Catholic Classroom: Marian Apparitions
Question: Why Do All the Marian Apparitions Look Different?
During this month of May we celebrate our Blessed Mother in a special way. Our Lady has numerous different titles, some of which are the names of specific places where she has appeared. For example, this past Sunday we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, which honors the apparition received by three shepherd children in Portugal in the early 20th century. Our Lady has appeared at many places throughout history, taking on different appearances and names each time.
It’s first important to acknowledge that all Marian apparitions declared “worthy of belief” by the Holy See are apparitions of one person; Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Although she looks different, speaks different languages, and bears different messages, she is always the same person.
As Mother of the Church, Mary is mother to every person in the world. It makes sense that when appearing to peoples of a certain culture, she would appear as a native, speaking their language and dressing as they do. When Mary appeared as Our Lady of Lourdes, she spoke French to St. Bernadette. When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico, she spoke his native language of the Aztec Empire and wore native clothing.
When Mary appears, she comes bearing a message. She exhorts seers to pray, fast, or increase certain devotions. When Our Lady appeared to St. Catherine Labouré in 1830, she urged the French nun to have the words “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee” engraved on a medal. As a result, many faithful now wear Miraculous Medals. When Our Lady appeared in Fatima, she urged the children to pray the Rosary every day to bring peace to the world. When Mary appears to different peoples at different times, she brings new messages that are often particular to the time and place. Appearing under different apparitions allows her to reach many people throughout the world.
Although Catholics are not obliged to believe in Church-approved apparitions, these apparitions and their messages can aid our faith and help us in our journey to heaven. We can be confident that private revelations and apparitions will never surpass or correct the revelation of Christ (CCC 65-67). Just as Mary sought to bring people to her son on earth, she still appears to us to help guide us toward salvation through Jesus.