needed the medicine of the Eucharist to more strongly resist sin in the modern world. However, in Portugal, at the time Lucia was a child, the rules hadn’t changed yet. For her parish, the common age was 10.
However, since Lucia’s mother was a catechist to all of her older siblings, often sitting around the fire, eating sweets while her mother taught lessons, Lucia was sent to attend the catechism classes for First Communion at the tender age of six. In the memoirs, she recounts how she used to sit up on a platform, next to the priest, and answer any questions the other children couldn’t figure out. She was, by her account, dutifully prepared and studied up. So, when the pastor announced he would make the final decisions about who should make confessions and receive the Eucharist, Lucia was thrilled. Her mother and family were, too. But, when Lucia arrived to make her first confession, the pastor told her she needed to wait longer.
She was devastated. In fact, she was sobbing and a visiting priest, on hand to help with the confessions, took her aside to see what was the matter. After he had a chance to talk with her and ask her some questions, he brought her to the pastor and said she should make her confession and Communion. The pastor protested, due to her age, and the visiting priest said “Let me take the responsibility for that.”
Lucia then proceeded to make her confession, apparently very loudly. Her mother told her later that everyone heard the confession, except for the very end of it. Lucia tells us in the memoirs that this last part of the discussion was when the visiting priest instructed her to pray to Our Lady and ask her to prepare her own hear to receive Jesus, and Him alone.
She then went to pray before the statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, and repeated the priest’s prayer and notes that “with my eyes fixed on the statue, it seemed to me that she smiled….and assured me that she would (keep her heart for Him alone).”
After the first confessions, Lucia went home and prepared for her Communion, the following day. Lucia’s mother, giving her final advice before the Communion Mass, saying that after she had received the Eucharist:
“Above all, ask Him to make you a saint.”
Lucia writes in her memoirs that even decades later, when she receives the Eucharist, she still hears the words of her mother’s voice saying those words. How powerful! And how beautiful! When Lucia did finally receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, she describes a sensation of supernatural presence of the Lord, and unalterable peace. She then recounts kneeling down after receiving Our Lord and praying:
“O Lord, make me a saint. Keep my heart always pure, for You alone. Then it seemed to me 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.’”
Can you imagine! This is a woman who would, a few years later, receive visits from an angel (another often-unknown part of the Fatima story, which happened in the year 1916), then a series of very public apparitions over the six months from May to October in 1917. Even later in her life, Mary and Jesus continued to appear to her, asking her if certain of Mary’s instructions were being followed.
It’s impossible (I’ve tried!) to not read the whole story of the miraculous apparitions and messages in light of that very serious and solemn prayer uttered before Lucia’s First Communion. She had been prepared very well by her mother, and given excellent advice before both her Confession and reception of Communion. Further, she took the advice to heart, and earnestly prayed to be made a saint. While she has not been canonized yet, her cause is moving forward, and with the promise of Mary that she would be in heaven, it’s only a matter of time before we call her a saint, just as she prayed she would be back before her first Communion.
God Love You!