Revised: 26 July 2002 A.D., St. Anne, Mother of the Blessed Virgin
Ever since our Lord, while hanging on the Cross, entrusted the care of the human race, in the person of Saint John, to His Blessed Virgin Mother, devotion to her has been a hallmark of Christianity. Over the centuries the Mother of God has occasionally made her protection known to her charges by means of apparitions. In some manner, usually visually and audibly, Mary (or sometimes one of the Saints, or even our Lord) is present to one or a small group of people. In some accounts the apparition is accompanied by an authenticating miracle, or miraculous modification of the surrounding landscape.
Several lists of Marian apparitions, spanning the centuries, can be viewed on the Internet. They ought to be viewed in the light of what is written below -- there may be false claims presented. The link is to an index prepared by the "Utica Catholic Worker" Link: A LIST
The accounts of some apparitions are quite compelling, while others are obviously false or perhaps diabolical. The devil is capable of appearing as an "angel of light" and of producing what appear to be genuine miracles. For this reason, the Church has traditionally maintained a careful watch over reported apparitions, so that the faithful may not be deceived or led astray. The body of public revelation, the things revealed by God which all men must believe and which are necessary for salvation, was completed before the death of the last Apostle. Of their nature, apparitions are private revelations, not directed to the entire Church and not necessary for individual salvation--although, perhaps very useful at a particular time or place. Link: PUBLIC REVELATION
The evidence that apparitions are genuine comes only from a subjective examination of the seers and their testimony by the authorities of the Church. As such they may be accepted only with human faith, and no one is required to believe what is expressed in a particular apparition, or even to believe that it took place. Approval by Church authorities does not mean that an apparition actually took place, only that the testimony meets the standards mentioned below. Church approval cannot cover future apparitions.
To illustrate the Church's immemorial teaching on apparitions and other mystical phenomena, we have placed a portion of The Spiritual Life by Adolphe Tanquerey on the Net. Link: TANQUEREY A careful reading of will yield the understanding that apparitions are subject to the judgment of the Church -- the claimed revelation must not contradict what God has revealed publicly through His Church, and can be believed only if the seers are found to be without selfish motives, or other human weaknesses that might make their testimony doubtful - never may we use private revelations as a basis for "adjusting reality." (There can be no "Mary said we must venerate her as the fourth person of the Blessed Trinity"!) An apparition must be evaluated in terms of reality, not reality in terms of the apparition.
The problem of the faithful pursuing false apparitions has been with us, even before Vatican II. In 1951, Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani wrote a stern criticism in L'Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Ottaviani on Apparitions
In what may have been an attempt to discredit the authority of the Church, the Modernist revolution of the 1960s paid little heed to the Church's traditional cautions about mystical phenomena. In fact, the encouragement of positively false mysticism seems to have been deliberate. From the voice whispering in "Good Pope John XXIII's" ear "ecumenical council," through the rise of pentecostalism, and with the help of a weakened New Code of Canon Law, on down to the present day, doubtful visions and voices have been tolerated and even fostered.
Our Lord Jesus Christ established His Church in order to bring
truth to the world, and to bring sanctity to those who believe and act
upon that truth (cf. Mark xvi:15-16). Truth and sanctity are not served
when people are falsely led to believe that "voices in the ear" call
ecumenical councils, or, that Mary, appearing on the street corner has
given them "special" knowledge of reality, or that they can just raise
their arms in prayer to circumvent the Church with a direct link to
the Holy Ghost.