Apparitions, Visions, Revelations

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Theological Significance of Marian apparitions

All that has been said in general about apparitions is valid in a particular way for Marian apparitions, which are the most frequent. Pope Paul VI, speaking about veneration of Mary today, emphasized that devotions to the Virgin must "clearly show the place she holds in the church." Everything Mary is, she is because of Christ and his Church and, therefore, there is no healthy Marian devotion, which does not lead to Christ and the up building of the Church. How are we to place into this context Marian apparitions, all the more frequent in the last two centuries, and how are we to evaluate them? It is possible to consider this manifestation only in the light of the already mentioned unique role and place of Mary in the church. It is impossible to consider her separately, only for herself. With everything she is, Mary is plunged into the plan of salvation and she stands in the closest relationship with the central realities of salvation, Christ as the Redeemer, and the church as the community of the redeemed.

Mary's personal holiness and her ministry in the plan of salvation are not two things that stand together just by the concurrence of circumstances, but they represent an indivisible whole. K. Rahner expressed this as the union of the personal holiness and the apostolate that necessarily arises from that holiness, by which Mary is, "the official representation of the church in an exceptional way." This connection with the church does not cease even with the termination of her earthly life. In reality, her concern for the church of her Son is even stronger there where, as the only member of the church she is already now in her glorified body, while the others are on the way to that state and are in need of help. Sagi-Bunic says nicely that also "in the council text Mary's assumption into heavenly glory is not understood as some departure and separation, but rather as the achievement of blossoming possibilities to continue in a greater way her effective role in the history of salvation, of course, in a corresponding relatedness with Christ the Lord."

Marian apparitions certainly belong among those "blossoming possibilities" and they seem to have a special place among them. Regardless of their message, already by themselves they have theological significance. Their manifestation itself is their first message. Because, in itself it proclaims the mystery of Mary's life and shows her role in the history of salvation. But again that does not happen because of Mary but because of the church. Manifesting her glory to us, Mary reveals to us our own possibilities, which the mystery of her Son Jesus presents to us. L. Scheffczyk says, "A Marian apparition in a realistic personal way places the entire mystery of Mary before the visionary and through his mediation also before believers."

Accordingly, it is not an exaggeration to say that a Marian apparition as such, in itself, is the greatest message to the church as an encouragement on her path to eternity but also as an obligation. Since the time of the church is eschatological and since Mary is the only one who does not know those eschatological tensions between the given and yet incomplete salvation, then we should always consider her activity also in this context. It will "always have a retrospective character aiming toward the mystery of Christ, but at the same time, it will be directed also into the future toward the fulfilment. That is why her apparitions have a particular eschatological dimension and tendency toward the final completion of the times," which should not be understood in the sense of a quick completion, and especially not of one that can be precisely calculated.

As the one who once and forever tied her destiny to the destiny of her Son and through him to the community of those saved, Mary cannot stand on the side while the church, together with all creation is in the "pangs of birth" (Rom 8:22). With her motherly benevolence and love, she mediates light to the Church in the trials of this world, which in the long run come from the light of Christ. As a human being, Mary can give only that which she herself received and, for that reason, her apparitions, "in essence have a character more of a dynamic impetus to the heart and will of the faithful in order to incorporate the recognized truth of Revelation at a particular time in a new way." Therefore, her apparitions have always found a responsive chord more in the hearts of the faithful than in the reflections of theologians. In light of the logic and dynamic of salvation in the Church, it is entirely understandable that Mary is the most active member of the church, for which she is at the same time by the fullness of her holiness the prototype, the mother, and the final ideal toward which she herself aspires.

Regardless of initial confusion and misunderstandings, all Marian apparitions have had a strong influence on the life of the Church, starting from the creation of new forms of devotion through the renewal of the sacramental life and all the way to the deepening of the image of the church itself and of love for it. Because veneration of Mary is really nothing else but "a form of veneration of the mystery of the Church, which sees its model in Mary and its already now accomplished form of perfection." In its essence, "The Church is nothing else but a copy of Mary. . . , a living impression of Mary's image in the Christian community." That is why Marian apparitions cannot be just a marginal manifestation for the church, but a happening of herself and, therefore, they deserve the due attention and openness of the Church.

fra Ivan Dugandzic, OFM , 1995

Dr. Fr. Ivan Dugandzic - Franciscan priest, member of the Herzegovina Franciscan province. Born 1943 in Krehin Gradac, country Citluk, Herzegovina. After graduating in Dubrovnik in 1962, he entered the Franciscan Order. He completed theological studies in Sarajevo and Koenigstein, Germany. Ordained priest in 1969. Postgraduate study and doctorate in biblical science in Wuerzburg, Germany. Since 1990 he lives and works in Zagreb. He is professor of New Testament exegesis and biblical theology at the Catholic Theological Faculty and its institutes. He has published works in technical theological reviews. He publishes in religious newspapers in a contemporary style on various biblical themes. He has lived and worked in Medjugorje on two occasions: 1970 - 1972 and 1985 - 1988.


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