What Does the Church Say About It All?

Throughout this question and answer series, we have had several inquiries about the official status of the revelations received by St. Faustina. A few weeks ago, however, I received a new question that helps put this whole subject in a new light. A man named John wrote to me the following words:

I understand that the Diary [of St. Faustina] has been given the nihil obstat (no objection) of the appropriate Church authorities. I am wondering, in terms of the Marian apparitions such as Fatima and Lourdes, is it the same, or does the Church have another category of "approval?" For example, does the Church ever, in fact, go beyond "no objection," to a more positive affirmation of the truth of any private revelations?

Yes, John, the Catholic Church does have a higher level of approval than merely the "nihil obstat" (which, as you rightly imply, is only a "negative approval," so to speak; it only means that there is nothing in a particular book or a particular message or revelation that expressly contradicts the definitive teachings of the Church on faith and morals). However, the Church's more positive approval of the authenticity of an extraordinary revelation is not something that has one official name, and it can come in a variety of forms, spread out over a long time.

For example, the Church has positively encouraged us all to believe in the authenticity of the apparitions of Mary to St. Bernadette by establishing a universal feast day in honor of those apparitions (the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, now known also as the World Day of the Sick) and by canonizing the person who received those special revelations from the Blessed Virgin Mary: the peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous. Moreover, the papacy has repeatedly encouraged us to take these apparitions seriously when, for example, popes have personally visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Obviously, the revelations given to St. Faustina, recorded in her Diary, have not only received the "nihil obstat" from the Church authorities. By canonizing her and establishing the universal celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday on the very day in the liturgical calendar requested by Jesus in His messages to St. Faustina, the Church has shown its positive approval and encouragement for the faithful to accept these revelations as largely authentic and to pay heed to their content. This was especially emphasized by the visits of two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, to the tomb of St. Faustina in Poland. In that place the successors of St. Peter made it crystal clear that they not only accept the validity of these revelations to St. Faustina, they also consider them to be an important call from the Lord to the people of the world in our troubled time.

Here is a little of what Pope John Paul II said on his first papal visit to St. Faustina's tomb back in 1997:

There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy - that love which is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights of the holiness of God.

In this place we become particularly aware of this. From here, in fact, went out the message of Divine Mercy that Christ himself chose to pass on to our generation through [St.] Faustina.

And it is a message that is clear and understandable for everyone. Anyone can come here, look at this image of the merciful Jesus, His Heart radiating peace, and hear in the depths of his own soul what [St.] Faustina heard: Fear nothing; I am always with you (Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, 5860). And if this person responds with a sincere heart, "Jesus, I trust in You," he will find comfort in all his anxieties and fears. ...

I come here to commend the concerns of the Church and of humanity to the merciful Christ. On the threshold of the third millennium, I come to entrust to Him once more my Petrine ministry-"Jesus, I trust in You!"

John actually sent to me a "follow-up" question to this first one, and it is worth attending to as well:

Thank you very much. Does this mean that, insomuch as there is now a Feast of Divine Mercy, the Church has officially affirmed that our Lord did appear to St. Faustina? And thus, while the Diary itself has only been given negative approval [nihil obstat], the apparition of our Lord to her [at least concerning the Feast] has been given positive approval?

Well, it seems to me that the canonization of Sr. Faustina implies a general positive approval of her Diary as well. However, it must be borne in mind that all this positive approval does NOT mean that the Church teaches that her Diary is an "infallible" Church document or an "inerrant" witness and record of divine revelation, on par with Holy Scripture! Minor errors and poorly expressed passages can certainly be found in it (we have dealt with some of these in previous instalments of the Q&A series).

We are strongly encouraged by the See of St. Peter to believe in the general authenticity of the revelations she received, and their pastoral appropriateness for the needs of the Church today. Indeed, without overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it would be rash and imprudent not to assent to the Church's official discernment on this matter, for we generally presume that the Petrine Ministry acts under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in such areas.

However, that does not mean that the Church teaches that her record of those revelations is perfect or flawless. Moreover, one could not be called a "heretic" for still withholding belief in all the revelations recorded by St. Faustina, because the Church never strictly requires us to believe in any doctrine that was not explicitly or implicitly contained in "the apostolic deposit of faith" - that is, in the faith taught by the apostles themselves, "the faith once and for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

Saint Faustina's revelations do not contradict the apostolic faith (thus, the Church has given them the "nihil obstat") and, in fact, these revelations beautifully unfold and amplify the apostolic faith in the merciful love of the Crucified and Risen Christ (thus, the Church has given them a large measure of "positive approval," too, in various ways and encouraged the Church to pay heed to them).

But let's be patient with our brothers and sisters in the Church who still are not convinced. Some simply do not know all the facts of the case. The rest need our prayers and love much more than our exasperation or disdain.

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. Got a question? E-mail him at questions@thedivinemercy.org.

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