The SSPX Transforms the Debate on
The Third Secret of Fatima

A recent article posted by the Society of St. Pius X in the United States makes a statement of profound significance in the eighteen-year-old debate about the Third Secret of Fatima. After discussing a popular theory – that of there being more to the Third Secret than what was published by the Vatican – the SSPX author comments:

“I fear that these interrogations on what may not have been said might turn our attention away from the text that was revealed. Should not this vision be the first object of our attention for the time being, revealed as it is by the Church?”[1]

The widely held theory is that Our Lady of Fatima gave Her own words of explanation of the meaning of the Third Secret, but that the Vatican did not publish these words along with the Secret itself. However, this SSPX statement raises another question instead: “Should not this vision be the first object of our attention…?” The objection has already been made that the Third Secret vision published by the Vatican is not clear, and that it requires an explanation from Our Lady Herself in order to be understood. But the SSPX statement adds, “Indeed, it is full of intense, grave, obscure images.” One might argue from this that the images are by admission “obscure,” and therefore they cannot be understood without an explanation from Our Lady Herself. However, Our Lady does not communicate everything directly, but instead often works as Mediatrix of all grace, guiding souls to an understanding through other means.

“Intense, grave, obscure images”

The SSPX author provided an example by citing similar images in a vision of St. John Bosco. It is a question therefore of interpreting the images correctly. While many have assumed that the explanation of the Third Secret can only come from an unpublished hidden document, the previous Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, gave an interpretation during a conference in Brussels in June of 2005, when he explained that the vision of the Third Secret depicts the passion and death of the Mystical Body:

Can this go on until death, as for Our Lord? Will there be an apparent death, like the disappearance of the Church? I wonder if the released part of the 3rd secret of Fatima does not deal with this Passion. At the end it speaks of a massacre: a procession which follows the pope, with bishops, religious and faithful from all walks of life, and they are all killed. This vision ends with angels offering this blood to God, and this blood will return as graces on those who are left. It looks as if there is an apparent disappearance of the Church. This interpretation is not exactly that given by Rome, but I am doing nothing more than describing purely and simply, the vision.[2]

During another conference in Kansas City eight years later (October 2013), while repeating this same interpretation, Bishop Fellay stated that his explanation of the Third Secret had met with opposition. Without stating what the objections were, he nevertheless gave some indication because he was drawing a conclusion from what others – including the Society’s founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre – had previously indicated: that the Church in our time was undergoing her passion. If the Church can undergo a passion, can this same Mystical Body also experience a death? Bishop Fellay was indicating that this is the case. But some may have been objecting: How is it possible that the Church would die? Did not Our Lord promise that He would be with His Church all days until the end of time? Did He not also promise to send the Paraclete, and that the Holy Spirit would remain with the Church forever?

In What Sense the Church Can and Cannot
Undergo a Death

The Church of course cannot die in the sense that Our Lord’s promises cannot go unfulfilled. The Church cannot go through complete physical destruction, in the sense that her members cannot all be killed. A death of the Mystical Body is nevertheless what would seem to be described in the Third Secret, and for this reason Bishop Fellay was justified in the interpretation that he gave. But if His Excellency met with objections in response to his interpretation, those objections also must be resolved.

We have in fact an explanation of the Third Secret, not directly from Our Lady, but from Sister Lucia in her May 12, 1982 letter to Pope John Paul II. In that letter she described the Third Secret as a “symbolic revelation.” Those words refer to the published text of the Third Secret, not to a hypothetical missing document, for otherwise Sister Lucia would not have referred to the Secret as “symbolic.” As symbolic, how are the symbols in the Third Secret to be interpreted? The obvious answer is that they must be explained by means of Catholic doctrine. An example can be found in another revelation from Our Lady, the Secret of La Salette. In that revelation Our Lady referred to future events, and in particular She spoke of the Antichrist as the devil incarnate (“l’antechrist…en un mot ce sera le diable incarné” – the Antichrist…, in a word, will be the devil incarnate). These words cannot be interpreted in a physical, literal sense, because St. Thomas teaches that the devil cannot become incarnate in the Antichrist (Sum. Th., III, q. 8, a. 8, ad 1). Our Lady was obviously not contradicting St. Thomas, but instead She was only speaking symbolically: The devil cannot become incarnate, but he produces such evil in the world that it would appear as if he were in fact incarnate.

Similarly, the passion and death of the Mystical Body that Bishop Bernard Fellay rightly saw depicted in the Third Secret is not a physical or literal death, but can only refer to a spiritual death. But what is this spiritual death? To answer this question we turn once again to St. Thomas. In the Summa Theologica he explains that the Holy Ghost, Whom Our Lord promised to send and Who would remain with the Church forever, manifests His presence in varying degrees throughout the course of time (I-II, q. 106, a. 4). Sometimes His presence is very clearly manifested within the Church, and at other times that presence is not as clearly present. St. Thomas compares this to the observance of the Law in the Old Testament, during which time the Law was sometimes observed very faithfully, and at other times not at all. St. Thomas did not say so explicitly, but the implication was that there could be a time in the history of the Church when the presence of the Holy Ghost would appear not to be as clearly manifested.

The Holy Spirit and the Church’s Invisible Head
Distinct from Her Purely Human Members

To better understand what St. Thomas meant, we turn to his commentary on the Gospel of St. John (Super Evangelium S. Joannis Lectura, Marietti, 1952, XIV, § 1915). Explaining Our Lord’s prophecy that the Holy Ghost would remain with the Church forever, St. Thomas mentions the distinction between that grace which is necessary for salvation, and which is always present in those souls who are in the state of grace, and the special gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to the Church, which belong properly to Our Lord as the invisible Head of the Church, and which He is not obliged to distribute to the human members of the Church. These gifts cannot be assumed to be in equally distributed proportions at every period in the history of the Church.

Among the theologians of recent times, and above all within the Magisterium of the Church, the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church has been brought to light in ways of special significance for our time. The First Vatican Council in 1870 was not able to complete its work, and the document that had been prepared on the nature of the Church was not officially promulgated. But one of its leading and most influential prelates, Henry Edward Cardinal Manning, published two works during the period of that Council emphasizing two distinct actions of the Holy Spirit. The second, The Internal Mission of the Holy Ghost, published in 1875, explained the action of the Holy Ghost throughout sacred history, beginning with the souls in the Old Testament before Our Lord founded His Church. The first work, The Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost, written earlier in 1865, showed the unique presence of the Holy Spirit inside the Catholic Church and in her alone. These two works were followed by papal encyclicals, one by Leo XIII on the Holy Spirit (Divinum Illud, May 4, 1897), and another by Pius XII on the Mystical Body (Mystici Corporis Christi, June 29, 1943), explaining the Church’s teaching that the Holy Ghost is the Soul of the Mystical Body, and that this Mystical Body is the Catholic Church and her alone.

With the Second Vatican Council, on the other hand, in a desire to promote ecumenism with non-Catholic religions, the emphasis of previous popes on the unique nature of the Catholic Church as the Mystical Body of Christ gave way to a new description of the Church, that of the “Church of Christ” as subsisting in the Catholic Church, but without being clearly identical to her. Lumen Gentium, the Council’s principal document on the nature of the Church, merely affirmed that the Holy Spirit was the Soul of a potentially more extensive “Church of Christ,” thereby shifting the emphasis toward what Cardinal Manning called the “internal mission” of the Holy Spirit in individual souls, in or outside the Catholic Church, and away from His unique presence in the Catholic Church alone as the visible Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ on earth. Furthermore, whereas Pius XII had emphasized the very term Mystical Body as the most perfect way of expressing the nature of the Church, Vatican II turned to various other terms or metaphors, emphasizing not the Church in herself, but the Church ad extra, her relation to other religions and to the world in general, but without the traditional emphasis on converting those outside the Church to the Catholic Church, the only manifestation of the Mystical Body on earth.

Conclusion: A Paradoxical Statement
in the New Catechism

This profound change in the general orientation of the Church and her mission could not fail to have an effect on the internal life of the Church herself. If Catholics no longer emphasize the need to convert non-Catholics to the Catholic Church, and at the same time allow themselves to be influenced by an increasingly secularized culture around them, the work of the Church inevitably enters into a decline, and ultimately into a time of a profound crisis. Turning once again to the revelation in the Secret of La Salette, one finds Our Lady referring to the Church as being in a state of eclipse, and the world as a result in a state of consternation.[3]

Therefore it is not without significance that the new Catechism promulgated by Pope John Paul II refers to a time when the Church herself, in the last times, would follow Our Lord into a passion, death and resurrection.[4] Without an explicit reference in that passage of the Catechism to the message of Fatima, the Catechism was nevertheless foreshadowing what Pope Benedict XVI was to say, on the occasion of his trip to Fatima in 2010 – that the Third Secret refers to the passion of the Church, and that this passion is not only inflicted upon the Church by external enemies, but also comes as a result of infidelity inside the Church. Therefore Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 statement confirms in part what Bishop Bernard Fellay of the Society of St. Pius X had first stated in 2005.

The very nature of this passion of the Mystical Body – as well as a death, according to Bishop Fellay – still awaits a doctrinal explanation from the magisterium of the Church. Bishop Fellay has also endorsed the theory of a fourth secret to explain the Third Secret, a theory which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI contradicted in 2016 in a letter to French author Yves Chiron. But aside from endorsing the fourth secret hypothesis, Bishop Fellay has also given an important explanation of the Third Secret itself, adhering to it even in the face of opposition. On the other hand, another SSPX prelate, Bishop Alfonso de Galarreta, indicated to us several months ago in a private conversation, in answer to these specific questions, that both positions of Bishop Fellay regarding the Third Secret were only “speculation.” The Society of St. Pius X therefore does not have an official position on the question of the Third Secret, as the Vatican also does not impose any specific interpretation, but instead both leave the matter open to further research and study on the part of the faithful. In the meantime what is clear to the faithful in general in our time is that the Church is passing through a profound crisis. And while Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium left the door open to uncertainties about the nature of the Church and her mission in the contemporary world, the document ended with a chapter on Our Lady, thereby pointing indirectly to the most important event of our time – Our Lady’s apparitions in Fatima, where She came to guide the Church as the Mother of the Church, through the crisis in which the Church is now passing.



For further analysis of the debate
about the text of the Third Secret:

Some Friendly Reflections for the Clarification of a Debate by Antonio Augusto Borelli Machado

On the Third Part of the Secret of Fatima by Kevin J. Symonds. This book is meant to begin a discussion with those who believe in the existence of a “fourth secret” of Fatima. It examines many of the arguments made by the advocates of this position in order to discern whether or not they are verified by the facts.

Fatima and the Third Secret: A Historical Examination based on a Letter of Sister Lúcia & the Carmelite Biography 1. A Serious Error Regarding Fatima; 2. A Controversial Letter of Sister Lúcia; 3. The Mission of Sister Lúcia; 4. Our Lady of Fatima & Russia Part I; 5. Our Lady of Fatima & Russia Part II; 6. Our Lady of Fatima & Russia Part III; Appendix: Why Was the Third Secret of Fatima Not Released in 1960? An Interview with Antonio Augusto Borelli Machado – 2017 64p paperback/pamphlet $8. #50083