This is a special book, the type that doesn’t come around very often, a book that goes to the deepest roots of Catholicism in a way that hasn’t been seen in a while.
It’s called A Pathway Under the Gaze of Mary, and it’s written by the nuns at the Carmel of Coimbra, Portugal — the nuns who lived and worked with and prayed with Fatima seer Lucia of Jesus of the Immaculate Heart, a new full-length biography that contains authentically fresh information about the most famous appearance of the Blessed Mother in the Twentieth Century (and one of the very most famous apparitions ever).
It’s a book that goes to the heart of our faith — bringing it alive in all its richness, depth, and transcendence.
Yes, it also has something new about the “secrets.” I’ll get into that in the next article. It’s a book that can’t be synopsized in a couple of commentaries. To read it in full is to feel a part of this holy family. Fatima seems new again. So does our Faith.
But a few things are worthy of special mention, including the revelation, in this book, that Sister Lucia had mystical experiences before the 1917 apparitions.
That occurred in 1913, when the visionary was but six years old yet allowed — due to her precocious knowledge of Catholicism — to receive her First Holy Communion, which occurred on May 30 of that year, feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Special holy days played into the life of Lucia, who was born on Holy Thursday and baptized on Holy Saturday.
This was a child so devout she convinced a priest to allow her that First Communion by weeping and pleading. It is a girl so dedicated that she made a blue shawl with red stripes herself to wear when she went to kiss the Child Jesus in the manger at Christmas.
The same was true of her parents. As they did chores around the home and wove clothes, her father would often sing not popular folks songs but:
The name of Mary/ How good it is/ Save my soul/ That it is yours/ For it is yours/ It has to be/ Save my soul/ When I come to die/ When I come to die/ When my days are over/ Take my soul/ To a good place.
Teaching his children about the sky, he called the sun Jesus, the moon the lamp of the dear Blessed Virgin, for its soft glow, and said the stars were angels who watched over the universe, and their world.
Lucia’s mother, Maria Rosa was equally devout — instructing her children to enter every church they passed (for at least a few moments of prayer) and teaching them to say the Rosary as they shepherded sheep on the family’s property, which they did after games, singing, and throwing stones, leading up to the first appearance to the three visionaries (Lucia and her two cousins) of an angel. The appearances of the angel were followed by Mary herself in May of 1917 — as we approach the hundredth anniversary in two short years, an event that will feature the Pope.
First Communion was the highlight of Lucia’s life. She nearly died in anticipation.
“My child, your soul is the temple of the Holy Spirit,” the priest told her after her First Confession. “Keep it always pure so He will be able to carry on His Divine action within it.” When she asked him how she should accomplish that — feeling her soul fill with respect for her interior life — he told her to kneel down before Our Lady and ask her with great confidence to take care of her heart in preparation for Communion the following day, and to always keep her heart for Christ alone.
Did she ever!
This is when that first mystical experience occurred.
“In the Church there was more than one statue of Our Lady,” Lucia recounted. “But, as my sister took care of the altar of Our Lady of the Rosary, I usually went there to pray. That is why I went there on this occasion also, to ask her with all the ardor of my soul to keep my poor heart for God alone.
“As I repeated this humble prayer over and over again, with my eyes fixed on the statue, it seemed to me she smiled, and with a loving look and kindly gesture, assured me she would. My heart was so overflowing with joy I could scarcely utter a single word.”
According to the Coimbra nuns, in 1944 Sister Lucia revealed that she not only saw the statue smile, but heard the Blessed Mother say, “My daughter, the grace that is given to you today will remain forever in your heart, producing fruits of eternal life.”
It was not an apparition, but a presence, words “etched indelibly” in her soul.
Thus it is that a locution preceded — by several years — the historic apparitions.
Our Lady would later appear to her, meanwhile, as Our Lady of the Rosary.
The night before the great day of First Communion came, the six-year-old couldn’t sleep. Her dress was carefully chosen, made of cotton, and pure white. “She gave all of her heart to God and she did not think of anything else until dawn,” notes the book. Upon receiving the Host, little Lucia felt “an unalterable serenity and peace.
“I felt myself bathed in such a supernatural atmosphere that the Presence of Our Dear Lord became as clearly perceptible to me as if I had seen and heard Him with my bodily senses.”
Her mother had suggested that upon reception of Jesus she should “above all ask Our Lord to make you a saint.”
Lucia memorized the words to this prayer, which beyond question will one day, and perhaps soon, be realized.