Today Our Lady of Fatima appeared for the second time to the three shepherd children one hundred years ago. June 13 is the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua (also known as St. Anthony of Portugal, because he grew up in Lisbon). The parish church in Fatima is named “St. Anthony’s.” I write from Brazil, where I’m giving a retreat to the Missionaries of Charity, to whom I’m giving a retreat. Jesus appeared to Mother Teresa in 1947 (30 years after Fatima) asking her to “come be my light” to a darkening world. In today’s Gospel Jesus defines all Christians as “the light of the world.” In Fatima, Lucia described Our Lady’s final moments in the June apparition thus (from Fr. Andrew Apostoli’s fine book Fatima for Today): “As soon as our Lady finished speaking, she opened her hands and communicated to the children an immense light that enveloped them. Jacinta and Francisco appeared to be in a part of the light that was rising to heaven, while Lucia was in a light spreading over the earth.” Lucia was to be a light spreading over the earth for the next 87 years until she died in 2005. She did so simply by telling the world the immense brilliances she had seen in the summer of 1917.
To prepare the children for Our Lady’s visit, God had sent an “Angel of Peace”—the Guardian Angel of Portugal—to them the year before. He prepared them by deepening their understanding and love for the Most Holy Sacrament, showing them a consecrated host and chalice. He directed them to offer reparation for the indifference and sacrileges committed against the Eucharist.
It is certainly true that most Catholics (myself included) receive the Holy Sacrament with less attention, reverence, and patience than we should. A simple and effective means of avoiding the apparent indifference with which most Catholics receive Holy Communion is to receive the Sacrament kneeling, on the tongue. No child who kneels and receives on the tongue will fail to confuse the Consecrated Host with an ordinary piece of bread. That is why we have all our First Communicants kneel and receive their first Eucharist on the tongue.
Of course, some cannot kneel and some prefer to receive Him in the hand. I would like to propose, however, that we all consider using the altar rail, if you can convince your pastor. Kneeling or standing at the threshold of the sanctuary, gazing at the beautiful altar, we are led to recollect ourselves, to become still. We wait for Jesus to come to us rather than shuffling forward in a line, staring at someone’s back. Waiting at the altar rail makes every communion a bit like Advent, where we wait with Our Lady for Jesus to be born in us. It restores that silence and expectant adoration the Mass so sorely lacks most of the time. Silence in God’s presence is joy, and I have seen so much more joy in the faces of those who wait for Jesus at the altar rail in my parish. Our Lady, lead us to the true joy of knowing your Son!