Sacrifices for the conversion of sinners
The teachings of the Angel in 1916
The first component of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary taught by Our Lady to the little seers of Fatima was to pray and do penance for the conversion of sinners. They have been prepared for receiving this revelation through the apparitions of the Angel in 1916.
In the first one, the Angel taught them a prayer intended for sinners: "My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You. I ask for Your forgiveness for those who do not believe, who do not love, who do not hope, who do not love You."
In the second one, he said : "What do you do? Pray, pray a lot! The Hearts of Jesus and of Mary have on you designs of mercy. Always give to the Most High prayers and penance."
Lucie retorted: "How must we do penance?"
The Angel answered: "Do penance out of all what you will be able, give a sacrifice to God in act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of plea for the conversion of sinners. In that way, you will attract peace to your fatherland. I am his Guardian angel, the Angel of Portugal. Especially, accept and withstand with submission the sufferings which the Lord will send you."
In the third one, he taught them a prayer ending this way: "By the infinite merits of the very Holy Heart [of Jesus] and of Mary's Immaculate Heart, I call You for the conversion of sinners."
The teachings of Our Lady in 1917
The next year, during the first apparition (May 13th), Our Lady asked the little seers: "Are you willing to offer yourselves to God to bear all the sufferings which He wants to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and for the conversion of sinners?"
In the second one (June 13th), Our Lady revealed them that Jesus wanted to establish in the world the devotion to the Immaculate Heart, but without revealing them what it consisted of. Indeed, the little seers had hardly any education and could not know what it consisted of. It was therefore logical that the Holy Virgin taught them what it consisted of in the following apparitions. And it is what really happened.
In the third apparition (July 13th), after a short dailogue, Our Lady told them: "Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say often to Jesus, especially whenever you do penance: "O Jesus, it is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation of the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary."
Then, after having shown them Hell and entrusted the secret, she ended by teaching them a second prayer : "When you pray the Rosary, say after every mystery: "O my Jesus, forgive us¹. Preserve us from the hellfire, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy."
Finally, in the fourth apparition (August 19th), Our Lady recommanded them just before leaving: "Pray, pray a lot and do penance for those who sin. A lot of souls go to Hell because they have nobody who sacrifices oneself and prays for them."
¹ The usual prayer is the following: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins". But the Portuguese text is more concise. In the fourth report, Sister Lucie writes « O meu Jesus ! Perdoai-nos, livrai-nos do fogo Inferno, ... »
Information from Our Lord
Later, Our Lord specified the type of penance which He wanted. In a letter dated February 28th, 1943, Sister Lucie entrusted to Lord Feirrera who was one of her spiritual advisers: "Here is the penance for which the Good God asks today: it is the penance that each must impose oneself to lead a life of justice in the observance of His law. And He wants that we make this way clearly known to souls, because many understand the word "penance" as meaning "tremendous austerity", as they feel neither force nor generosity for it, they lose heart and they let themselves live into a life of compromise and sin.
From Thursday till Friday, staying in the chapel with the permission of my superiors, at midnight, Our Lord tells me: "The sacrifice that requires from each the fulfillment of one's own duty and the observance of my law, here is the penance for which I ask and for which I demand now."
Two months later, in a letter dated May 4th, 1943, she confided to Father Gonçalvès, another of her spiritual advisors who had been sent in Mozambique two years earlier: "He wishes that we make the souls understand that the real penance which He asks for and demands now consists above all in the sacrifice that each one has to impose oneself to fulfil one's own relagious and material duties."
This practice is thus simple and accessible to everybody. It is not a matter of setting oneself a series of mortifications or reciting numerous prayers. No! What Heaven asks us is to fulfil honestly our duty of state, to respect the divine law and to offer the efforts it takes for the conversion of sinners and in reparation of the insults committed to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
The most important point of the message of Fatima
Sister Lucie has never stopped repeating that only prayers and sacrifices for the conversion of sinners would be the fundamental point of the devotion to Mary's immaculate Heart. To the Father McGlynn, an American Dominican who wanted to sculpt a statue of Our Lady of Fatima and who asked her what the her message consisted of, she answered: "The conversion of the sinners, and the return of souls to God. This idea was repeated in all the appearances; that is why I consider that it is the main part of the message." (In any rigour, the Holy Virgin approached this topic only in three appearances, the first, the third and the fourth one. But this topic was also approached in three appearances of the Angel in 1916, that makes six times out of nine appearances.)
Also, on August 12th, 1946, Sister Lucie answered to John Haffert, one of the founders of the Blue Army who asked her on this very point:
— What is the main request of Our Lady?
— And what do you mean by penance?
— By penance, Our Lady meant the loyal accomplishment of the duty of state of each one on a daily basis.
— But isn't the Rosary important?
— Yes it is, because we must pray to get the strengths to be capable of fulfilling our daily duty.
A perfectly evangelical devotion
So, the fundamental point of the message of Fatima is intended for the salvation of sinners and is contained in the four prayers taught to the little seers. Indeed, the first prayer brought by the Angel is intended in reparation of the offences made by sinners; the second ends by asking for the conversion of sinners; and both prayers taught by Our Lady are also aimed at getting the conversion of sinners.
It is all divine economy of salvation that is contained in these prayers. Because God was embodied to save the sinners and Christ suffered to save the sinners. The message of Fatima therefore complies perfectly with the teaching of the Gospel.
What is more this practice has an invaluable faculty. Indeed, to the one who embraces the devotion to Mary's immaculate Heart, Our Lady "promises salvation". In fact, the penance for the conversion of sinners are its main practice. Consequently, to all those who will make such sacrifices, the Holy Virgin promises salvation.
In this way, Our Lady is only confirming a constant teaching of the Church. Because, in the epilogue of Saint James' epistle (V, 19-20) that we read during the mass of the rogations of the Ascension Day, the apostle tells us: "He who turns a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."
And it is not only at Fatima that Heaven reminded this teaching. At about the same time, on March 23rd, 1921, in Poitiers, Our Lord confided to sister Josefa Ménendez:
"Listen, Josefa, there are christian souls and even pious ones a bond sometimes slow down on the way to perfection. But the oblation which an other soul makes Me of its deeds, united with my infinite Merits, obtains them to get out of this state and to resume their going forward."
Many others also live in indifference and even sin. Helped in the same way, they find mercy and will find salvation one day.
Other souls, and very many, cling doggedly to evil and are blinded by error. They would damn themselves should the plea of faithful souls get mercy to touch their heart in the end." (from Un appel à l’amour, Éditions de l’Apostolat de la Prière, p. 151)