Papal Heralds of the Apocalypse

Come Lord Jesus. The human race has not the strength to move the stone which it has itself fashioned seeking to impede Thy return…How many hearts, O Lord, await Thee! How many souls are longing for the hastening of the day in which Thou alone wilt live and reign in their hearts! Come Lord Jesus. There are numerous signs that Thy return is not far off…

Pius XII – Easter 1957

In regard to recent Papal teaching on the coming Apocalypse, the theologian Fr. Aidan Nichols O.P.  described it as ‘spectacularly present, yet strangely overlooked.’  After reading Heralds of The Second Coming: Our Lady, the Divine Mercy, and the Popes of the Marian Era from Pius IX to Benedict XVI (Angelico Press) by Stephen Walford, I tend to agree.

In fact I would go further and suggest that the average Catholic is woefully unaware of any such teaching and its relation to his or her faith. This book and what it speaks of is indeed, therefore, a ‘herald’, coming as it does to challenge this ignorance whilst convincing us now is the time to awake and, like the Wise Virgins, go out into the gathering night with lamps lit readied to meet Him who comes through its darkness to claim us…

Before we go any further there is an important point to be clarified. This is not a book pertaining to ‘end times’, ‘raptures’ or anything else in between. This is a sober work of scholarship. It resides in the realm of eschatology, that is that portion of theology that deals with our understanding, through Sacred Scripture and Tradition, of the Second Coming and the events of the Last Days that precede it.

That said what it explores is unusual. It takes the Papal teachings of the last two hundred years or so and examines it alongside world events – events to which this teaching responded and foresaw – supplemented with various approved private revelations and Marian apparitions. The emphasis is on the former not the latter. So often books on this subject start with the fantastic – approved or not – and then find arguments to support various conjecture. Not so with Walford’s work, its focus is Papal teaching. His ability is in extrapolating from that coherent and systematic body of teaching something that, when read as a whole, causes its reader to stop and think.

The author’s thesis opens with Blessed Pius IX and ends with the then pope at the time of the book’s publication, Benedict XVI. This covers what is seen as the centuries of the Marian Era. That expression is not the author’s but, surprisingly, that of St. John Paul II. From the middle of the 19th Century onwards, there had been a deepening of Marian related theology. The spiritual genesis for this came from the life and writings of two 18th Century saints St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696–1797) and St. Louis de Montfort (1673-1716). Their works reignited devotion to the Blessed Virgin; and, subsequently, those writing’s influenced the next century’s teaching of the popes of the Marian Era, many of whom referred directly to these two authors as inspiration.

Interestingly, this Marian Era appeared at a time when various heresies, some ancient and returning, others newer, had collectively begun to slouch from the swamp of the then Zeitgeist. The 19th Century had seen many in the Protestant world in retreat from an understanding of the Scriptures as divinely inspired. This in turn had led to the conclusion that if the text was not inspired then of Whom it spoke must simply be a construct of the world, its history and culture, rather than someone uniquely remarkable. The age-old attack upon the Divinity of the Son was underway again, and, inevitably, turned its attention to the Church. Any who remembered the early Christological controversies would have known that one of the key defences to understanding that Divinity was through a deep veneration of the Mother of God. In this context, Blessed Pius IX’s 1854 promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception appears not only timely but also as part of a wider defence of the basic tenets of the Christian faith.  This was followed soon after by the 1858 apparitions at Lourdes, a conjunction the text sees not only as part of an historical pattern but of a spiritual one too. This is what makes this book so interesting: not so much the historical facts it sets out as how it re-arranges these in such a way that there emerges a spiritual logic, and, more interesting still, an inescapable conclusion.


During these last two centuries there has been an ‘alternate’ history. On the one hand there has been the so-called incontrovertible ‘progress’ of man – or so the established historians would have us believe. A ‘progress’ that yet speeds us on from the Enlightenment to the Brave New World of today and tomorrow when all our former ‘complexes’ will finally be laid to rest along with the myths and legends upon which they are based. Daily, we live in the middle of this ‘enlightenment’.  The only thing is that for some of us, the times we live in now seem darker than ever, especially, when we look back at the shadows still cast from the last century. During that time we see little by way of light coming into the world to dispel the darkness; instead, we catch glimpses of one who fell from heaven and in so doing brought a rebellion that has provoked war ever since.

In the pages of Walford’s book, the ‘received’ version of our world’s history is turned on its head. Instead, another, rarely spoken of if nonetheless seemingly more truthful, version is explored. It tells of mystics and saints, of popes and councils, of approved Marian apparitions and the Divine Mercy. Into the sad debris of history:  its wars and revolutions; its injustices and ideologies; its long litany of man’s never-ending inhumanity to man steps an alternative reading of all this with at its centre a battle, one whose victor has, mercifully, already been decided.

The personal awareness…that every Catholic must feel with regard to the needs of our time …the problems, the polemics, the hostilities, the possible catastrophes of a godless society, the full drama… the Church is experiencing today in the full tension of her history …sorely tried by the hard and disappointing experiences of modern progress, and finally secrets of divine mercy, in which the moving resources of the Kingdom of God are revealed: everything tells us that this is a great decisive hour which we must have courage to live with open eyes and undaunted hearts.

Pope Paul VI –January 1976

This book builds in such a way that when its last pages are turned it is difficult to see what other conclusions can be drawn than those presented. Whether it is the theological battles against Modernism that Leo XIII and St. Pius X engaged in, or the battle against godless ideologies with which Pius XII had to contend, through to the apostasy that Paul VI suffered, before the emergence from the east of a pontiff who stood and faced an increasingly hostile world, these men all give witness to the reality that must inevitably arise. And in so doing, they had much to say on the never-ending struggle between the spirit of the times and the coming end point of time itself, with the paradox being that the more that point was fought against the more it seems to be ushered into existence.

The twin streams of Papal teaching and the events of Lourdes, La Salette, Fatima combined with the teaching of the Divine Mercy all look to this coming Parousia. This is the book’s contention, and the immediacy of its message jolts. More curious still, however, upon finishing its thesis that which formerly confused no longer does, that which shocked no longer has any effect, and that which frightened has now lost its power. Suddenly it all makes perfect sense as one begins to understand the choice that lies ahead for each of us. It is only through the Cross that the Second Coming will be effected, and, like the Incarnation 2000 years ago, this cannot, will not, be concluded without the Blessed Virgin. It is she who shall defend the Child once more, albeit this time from the Dragon in the heat of the Desert, before, thereafter, again taking her place at the foot of the Cross this time accompanied by the Christian remnant that have chosen to witness come what may.

In spite of the great swathes of history and theology in this slim volume, when all is said and done, its unsettling conclusions could be summed up in and through two parables. The first tells of the weeds that must grow alongside the wheat – within the Church and without  – until the reckoning comes for all concerned. The second is of the Wise Virgins, for, like them, we too must trim our lamps and, regardless of the hour of night in which we find ourselves, stand ready to await the approach of the Master, for come He shall…

The Challenge is to see to it that the world is properly informed of the true meaning of the year 2000, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. The Jubilee cannot be a mere remembrance of a past event, however extraordinary. It is to be the celebration of a Living Presence, and an invitation to look towards the Second Coming of our Saviour, when he will establish once and for all his Kingdom of justice, love and peace.

St. John Paul II – February 1997


Heralds of The Second Coming: Our Lady, the Divine Mercy, and the Popes of the Marian Era from Pius IX to Benedict XVI  by Stephen Walford
Angelico Press 2013
228 pages.

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KV Turley writes from London

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