Last Friday, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation marking the Incarnation of the Son of God in response to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s fiat, Pope Francis, in communion with bishops, priests, religious and faithful throughout the world, solemnly prayed in front of the image of Our Lady of Fatima brought to St. Peter’s Basilica:
“Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the Church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine. … Grant that war may end and peace spread throughout the world. The ‘Fiat’ that arose from your heart opened the doors of history to the Prince of Peace. We trust that, through your heart, peace will dawn once more. To you we consecrate the future of the whole human family, the needs and expectations of every people, the anxieties and hopes of the world.”
The consecration was done not only in response to the petition of many faithful but ultimately to a request of Mary herself during her private revelations to the three shepherd children in Fatima in 1917. After showing them an image of the souls of what sinners would experience in hell, she stated, “To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate heart. … I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the Communion of reparation on first Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not she will spread her errors through the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church, … [and] various nations will be annihilated.”
It’s not necessary for Catholics to believe private revelations, but it’s hard not to trust the credibility of the Fatima message, considering the incontestable miracle of the sun that occurred on October 13, 1917, as a foretold confirmation of the veracity of the apparitions, not to mention the clear fulfillment of Mary’s predictions to the shepherd children that “the Holy Father will have much to suffer” and a “bishop dressed in white” would be shot, something that happened on, of all days, May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first of the Fatima apparitions. It’s clear that the popes have believed in and acted on Mary’s message in Fatima, consecrating the world repeatedly to her in 1942, 1964, 1982 and 1984.
Pope Francis was clear that he was recapitulating the consecration of his predecessors, saying in a homily moments before the act of consecration, “In union with the bishops and faithful of the world, … I wish to renew to her the consecration of the Church and the whole of humanity, and to consecrate to her in a particular way the Ukrainian people and the Russian people who, with filial affection, venerate her as a Mother.”
The word “renew” was an unambiguous clarification for those who have never accepted that the consecration had been done properly before, that Pope Francis believes it had been done appropriately — as Sister Lucia dos Santos, the surviving visionary, had affirmed, when she attested that St. John Paul II’s 1984 consecration was “done just as our Lady asked.”
Against other critics, who deem acts of devotion like a consecration to Mary’s Immaculate Heart as superstitious, Pope Francis responded plainly in his homily: “This is no magic formula but a spiritual act. It is an act of complete trust on the part of children who, amid the tribulation of this cruel and senseless war that threatens our world, turn to their Mother, … reposing all our fears and pain in her heart and abandoning ourselves to her.” He framed it within the context of what Mary herself did in Cana, where she “interceded with Jesus and He worked the first of his signs.” Pope Francis was asking Mary to intercede with that same Son for the gift of peace.
The ultimate meaning of this act of consecration to Mary’s heart was explained by the future Pope Benedict XVI in a commentary accompanying the June 26, 2000 publication the third part of the Message of Fatima. He noted that the remedy proposed by Mary to the shepherd children — devotion to her Immaculate Heart and consecration of Russia to it — might initially seem surprising. But he said that since the heart indicates the center of human life and since Jesus says that the pure of heart see God (Mt 5:8), “to be devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means therefore to embrace this attitude of heart that makes the fiat — ‘your will be done’ — the defining center of one’s whole life.”
When Mary says, “My Immaculate Heart will triumph,” the future Pope Benedict XVI commented, she means to communicate that “the heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind.” The fiat emanating from her pure heart, he continued, “has changed the history of the world, … because thanks to her ‘Yes,’ God could become man in our world and remains so for all time.”
Mary’s heart will triumph because a heart pure like hers is ultimately stronger than all the hearts full of hatred and violence, and ultimately more powerful than bullets, tanks, hypersonic missiles and even threatened nuclear bombs.
But what Pope Francis led the universal Church to do on March 25, the anniversary of Mary’s initial fiat, must not remain just a one-time extrinsic rite. The consecration he asked all the members of the Church to pray with him is meant to be lived and renewed by believers. Together with the Holy Father, we were asking Mary not only to pray for an end to war and restore peace but to grant each of us a heart like hers. That is an ongoing process, because what Pope Francis did was not a “magic formula but a spiritual act,” one that is meant to lead to a true spirituality of life.
Pope Francis pointed to this as he finished the act of consecration. He prayed: “Our Lady of the ‘Fiat,’ on whom the Holy Spirit descended, restore among us the harmony that comes from God. … In your womb Jesus took flesh; help us to foster the growth of communion. You once trod the streets of our world; lead us now on the paths of peace.”
The path of peace involves a fiat to God’s will not the will to power. It involves a heart like Mary’s that ponders, treasures and enfleshes God’s word. It involves an entrustment to Mary’s motherhood, prayers and powerful intercession. Let us renew the consecration of ourselves to her heart full of love each day until the war is ended — and beyond.