The apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, at Fatima in 1917 are not only one of the most important events in the Church in the twentieth century, but also one of the greatest Mariophanies in the life of the Church. Because of the spiritual movements that arose from these appearances, a tremendous wave of prayer, devotion, writings, and spiritual works of all kinds spread across the globe.
Pope St. John Paul II was unquestionably “the Pope of Fatima,” who believed that the personal and historic events of his reign — from his shooting to the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union and beyond — were inextricably linked to the messages of the Mother of God and the secrets she entrusted to the children she appeared to.
Angel of Peace
One of the secrets they kept, however, regards not the Virgin’s words, but the appearances of the “Angel of Peace,” who came to the children three times in the years before the Virgin’s first appearance and who made a profound impression upon their minds and hearts. These apparitions offered a catechesis of grace and sacrifice that disposed Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco to receive the coming of the Holy Virgin and her message with a depth of commitment and maturity that far exceeded their years or education.
Lucia did not speak about these appearances at all until 1924, and Sts. Jacinta and Francisco never did so at all before their deaths. Though Lucia confided in a priest about the angel’s visits, she was advised not to speak about them, lest they confuse the importance of Our Lady’s words. It was only in her 1937 memoir that she revealed their story in full.
The first appearances took place in 1915, when Lucia and two other girls saw a white transparent figure appear in the sky at the Cabeço — a secluded hillside — not far from their homes. The figure was of natural height, but seemed like a brilliant snow-white statue made of cloud. Though they saw this figure on three occasions, they did not reveal the experience to anyone.
In the spring of 1916, Lucia and her two cousins, Jacinta and Francisco, were tending their sheep at the Loca do Cabeço and had just finished their shortened version of the Rosary. A figure approached them through the sky coming from the east — a transparent, luminous figure of a youth of perhaps fourteen or fifteen years. The children were amazed and overwhelmed by what Lucia would describe as the “supernatural atmosphere” that penetrated and surrounded them. As she recounts in her memoir, the angel spoke to them words of reassurance and authority:
“Do not be afraid! I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.”
Kneeling on the ground, he bowed down until his forehead reached the ground. Led by a supernatural impulse, we did the same, and repeated the words which we heard him say:
“My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love Thee! I ask pardon of Thee for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love Thee!”
Having repeated these words three times, he rose and said:
“Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.”
Then he disappeared.
The children remained with their heads bowed to the ground for some time, filled with this supernatural splendor. The prayer that they heard, now commonly called the Angel’s Prayer, remained fixed in their minds; Lucia said they often knelt with their heads on the ground, repeating this prayer for long periods of time.
This first message has many rich graces for us to consider: The angel reveals himself as the “Angel of Peace” in the midst of the First World War, but the peace that he comes to bring is based in union with God and intercession for others. His words call us back to the greatest commandments of the Old Law: total and complete love of God and neighbor. The prayer he entrusts to them is brief, but it expresses both adoration and intercession in a posture of total reverence: kneeling and with forehead touching the ground. It is a gesture that the children understood and that they imitated constantly.
The Angels’s Second Appearance
The second apparition took place in the summer, after the children had pastured their sheep in the morning. Then, in the heat of the afternoon while they were playing quietly in the shade by the well near Lucia’s house, the angel appeared suddenly and said:
“What are you doing? Pray, pray very much! The Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High.”
Lucy asked: “How are we to make sacrifices?”
“Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is so offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. You will thus draw down peace upon your country. I am its Angel Guardian, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, accept and bear with submission the suffering which the Lord will send you.”
The angel’s first words are abrupt and echo the Lord’s voice to Elijah on Mount Horeb: “What are you doing, Elijah?” (see 1 Kings 19:9–13). Yet they are immediately followed by reassurance and strength. Once again, the angel speaks of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, but this time he does not call them “attentive” to the children, but rather he says that Christ and His Mother have “plans of mercy” for them — a suggestion of an upcoming mission.
Then the angel speaks of sacrifices, both those voluntarily undertaken and those the Lord will send to the children. The sacrifices that they generously take upon themselves will serve as reparation for sins, contribute to the conversion of sinners, and bring about peace for the nation. These are weighty responsibilities to give to the three children.
And the angel points out too that the greatest sacrifice of all is the sacrifice of our own will, through acceptance and willing submission to God’s plan. These are words on which we must meditate, just as the children did. They cannot simply be heard; rather, we must listen to them with open and trusting hearts. Let us pray: “Jesus, I want what You want for me.”
The angel also identifies himself specifically as the guardian angel of Portugal, hearkening back to St. Michael’s role as prince and guardian of Israel in the book of Daniel. In pre-modern times, many nations, kingdoms, and cities celebrated their own “guardian angels.” The Portuguese nation had celebrated a feast in honor of its guardian angel since 1514, though by the eighteenth century, it had fallen into disuse and the feast was suppressed under St. Pius X a few years before the apparitions took place. Some have suggested that the angel who appeared to the children was actually St. Michael, to whom Portugal had at one time been consecrated; others note in contrast that St. Michael has always announced himself by name in other apparitions, as he did to St. Joan of Arc. The question of the angel’s identity has not been answered, nor will it ever be, it seems, this side of Heaven.
The Angel’s Final Apparition
The third and final apparition of the angel is the most extraordinary of all, since it is focused on the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. While other saints and blesseds have received Holy Communion from the hands of an angel (St. Bonaventure, St. Stanislaus Kostka, St. Paschal Baylon, St. Mary Frances of the Five Wounds, Blessed Marguerite Bays, and others), the Communion of the children of Fatima would seem to have an added ecclesial significance in keeping with the importance of their whole mission:
The third apparition must have taken place in October, or towards the end of September, as we were no longer returning for siesta.
After our lunch, we decided to go and pray in the hollow among the rocks on the opposite side of the hill. To get there, we went around the slope, and had to climb over some rocks above the Pregueira (south of the Loca do Cabeço). The sheep could only scramble over these rocks with great difficulty. As soon as we arrived there, we knelt down with our foreheads touching the ground, and began to repeat the prayer of the Angel:
“My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love Thee . . .”
I don’t know how many times we repeated this prayer, when an extraordinary light shone upon us. We sprang up to see what was happening, and beheld the Angel. He was holding a chalice in his left hand, with the Host suspended above it, from which some drops of Blood fell into the chalice. Leaving the chalice suspended in the air, the Angel knelt down beside us and made us repeat three times:
“Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I offer Thee the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the sacrileges, outrages and indifferences by which He Himself is offended. And through the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of Thee the conversion of poor sinners.”
Then, rising, he took the chalice and the Host in his hands. He gave the Sacred Host to me, and shared the Blood from the chalice between Jacinta and Francisco, saying as he did so:
“Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men! Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.”
Once again, he prostrated on the ground and repeated with us, three times more, the same prayer: “Most Holy Trinity . . .” and then disappeared.
Moved by a supernatural force which enveloped us, we had imitated the Angel in everything; that is, we prostrated as he did and repeated the prayers that he said. . . . We remained a long time in this position, repeating the same words over and over again. It was Francisco who realized that it was getting dark, and drew our attention to the fact, and thought we should take our flocks back home. I felt that God was in me.
The Eucharistic prayer that the angel teaches the children is a magnificent summary of the Catholic Faith: It speaks to us first of the Trinity; then it summarizes, almost like a catechism, the definition of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; then it moves us to offer Christ to the Father, accepting His Passion for our sake and uniting our will to His will as an act of expiation and reparation; and finally it turns us to the very core of His redeeming love, his Sacred Heart, always united to His Mother’s pierced Heart for the salvation of sinners.
The angel offers this prayer in preparation for the children’s Communion and as the most fitting thanksgiving thereafter. We too can benefit greatly from this prayer, receiving it as a gift from Heaven and incorporating it into our own Eucharistic Communions.
The children see the Host bleeding into the chalice, a visual image that unites the two Species and links this extraordinary reception of the Eucharist to the Sacrifice of the Cross and its renewal upon the altar. Lucia has already received her First Holy Communion in the parish church of Fatima, so she is accustomed to the reception of Holy Communion. Francisco and Jacinta have not yet received their First Communion, but are communicated with the Precious Blood from the chalice. This first mystical union with Christ affected the children profoundly, leaving them in a state of joy, silence, and exhaustion.
In the third apparition, the presence of the Angel was still more intense. For several days, even Francisco did not dare to talk. He said later on: “I love to see the Angel, but the trouble is that later on, we are incapable of doing anything. I could not even walk any more. I didn’t know what was the matter!”
It was a grace so sublime, and so intimate, that Francisco, all absorbed in God, did not have a clear consciousness of the mystical grace that he had received and felt in a confused way. Once the first few days were over, and we had returned to normal, Francisco asked: “The Angel gave you Holy Communion, but what was it that he gave to Jacinta and me?” “It was Holy Communion, too,” replied Jacinta, with inexpressible joy. “Didn’t you see that it was the Blood that fell from the Host?” Francisco replied: “I felt that God was within me, but I did not know how!”
Though Francisco could not articulate his experience as clearly as the others, his words reflect the truth and beauty of what he felt, with all the candor and simplicity of a child. We know that he never heard the words of the angel — nor, later, the words of Our Lady — but rather he depended on Lucia and Jacinta to repeat them to him. But he did see the angel with the Host and the chalice, and he shared in the others’ adoration and prayer; this was enough to prepare him for this moment of union with Christ the Savior.
Why did the two younger children receive their mystical First Communion from the chalice rather than with the Host? Perhaps this was because the chalice is a biblical image of suffering, both in the Old Testament and the New.
Sharing in the Blood of Christ — drinking of His chalice — is a sign of willingness to undergo martyrdom for the sake of His Name. Jacinta and Francisco were both destined to die at a very early age, and both offered their sufferings consciously and courageously to the Lord, as the angel had taught them. Jacinta was drawn to reparation for sinners, while Francisco spent many hours of the day in their parish church, “consoling God.”
Now, from their place in Heaven they have become evangelizers, teaching us to do good with all our sufferings — and to do good toward those who suffer. The prayers they learned from the angel can be taught to the great and the small, the young and the old. In them we find a message from Heaven to each of us. Through such prayers and the generous offering of our own sacrifices, may we come to share in this life in the wonder, reverence, and joy that the children of Fatima experienced. And may we one day be their companions in Heaven!
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in His Angels at Our Side: Understanding Their Power in Our Souls and the World, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.