By Father Paul A. Duffner
When the Mother of God appeared in Fatima, Portugal in 1917 to three small children with a plea for prayer and penance, part of her message included the following warning:
“Pray, pray very much, make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to hell because there is no one to offer prayers and sacrifices for them.”
What Our Lady is asking for in this plea is reparation on behalf of sinners. She is asking that we do for them what her Son did for us. Our Blessed Lord took upon His shoulders the burden of our sins, and paid the price for them. We are not able to shoulder the whole burden, pay the whole price for the sins of others; but what little we can do when placed in the hands of the Blessed Mother of us all, can accomplish much towards lessening their debt of punishment, and opening their hearts to the healing and strengthening grace of God.
It is true that these souls have rejected the graces and inspirations offered them by God, but Our Lady implies that many of them can be saved by the prayers and sacrifices of others, if among her children some are generous enough to put themselves out for this purpose.
In recent times many have contributed generously to help victims of famine in various parts of the world; but that was to save them from bodily death. The death of the soul – the rejection of God at the end of one’s earthly existence (of which Our Lady speaks), is eternal death. So we can see the anguish of the Mother of God at the loss of her children, for whom her Son gave His life to save.
What Our Lady is asking for in the plea expressed above, is simply that we do what St. Paul did time and again, namely, to “fill up what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ,” i.e., in those members of Christ’s Body who have turned away from Him, and who will not turn back to Him unless other members of His Body win that grace for them by their prayers and sacrifices.
Those who remain unmoved by such a plea from Our Blessed Mother, seem to say along with Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9) Keep in mind that the teaching of Our Savior on “love of neighbor” is a commandment, not merely a counsel. Our neighbor is not just the person who lives next door, but someone in need; and Our Lady called our attention to many souls in dire need, in danger of eternal punishment . . . souls who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
There is but one virtue of charity, by which we love God and neighbor; and we love both with the same intensity of that virtue. That means if our concern for others in need is feeble, so is our love of God. And remember Our Lord’s warning that “the measure you measure with will be measured back to you.” From that it follows that the more we help those in need – especially dying sinners, the more we will be sustained by the grace of God in that crucial moment. And finally, the Lord reminds us – “what You do for the least of my brethren, you do it for Me.” (Mt. 25 :40)
Need we more incentive, then, to earnestly try to heed the pleas of Our Lady for souls in danger of eternal loss? The thought perhaps comes . . . “but what can I do; I can pray for them, but what kinds of sacrifices can I make for them?” The Angel who appeared to the three children at Fatima prior to the coming of Our Lady answered that question:
“Make everything you do a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.”
The decree on the Church in the second Vatican Council also pointed out how the ordinary routine of each day affords many opportunities for “spiritual sacrifices” which give glory to God, and contribute to the salvation of souls.
“The laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and equipped to produce in themselves ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit. For all their works, prayers, apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labor, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if borne patiently – all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (L.G. 34)
And recall too how David prayed after he had sinned “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.” (Ps. 51 ) Every person in the state of grace is frequently performing such acts as – obedience to lawful authority, fulfillment of duty, endurance of the crosses of life, all of which, if done with a “humble and contrite spirit”, are as a sacrifice before God; for they involve the humble submission of our will to God’s, something the sinner refuses. They have, therefore a reparatory value.
One can have a general intention of placing in the hands of Our Lady the fruits of all such acts as regards atonement, and in this way make much of his day a continuous “filling up what is wanting in the Body of Christ.”
If we can think of the straw that breaks the camel’s back, we can also think of the prayer or sacrifice that breaks the sinners resistance to God’s grace, causing him to open up to the merciful Heart of the Redeemer. If a dying sinner can be brought to make a sincere act of perfect contrition for his sins – regardless of how great or how many, God would restore grace to that soul, and change the debt of eternal punishment to one of temporal punishment, that could be satisfied in this life or in purgatory.
If we could be responsible for, or notably contribute to (under God) – the salvation of just one soul, winning for it the grace of true contrition by our prayers and sacrifices, and saving it from eternal damnation, how grateful that soul would be to us for all eternity. And yet, it could be that one who is generous in his concern for souls in need, as we have explained, could be responsible for, or contribute to the salvation of thousands of souls in the course of a lifetime.
How do we bear the trials, the frustrations, the hardships of each day . . . grudgingly, or wholeheartedly? No one welcomes suffering as such. Our nature shrinks from it. But if seen in the light of God’s Providence, and of the Cross which Our Lord said His disciples must carry, and if borne with patience, – it not only pays in part the debt of temporal punishment due to sin, but helps to mellow our rebellious and proud tendencies, and form us in the image of Christ.
As Fr. Joret, O.P. states: grace is “a crucifying thing, inasmuch as it is an inflowing of the very grace which Jesus received in its fullness and which led Him to the Cross.” (Dom. Life. p. 268) Our human nature recoils from the Cross, but as it is perfected by grace one more and more embraces it, to share in Christ’s redeeming action for souls.
Speaking of the redeeming sacrifice of Christ, St. Thomas Aquinas (whom we are taking as our main guide in this reflection) wrote:
“He properly atones for an offense who offers something which the offended one loves equally, or even more that he detested the offense. But by suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race.” (III,48,2)
However, just because Christ offered to the Father sufficient satisfaction to atone for the sins of the whole human race, and merited sufficient grace to enable every member of the human race to enter heaven, that does not mean that we are all automatically saved. Regarding this St. Thomas wrote:
“Christ’s passion is a universal cause for the forgiveness of sin, yet it needs to be applied to each individual soul for the cleansing of his personal sins . . . that is, He has provided for our redemption so that each of us could be delivered from our sins and restored to grace, just as if a doctor were to prepare a medicine by which all sickness could be cured in the future.”(III,49,1, ad 3&4)
To share in the graces Christ merited for us, or to win for others a share in them, we must use the means of grace that He has established: the sacraments, prayer, keeping the commandments, bearing the crosses of life, voluntary penance, etc. Strictly speaking, Christ needed no one (not even His Mother) – in the gaining of those graces, nor in their distribution. But in His merciful plan, He chose to associate others with him in this great mystery of salvation. Pope Pius XII refers to this in his encyclical on the Mystical Body: (n.44)
“In carrying out the work of redemption, Christ wished to be helped by the members of His Body. This is not because He is indigent or weak, but rather because He has willed it for the greater glory of His unspotted Spouse. Dying on the Cross, He left to His Church the immense treasury of the redemption; towards this the Church contributed nothing. But in the distribution of those graces, not only does He want to share that task with the Church (His members), but in a way He wants it to be due to her action. What a deep mystery this, that the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances which members of the Mystical body of Jesus Christ offer for this intention.”
He allows us to share not only in the fruits of the Redemption, but in the very work of Redemption itself. He depends on those who know and love Him, to win needed graces for those who do not know or love Him.
Every good act performed in the state of grace is in some measure meritorious. Yet unless it is an act of the full intensity of which we are capable, it does not bring about an immediate increase of grace. No one, however, can merit condignly the beginning of the life of grace either for himself, or for another, i.e. with a strict right to that reward. Only Christ “the author of salvation” (Heb. 2:10) can do that. Yet man can merit congruously the state of grace for others, i.e. with a merit based on fittingness . . . the fittingness that God would hear the request of a friend. It may take, however, many good acts . . . many sacrifices . . . many rosaries . . . many years. And we can obtain grace for others by our prayers relying on the mercy of God and on His promise: “Ask and it shall be given to you.” (Mt. 7:7)
We can also help others by our good acts as regards the satisfactory value of them, i.e. as regards paying the debt incurred by sin. That an act have satisfactory or atonement value (the state of grace presupposed), it must have two conditions:
1) It must involve some degree of difficulty, hardship, pain (physical or mental) … some degree of suffering . . . for it goes to pay the debt of punishment. The reason for that is this: since the sinner chooses his own will and rejects God’s will, seeking some personal satisfaction in preference to due reverence and subjection to God, seeking the creature in preference to the Creator, the pleasure sought wrongly must be repaired by pain. St. Thomas explains this as follows:
“That a guilty person (a sinner) be brought back within the order of justice, it is necessary that the will suffer privation in what he desires; this is done by its being punished whether by being made to forego the good things it would wish to have, or by the infliction of the evil things which it shrinks from enduring.” (Op.3,c.7,Ed.Rom.)
2) The difficult act or incident must be borne patiently. Again St. Thomas:
“If the scourges which are inflicted by God on account of sin, become in some way an act of the sufferer they acquire a satisfactory character. Now they become an act of the sufferer insofar as he accepts them for the cleansing of his sins, by taking advantage of them patiently. If, however, he refuses to submit to them patiently, they do not become his personal act in any way, and are not of a satisfactory character.”(Supp. 15,2)
There are two things to remember with regard to reparation for sin, for which we should be eternally grateful:
1) Because Christ has offered infinite satisfaction for the sins of mankind, a lighter punishment is required of us that otherwise would be necessary. St. Thomas speaks of this:
“It is necessary that those who sin after baptism be likened unto Christ suffering by some form of punishment or suffering which they endure in their own person; yet, by the cooperation of Christ’s satisfaction, much lighter penalty suffices that one that is proportional to the sin.”(III,49,3,ad2)
(It is as if we owed a debt of $100, and not having the wherewith to pay it, Our Savior paid $99 of it, but required that we pay the remaining $1. The disproportion is even greater than this example, considering the infinite malice of grave sin, and the infinite dignity of the person offended – even in venial sin.)
2) When one makes atonement for another, less punishment is required than if the sinner himself paid the debt. Again St. Thomas:
“As regards the payment of the debt (of temporal punishment), one man can satisfy for another, provided he be in the state of charity (grace), so that his works may avail for satisfaction. Nor is it necessary that he who satisfies for another should undergo greater punishment than the principal would have to undergo . . . because punishment derives its power of satisfaction chiefly from charity whereby a man bears it. And since greater charity is evidenced by a man satisfying for another than for himself, less punishment is required of him who satisfies for another, than of the principal . . . Nor is it necessary that the one for whom the satisfaction is made be unable to make satisfaction himself, for even if he were able, he would be released of his debt when the other satisfies in his stead.”(Supp. 13:2)
Bishop Venancio, the former administrator of the diocese in which Our Lady appeared, when asked to summarize the Fatima message, answered: “Fatima is reparation, reparation, reparation, and especially Eucharistic reparation.” He added that this includes such things as visits to the Blessed Sacrament, Holy hours and vigils, but especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This is true, for there our prayer, our sacrifices are offered up in union with the prayers and Sacrifice of Jesus.
Too, St. Thomas points out that since we are one with Christ, as members of His Body, all that He endured on the Cross is ours to offer to the Father – as if we ourselves had undergone that penalty. (III,48,2,ad 1; & 69.2) Therefore, when we cannot attend Mass, a most efficacious prayer of reparation is the one taught to the three children at Fatima by the Angel, in which we offer spiritually to the Father the same offering (the Body and Blood of Christ) which the Priest offers sacramentally at Mass:
“Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore you profoundly. I offer you the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He is offended. By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of you the conversion of poor sinners.”