Public Revelation vs. Private Revelation

After my conversion experience at 17-years-old, I was on fire.  I wanted to be Super Catholic and share that passion with everyone, much to the annoyance of many.  I have learned to temper much of my enthusiasm, I hope, with a bit more wisdom.  One area where this was incredibly helpful is in the area of private revelations.

There is a buzz going around on the interwebs that the Vatican will soon make some dramatic conclusion regarding the supposed apparitions at Medjugorje.  Since the 1980’s, several children (all now adults) said that the Blessed Virgin appeared to them every day with messages and warnings.  Pilgrims from all over the world have gone to witness these miracles.

Fr. Larry Richards, whom I wrote about on this website, travelled there and witnessed the fruits of repentance in the confessionals.  I purchased a Medjugorje prayer book that I used daily for years.  When the internet was all new to me, I found Medjugorje forums where Mary’s messages were posted.  I printed them out and gave them to others.  I’ve travelled to hear one of the visionaries speak.

But things have started to unravel there.  The spiritual director of the children was laicized by Pope Benedict XVI.  The CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith at the Vatican) has issued a letter to churches in America not to sponsor any pilgrimages to Medjugorje or have speakers from Medjugorje if they assume the visions’ authenticity.  Word going around is that soon the Vatican will make an official pronouncement.

So how does this affect my faith, since I invested so much in these visions?

It doesn’t affect it at all.

Why is that?

Back when I was running after every vision, a good friend of mine gave me a book by Fr. Benedict Groeschel called A Still, Small Voice: A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations.  In it, he laid out very clearly the Catholic Church’s teaching on apparitions and how faithful Catholics should approach them.

To understand the point, we need to make a distinction between Public Revelation and Private Revelation.  “Revelation” is God telling us who He is.  Public Revelations are the things that God has given to us to know for our faith and our salvation.  Who is God?  He reveals that He is Trinity.  How can I be saved?  He told us that we are saved through being born of water and the Spirit.

Public Revelation must be believed by all Christians.  These are the essentials of the faith.  If we look to what is given in the Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition, these things are essential to the religion.  I cannot be a good Catholic and reject the idea that Jesus is the Son of God or that He rose from the Dead or that Mary is ever virgin.

Public Revelation is also a done deal.  It ended with Jesus and the authors of the New Testament.  There will be no new Public Revelation.  Why not?  Because everything that we need to know has already been given.  To be sure, there are things about God and the faith that we don’t know, like how old Mary was when she conceived the Lord.  But those things are irrelevant to my achieving Heaven.

But God did not stop speaking to us.  That is where Private Revelation comes in.  After the Biblical age, God still speaks to us.  But we have to understand that Private Revelation is extra information that aids our spiritual growth.  God continues to show is glory in generation after generation.  Through these Private Revelations, God has given the world great gifts like the Scapular, the Rosary, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  All of these are excellent spiritual tools accepted by the Catholic Church.  But it must be remembered that nothing in Private Revelation must be believed.

Fr. Groeschel wrote about his special devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes.  He found great spiritual comfort and enlightenment from the apparition of Mary to St. Bernadette.  But Groeschel made clear that a good Catholic could look at the evidence and come to a conclusion that Bernadette was incorrect. You have that right as a Catholic (Fr. Groeschel then wrote that he also had the right to think that if you came to this conclusion that you were a moron).

Why can you do this?  Because no new doctrine can be given in Private Revelation because everything we need to know has already been given in Public Revelation.  I have a huge devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.  Because of her, I pray the rosary every day.  This is a good spiritual practice for the growth of my soul.  But could I know God without Fatima?  Yes.  He has given me everything I need in the Scripture and in the Tradition.

If you will let me use a classroom analogy: I give tests in my classes based on the lecture notes.  All the students should have the notes and so have everything they need to get an A+.  But there is so much material that in order to help them, I give them a study guide to help them focus their study.  There is no new information on the study guide, but it refers them back to notes and helps them understand and comprehend the notes more clearly.  They need the notes in order to pass.  The study guide is helpful, but it is not necessary information needed to pass.  In the same way, Public Revelation is like the essential notes.  Whereas Private Revelation, while helpful, should only point you back to the essential information in Public Revelation.

I would be very wary, therefore, of any Private Revelation that drew people away from anything in Public Revelation.  Near where I once lived, there was a person who said that they were having apparitions of the Blessed Virgin.  But the visions always occurred at the same time that Holy Mass was celebrated at the nearby church.  Immediately, I became skeptical because it seemed very unlikely that Mary would draw people AWAY from the Eucharist.  A good Private Revelation would draw people TOWARDS the Eucharist and the Church.

That isn’t to say that the vision is necessarily fake.  As Fr. Groeschel points out, because you have the awesome, unfathomable mystery of God’s self presented to the small, limited human mind, there can always be errors in interpretation, even in legitimate visions.  That is why what is presented in Private Revelation is never raised to the level of fundamental faith.  To paraphrase Fr. Groeschel: I believe the doctrines of the Church; I think Mary appeared at Fatima.

I do not know what the Vatican is going to say about Medjugorje.  But even if a dramatic statement against the truth of the visions comes about, it will not affect my faith.  All Medjugorje or Fatima or the Divine Mercy revelations ever did was point me back to the truths given in Public Revelation.

And those will never change.

Copyright © 2013, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

2 responses to “Public Revelation vs. Private Revelation”

  1. Such a great and clear explanation of what “revelation” means in context of our faith………….thank you!

  2. 2raleigh says:

    Public and Private….An easy to understand explanation. I will remember this the next time an Evangelization moment presents itself.

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