THE LINK BETWEEN PRIVATE REVELATION AND THE CHURCH
Private revelation along with all gifts from God are all part of and incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, the Bride of Christ. Private revelation is only one of the many minor charisms bestowed on the Church by the Holy Spirit. The Church unifies and coordinates all her charisms and graces from God to accomplish the will of her divine Spouse, that being to glorify God and to offer the means and way to salvation to all men who desire to be saved and are willing to cooperate with God's graces offered through His Church.
8.1: Normal Tensions Between the Prophetic Function and the Hierarchical Church
At various times in the history of the Church there has been oppositions and tensions, of greater or lesser degree, between the very different elements which comprise the Church. This is absolutely normal. Thus it is not surprising that the relationship between the prophetic function and the official priesthood should occasionally provoke conflict. This relationship already preoccupied the Church during the first centuries; but from the beginning the Church also resolved this problem by her life and her teaching which, although sometimes misunderstood, "must remain immutable because it concerns the essential structure of the Church." 1p242
"That teaching," writes Father Labourdetee, "is essentially this: in the Church of Christ, according to the consummated economy which is that of the fullness of time, the Spirit is before all communicated through the hierarchy. The great charism of truth is bestowed on the Episcopal body. The man of the Spirit, the 'pneumatologist,' the true prophet, the true 'gnostic,' is first and before all the bishops.... Once Revelation was consummated the Spirit did not withdraw; far otherwise, He has been given to the Church in a fullness and with a permanence never previously known. The Episcopal body united to the Pope, and the Pope personally, have the assurance of this charism of truth. And the infallible proposition of the revealed teaching is but the principal form of this assistance which is extended under various forms to the whole exercise of the Magisterium, of power of jurisdiction." 1p242
"But this fundamental doctrine must not make us overlook the fact that the spirit of prophecy, whose role is considerable in the Church, remains there also in a subordinate way. It is this spirit which animates the great strides forward, and the great renewals in the Church, sometimes in the most humble of souls. And under this form certainly the prophetic charism is in no way connected with the hierarchy, but is submitted to it. There is no period in the Church when this animation by the Spirit cannot be discerned. It is assuredly a charismatic movement which has extended devotion to the Sacred Heart throughout the whole Church, from the time of the revelations made to a little Visitandine... the Church is living; to live is to encounter new risks, it is to find oneself face to face with constantly changing circumstances, it is to feel the need to rise above the weight of all human aging. What is more, this life of the Church is not a 'human' life at the level of reason; it is a strictly supernatural life which God alone gives and which He alone can sustain; outside of the permanent institutions which substantially insure the maintenance and spread of the Church, He will always be there in His inspirations to revivify her, to guide her, whether in very humble circumstances which effectively concern a small number of souls, or, on the other hand, by starting a movement which will extend to the whole Church." 1p243
Here then is the solution in principle. If in fact there are conflicts between the prophetic function and the hierarchical power, this is due to a defective interpretation or application.
In the lives of true visionaries, who were to be counted among the finest sons of the Church, there have been moments when - due allowance being made - they found themselves confronting her, their Mother, as Christ confronted His Father when He said to Him: Why hast Thou forsaken Me? In this way they have been able to suffer not only for the Church but also through the Church - an exceptional suffering, temporary and extremely fruitful. 1p243
But these unusual oppositions allowed by Providence emphasized the importance of revelations. Besides, if the hierarchy show themselves reserved or even sometimes hostile with respect to revelations, this is really in order to protect them. The hierarchy is not the enemy of divine revelations: it is the enemy of men who falsify their transmission and the enemy of the devil. The hierarchy believes in the positive interventions of God in the world. But by vigorously eliminating false revelations it gives more weight to the true. 1p244
The attitude of Cure Peyramale of Lourdes was providential. His was an attitude often adopted by representatives of the hierarchy - rejection right up to the moment when enlightenment look place. But then this rejection was the holy protection of divine action against all adversaries. Thus the hierarchy has protected and defended revelations against theologians. The hierarchy has not only a teaching function but also a pastoral and sacerdotal responsibility. It judges, not from one particular point of view, but by taking the whole matter into consideration. In establishing the great benefit which revelations bring to the faithful it does not reject them a priori despite the dangers they involve. lp244
8.2: Private Revelation - Direction in a Specific Way
Throughout the ages of the Church, revelations and the prophetic gifts have been given to both the laity and the hierarchy as a divine stimulus or initiative in a particular circumstance to achieve greater prayer and sacrifice often by way of a particular devotion. When St. Peter announced to the first gathering of Christians the realization of the prophecy of Joel: "I will pour out 'my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy..." he was applying this to the whole Church - to men and women in all walks of life, old people and young people. He certainly intended to say that in the Messianic epoch the Spirit of God would manifest Itself in any member of the Church; no one was excluded in advance from the gift of prophecy or of visions, members of the hierarchy any more than anyone else.
In fact, the Apostles were also prophets. Members of the hierarchy may be both the subjects of revelations and the people for whom the revelations are intended. St. Peter and St. Paul received heavenly revelations as did St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Polycarp. And there is nothing to prevent members of the hierarchy from receiving divine communications today. 1p245
It was partially through the stimulation of the revelations to Sister Marie of the Divine Heart, superior of the convent of the Good Shepherd at Oporto, that Pope Leo XIII consecrated the whole world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A few weeks after the memorable day of the consecration, on July 21, 1899, the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation addressed to all the bishops in the name of the Sovereign Pontiff a pressing invitation to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, through confraternities, the month of the Sacred Heart, and the practice of making First Fridays. 1p247
As with the consecration to the Sacred Heart, the consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary also was accomplished under the influence of particular revelations. On December 8, 1942, twentyfive years after the events at Fatima, Pius XII, in the Basilica of St. Peter, officially consecrated the human race to the Heart of Mary: "Finally, as the Church and the whole human race were consecrated to the Heart of Your Jesus," proclaimed the Pope, terminating the consecration, "we also consecrate ourselves forever to you, O Immaculate Heart, O our Mother and Queen of the world" (A.A.S., 34 (1942) 346). lp248
It is enough to have only a very minor knowledge of the occurrences of Fatima and the attitude of the supreme hierarchy in regard to them to discover their dicisive influence upon the acts of Pius XII which we have mentioned. The Pope would not have acted in this way, or at least not at that time, if there had been no revelations at Fatima. 1p248
It is true that the consecrations of Leo XIII and Pius XII make no mention of revelations or apparitions. They avoid even mentioning the revelations as a reason for or an occasional cause of their actions. This was entirely to be expected. These actions must be justified by the great sources of Faith. But the fact that they were performed by the Church at a given moment in her history, in a particular situation of her life in order to direct her in a specific way, shows the decisive importance of revelations. Here is realized their meaning, namely, the design of God in the history of the Church or of man individually. lp248
8.3: The Attitude of the Church Toward Revelation Before the Nineteenth Century
As was discussed in the chapter on "Criteria of Discernment", the attitude of the Church toward a particular private revelation is a very important criteria, in fact a decisive criterion of discernment. To protect the faithful and to guide them on their journey to eternal happiness through the turbulous waters of life, Holy Mother Church has at various times in her history adopted varing degrees of reserve or cautiousness in regards to private revelation depending on the overall situation and needs of the whole Mystical Body of Christ.
As we have seen, the early Church was very tolerant and even encouraging toward the prophetic charism within the Church as shown by Holy Scripture and the early Fathers. Even with the ravages of Montanism, the Church prudently did not over-react by dismissing all prophesy or private revelation. The guidance of the Church in this area is in the realm of discipline not faith and morals. Thus the Church has the full right, authority, and obligation to change her disciplinary laws when needed.
Even before the Church explicitly determined the scriptural canon in the fourth century, she began to distinguish between revelation to be read publicly in Church or only privately for the edification of the faithful. In an early writing called the 'Muratorian Fragment', we find a striking statement bearing on our subject. We read there: "We also accept revelations, but only those of John and of Peter. However, many among us do not wish for the latter to be read in the Church." And here is what the same document says of the 'Shepherd' of Hermas, which it mentions immediately after the Apocalypse: "It should be read, but not publicly in the church before the people." 1p182
In interpreting these texts one must be careful not to allow oneself to be too much influenced by the fact that the revelations of Peter and the 'Shepherd' of Hermas were later ranked among the apocrypha. The apocryphal idea at that time had several connotations. The term could, it is true, indicate a false scripture, but that was not to say that it was purely and simply false; it may have been so only in so far as it claimed to be canonical Scripture. Moreover, "apocryphal" could also signify secret. Apocryphal might simply be a writing which should not be read in public; its "secret" reading, that is to say, its private reading, was permitted. 1p183 etc.
The 'Muratorian Fragment', which is generally considered as a Roman document of the second century, proves that the Church admitted revelations which were non-canonical. Although the community at Rome knew that the 'Shepherd' of Hermas, a book interwoven with revelations, did not go back to the apostolic age, it nevertheless declared that it should be read.
St. Athanasius who expressed the same rule, explained why the reading of such books was recommended - it was for instruction and spiritual formation (cf. p. 49).
The Gelasian decree is even more precise in this matter. It distinguishes first of all the "accepted" writings from those which must be avoided. And among the accepted writings it classes those which today we call the canonical books as well as those of the first councils and the Fathers - "those which are accepted in the Catholic Church." It also adds the writings which the Roman Church declared acceptable (suscipi non prohibet).
With regard to the 'Acts of the Martyrs', which often mention revelations, the decree holds that these may be admired and highly venerated. But it also remarks that they are not read - publicly, we presume - in the church at Rome; for infidels and certain Christians could find them futile and ridiculous. It mentions accounts of the finding of the Cross and of the head of St. John the Baptist, accounts in which revelations play a decisive role. "These are," it observes, "new accounts which many Catholics read; but when they come into Catholic hands, let Catholics respect the advice of the Apostles: try all and keep what is good." 1p183
The decree neither approves nor condemns; it allows the reading of these accounts which fall far short of the documentation of the accounts of the great modern apparitions; everyone must judge with prudence.
It is inexact to say that in principle it is not the function of the Holy See to judge the authenticity of revelations. It is the Holy See which is by right the judge of their supernatural character. We have established in any case that it has made judgments in such matters.
Not only do the facts prove this, but the Church has even made an explicit pronouncement on the subject. In one of the early sessions of the Fifth Lateran Council (1512) we read "When there is a question of prophetic revelation the Pope alone is the judge". Later, at the eleventh session (1516) of the same council, the following rule was laid down: "We desire that henceforth when divine communications are reported and before they are published or preached to the people that they be generally and legally reserved to the examination of the Apostolic See. Only when there can be no delay and in urgent cases, should they be communicated to the Ordinary of the place. Let him examine them carefully with three or four learned and responsible counselors who later, at an opportune moment, may, on the responsibility of their consciences, give permission for them to be published." lpl84
The practice laid down by this degree of September 19, 1516, was modified by another of July 5, 1634: "The books which contain accounts of the miracles and the revelations of those who have died with a reputation for sanctity should be supported by the approval of the Ordinary of the place; the latter should summon a council of theologians and experts to examine them and advise him. Then he should send the case to the Holy See and await the reply." These decrees obviously hold good for revelations and miracles which have occurred in the lives of persons whose canonization is not contemplated and for cases where the circumstances do not permit awaiting the death of the person before coming to a judgment in the matter. lpl84
8.4: Attitude of the Church Toward Certain Apparitions of the Last Two Centuries
Let us now briefly consider a few of the details regarding the approval of the apparitions at La Salette and Lourdes. In regards to these two apparitions, the ecclesiastical authorities could not await the deaths of the visionaries, who were children, before pronouncing upon facts which, because of their worldwide repercussions, had to be decided upon as quickly as possible. lpl85 etc.
Some months after the event the Ordinary of the place organized, as he said in his pastoral letter of September 19, 1851, "a numerous commission, composed of responsible, pious and learned men who would maturely examine and discuss the fact of the apparition and its consequences." And indeed a big inquiry was made, and the details and difficulties of the event were studied. The consequences were also examined.
It was about these consequences first of all that the ecclesiastical authority had to make a decision. In particular there was the question of miracles; when the juridical inquiry was concluded, a large list of miracles was presented to the Ordinary of the place where the apparition occurred. The Ordinaries of the different dioceses of France pronounced a canonical judgment upon a miracle. After this official recognition of the miracles, the Bishop of Grenoble sent to Rome not only the whole dossier upon La Salette, but also a draft doctrinal decision. Having received an approving reply from the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, Cardinal Lambruschini, dated October 7, 1851, in which he wrote: "Everything is going very well and the reading has left me nothing to desire..” the bishop published the pastoral letter of November 10, 1851.
The approving statement by the Bishop of Grenoble along with Bishop Laurence's statement concerning Lourdes can be found in the section "The Authority of the Church a Criteria of Discernment."
In both of these cases, Rome waited for the official conclusion and even doctrinal statement from the local ordinaries. Even after these statements were submitted as mentioned in chapter four, Rome's clear and restrained reply gave neither approval nor condemnation but simply a permissive attitude.
The attitude of the Apostolic See was more positive with respect to revelations in times when Christians were united before the Reformation as in the Middle Ages. In these latter centuries the Church has more and more adopted an attitude of prudent reserve. By this means she avoids certain attacks on the part of unbelievers and non-Catholics; at the same time she preserves her members from the danger of placing too much value upon these extraordinary graces at the expense of the ordinary great sources of divine life from the sacraments. The essential guarantees are, moreover, given by the bishops who pronounce doctrinal judgments in virtue of their membership in the magisterium of the Church.1p188
In the various testimonies from Rome about La Salette and Lourdes, the Holy See did not pass judgment upon the apparitions in question. It trusted implicitly or explicitly to the doctrinal judgment of the Ordinary of the place to whom it had given permission to pronounce in the matter. The Holy See mentioned the apparitions as certain facts because they had been declared to be such and duly established by the diocesan authority. The Sovereign Pontiffs also spoke in their commemorative encyclicals in an entirely affirmative way of certain facts which they did not intend thereby to cover with their own authority. They were relying upon data such as forms the basis for certitude of historical facts. 1p190
When the Holy See allows belief in this or that revelation it does not do so simply because data is available for proving the certitude of a particular historical fact. In affirming the fact of the revelation, the Holy See does not base this affirmation exclusively upon the human testimony advanced in its favor, but refers sometimes even explicitly to the canonical judgment of the Ordinary of the place. Something more than a purely natural factor is involved. Moreover, when we read the doctrinal judgments upon apparitions we note their grave tone, their occasional solemnity, and the bishops' insistence on prayer, such as the invocation of the Holy Spirit and of the Blessed Virgin. 1p191
8.5: Pastoral Ministry
The Church herself exercises a capital influence on the use of private revelation. It is she who guarantees that this use can be fruitful. Revelations are all the more fertile in so far as they obtain at least permissive approval of the hierarchy, since by this approval they more abundantly and more certainly influence the whole Church.1p255 The influence of the Church may make itself felt in a public or a private way. Normally it is the pastors of souls who first of all speak privately in the name of the Church; most frequently it is parish priests or spiritual directors who are involved, as for instance Father Peyramale in the case of Bernadette Soubirous and Father Aladel in the case of Catherine Laboure. Father Peyramale, who was not the confessor but the pastor of the visionary's parish, examined her privately, gave her orders and, so to speak, influenced the apparition itself. Humanly speaking, it was at the urging of M. Peyramale that the Blessed Virgin revealed her name. Father Aladel guided his penitent in complete secrecy, indicating to her the attitude to adopt in regard to the revelation she received. 1p267
Every action of the public ministry, must be in conformity with the requirements of the Church. The Church may approve or condemn such and such a revelation. Sometimes she imposes silence in regard to it in order to avoid injurious effects or the better to assure its fruits. However, the judgment which she pronounces upon a revelation is a decisive act and one which is made once and for all. Once this decision has been taken, the Church does not lose interest even though she has established the facts; nevertheless, her attitude will be expressed thenceforth at a different level - at the level of the pastoral ministry, of preaching. 1p269
The Christian truths, that is, truths about the Person of Christ and His work, as well as their practical consequences for living, are the object of preaching. It was Christ Himself who specified this object when He ordered His Apostles to bring "the Good News to every creature" (Mk 16:15). "Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Mt 28:19-29). 1p271
Pope Plus IX warned against abuses of preaching: "It is Christ whom we preach, the holy dogmas of our religion, the precepts according to the teaching of the Catholic Church and of the Fathers." This is what must be preached, that is the true object of preaching, as the scholastics would say. Undoubtedly other matters slip into preaching, matters even of a profane kind such as historical facts, human experiences, scientific conclusions, human wisdom. But these matters are only means of illustrating the object. 1p270
In order to safeguard the infinitely precious revealed Truth, the Church has shown herself reserved right from the start. Thus she excluded the pseudo-gospels and the apocrypha from her preaching. And she saw very early the necessity to determine what beside the essential sources of the Christian life could be read in the churches and received by Christian people. 1p271
Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church has varied her disciplines throughout the ages to meet the various needs of the faithful. Sometimes she has been more strict, sometimes less in regards to private revelation and their publications. In 1966 the Church repealed canons 1399 and 2318 thus making it easier for accounts of new private revelation to be transmitted to the faithful. But, as always, the Church has the right, the power, and the obligation to censure any book or publication at any time which it deems dangerous to the faith or morals of her children. Prior to 1966, accounts of revelations could not be published without ecclesiastical approval. Now such information can be published unless (or until) it is censured by the Church.
According to canon law, "The right and duty to prohibit books for a good reason rests with the Supreme Pontiff for the whole Church, with the particular councils for their territory, with the individual Ordinary for his diocese.
From the prohibition of inferior authorities recourse may be had to the Holy See, not however, 'in suspensivo' , which means that the prohibition must be obeyed until Rome has rescinded the orders of the inferior authority." (Canon 1395) 7p287
It is easy to see to what extent the good use and wide fruitfulness of revelations depend upon the Church. Once more we note the remarkable link between two realities - revelations and the Church.
8.6: Private Revelation Cannot Commit the Church
The divine laws, revealed once for everyone, are always imperative and apply in all cases; particular revelations are given only for a definite situation. But that God manifests Himself through them is a habitual form of the divine pastoral activity. This pastoral activity, it is true, manifests itself more or less sporadically; but these manifestations through which God acts directly and in a manner apparent to the senses upon men is an expression, normal although secondary, of His providence, always concerned for our eternal salvation. 1p232
It is because revelations have for their aim the direction of human activity in a particular situation that they are not addressed, that they cannot be addressed officially and directly, to the Church. Not referring directly to the ages of the economy of salvation, they cannot commit the Church or the divine and Catholic Faith which has for its object the unaltered mysteries, revealed once for all time. 1p232
What St. Thomas often emphasized in respect to acts or virtues applies to our case. The specification is made by the object, but the object is specified by the end.
Since revelation is made for the direction of life in a particular situation, its object, the divine will, is equally particular - it is not a universal law or truth. God sees, for example, a great danger or an abuse in the life of a person or in a section of the Church; He decides to remedy it by an intervention; but this ceases when the danger or the abuse is removed; the divine will is no longer the same. This proposition has been verified in the post-apostolic period, but it was also so in Old Testament times when the people of God, or at least a section of them, neglected the Laws of Yahweh. Then Yahweh made them feel His anger, but as soon as He saw their repentance, He relented and forgave. 1p233
8.7: Church Recognition of Apparitions After Mature Reflection
"The mission of prophecy is twofold: it is sent to establish the Faith and to correct morals; but (today) the Faith has already been founded, for the promises were fulfilled by Christ. But for that which is concerned with correcting morals, prophecy never will be lacking. " (St. Thomas) 1p225 Through private revelation, God continues to guide and exhort His people just as He did in the Old Testament and in the time of Christ. Through them, God communicates His designs to the world and to us. 1p240
Certain apparitions and the pilgrimages which they have occasioned have passed into the public domain. Not only has the Church, after mature reflection, recognized their supernatural origin, writes Abbe Lochet, not only has she approved the building of places of worship on the sites of these pilgrimages, but she takes part officially in them and she turns their message toward the whole Christian people. On many occasions bishops and popes, in their capacity of leaders of the Church, have themselves participated in the pilgrimage devotions. On many occasions the Pope, in documents addressed to the universal Church, has noted these facts and drawn from them lessons and commands which are addressed to all. 1p240
Finally and above all, the liturgy which Catholics follow throughout the year in celebrating the mysteries of God's people includes the most remarkable of these apparitions - those of Lourdes. It would be no exaggeration to say that in this and many other ways accepted by the universal devotion of the Christian people, these facts have passed into the life of the Church, or rather that the Church has recognized, through the prompting of the Spirit who guides her, that these facts are a part of her life. God's people recognize these events and celebrate then; these events belong to the people and to their history. 1p240
It serves no purpose and is even unworthy of a theologian to ignore these fruits of revelations or to wish to fight against these expressions of the life of the Church on account of abuses which may accompany them. It is the abuses which should be fought - the trivialities, the sentimentality, the affectations of artistic expression, the satisfaction of an inner religious need - and there are abuses worse than these. But the parable of the wheat and the cockle should be remembered. Until the end of time the devil is going to attack the Church and above all in those places and in those forms wherein she is manifesting her life. Christian prudence is required in a particular way because of the subject; that is why it is often recommended in writings dealing with revelations. So the text quoted from the encyclical 'Pascendi' begins thus: ". .. in this matter the Church uses the greatest prudence." 1p208 Pascal's saying applies to the manifestations of which we speak: "There is enough clarity to enlighten the elect and enough obscurity to keep them humble." 1p241
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Ch. VIII: Link Between PR and the Church