ROME, MAY 20, 2004 (Zenit.org).- At key moments, an apparition of the Blessed Virgin can be a means to reinforce the faith, says a specialist in Marian studies.
In this interview with ZENIT, Discalced Carmelite Father Jesús Castellano Cervera, a consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and professor at the Pontifical Theological Faculty Teresianum, reflects on the reasons for Marian apparitions and the mechanisms of the Church to confirm their veracity.
Q: Of what significance are apparitions in the Christian faith’s plan of salvation?
Father Castellano Cervera: On one hand, authentic apparitions have as their theological significance the living presence of Christ in the Church. In Mary’s case, there is also her particular presence next to Christ as Virgin assumed into heaven.
Mary’s apparitions can be a means of the Church to confirm in the faith, to assure of her presence and maternal protection, particularly at certain times of history in which there is need to reinforce faith and hope.
Often, some of Mary’s apparitions or the invention of a miraculous image of her have an ecclesiological meaning inasmuch as they give backing with a supernatural event to the certainty of Mary’s presence in a particular Church, to foster reconciliation among people, as in the case of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Q: How does the Church verify the authenticity of apparitions?
Father Castellano Cervera: Above all, the Church is convinced that God can manifest himself to his people in any circumstance, as he did in the theophanies of the Old Testament and in the apparitions of the risen Jesus.
The Virgin can also do this. But the Church seeks to obtain the certainty of this presence given all the possible subjective mystifications, deceits and credulities that can direct many visionaries or so-called visionaries.
Given the cases that present themselves, and always with the desire to direct the faithful in the truth, the Church seeks to investigate above all the veracity of the events, excluding every possible mystification or error. It works to verify that there are no contradictions in the events and persons which might be opposed to faith, morality or Christian life.
It also seeks to verify the truth of the messages proposed and the fruits that are obtained.
The Church does so slowly and seriously. That is why sometimes years and years go by without an official pronouncement of the Church, inviting all in the meantime to follow the norms of faith and the principles of a healthy Marian theology and spirituality.
Q: Have there been apparitions recently? Where? Are they worthy of consideration?
Father Castellano Cervera: The list of supposed revelations and apparitions of the Virgin Mary is so large that it is not possible to give an account of them here.
Bishops have the duty to inform the Holy See when a phenomenon goes beyond the boundaries of the diocese.
Then, through the competent dicastery, which is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Holy See offers the appropriate instruments and suggests the way to proceed in such cases, always keeping present the good of the faithful and the essence of the faith and of the life of the Church, its liturgical practice, and the value of popular piety, based on the truths of the Bible, Tradition and the magisterium of the Church on Mary, so rich in texts as those of the Second Vatican Council; of Paul VI; the “Marialis Cultus,” the 30th anniversary of whose publication is this year; and John Paul II’s wonderful encyclical “Redemptoris Mater.”
Q: It is now 150 years since the apparition in Lourdes. What has it represented for the history of the faith, and what teachings can we distill?
Father Castellano Cervera: The message of Lourdes seems obvious to me. With her apparition, Mary confirms the truth of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, as she herself presents herself to St. Bernadette.
From this moment on, the “mariofania” of Lourdes, recognized by the Church as a genuine apparition, becomes a point of reference of Marian devotion.
Lourdes is a charismatic place where the Virgin Mary, through the Church’s ordinary pastoral care acts mysteriously also as source of grace and light for the physical, psychic and spiritual health of those who approach it with faith, hope and love.