"My Immaculate Heart Will Triumph"
Distinctives of Contemporary Catholic Apocalyptic Thought
A Paper Presented at the 1998 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion by Thomas Paul Thigpen
© 1998 by Paul Thigpen
October 13, 1973: As the fifty-sixth anniversary of the famed "miracle of the sun" that had taken place during a Marian apparition at Fatima, Portugal, this autumn day was already prominent on the calendar of Catholics given to apocalyptic speculation. Yet it was destined to play an even more prominent role as the day when Sister Agnes Katsuko Sasagawa of Akita, Japan — a nun in the order of Servants of the Eucharist — received her own message from the Blessed Virgin Mother, the last of several messages.
On previous occasions, Sister Agnes had seen visions of heavenly light and angels and had heard the voices of her guardian angel as well as Mary. The stigmata — wounds like those of Christ on the cross — had appeared in her hands, and a statue of the Virgin in the convent chapel had bled, perspired and given off "a celestial fragrance." On this particular day, the sister heard the Virgin conclude her messages with a stern warning:
If men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the Deluge, such as one will never have seen before. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead. … The work of the devil will infiltrate even the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against other bishops. … If sins increase in number and pardon, there will no longer be pardon for them.
… Pray very much the prayers of the Rosary. I alone am able to save you from the calamities that approach. Those who place their confidence in me will be saved." [Flynn 188].
In the following days, Mary's statue was seen to weep 101 times, sometimes with hundreds of witnesses present. The miraculous tears thus provided a supernatural confirmation of the Virgin's grief.
The warning of Akita, as this message has come to be known, is only one of many messages embraced by contemporary Catholics who focus on apocalyptic themes. In many ways, it parallels the kind of end-time scenarios painted by numerous apocalyptic Protestants of our day: threats of catastrophe and divine judgment, charges of apostasy in the Christian community, calls to repent. At the same time, however, the message through Sister Agnes reflects at least five distinctives of contemporary Catholic apocalyptic thought that set it apart from typical Protestant versions of end-time expectations.
First, though it recalls the biblical language of apocalyptic passages in books such as Daniel, Matthew and Revelation, the warning of Akita comes from a source outside the Bible. Second, miracles have been provided by heaven as confirming signs of the message's authenticity. Third, the message hints at episodes in the end-time scenario that are unknown to apocalyptic Protestants. Fourth, it insists that Mary occupies a central role in God's plan for the last days. Finally, the warning implies that divine chastisements can be delayed, lessened or perhaps even averted if those who hear the message will respond correctly.
A brief look at the claims of several other representative apocalyptic Catholics will serve to illustrate more clearly these five distinctives and will suggest the ways in which they reflect certain broader, perennial distinctives of the Catholic tradition as a whole. For our present purposes, we will focus on the most common themes in contemporary Catholic apocalyptic thought, though we should note that, not surprisingly, end-time expectations vary considerably within the movement.
Just how extensive that movement is — particularly with regard to the number of Catholics involved — few could estimate with much confidence. The Marian movement of priests, which takes with special seriousness the apocalyptic locutions of the Blessed Virgin to the group's founder, Fr. Stefano Gobbi, claims a registered membership of about three hundred bishops and more than sixty thousand priests. Catholic apocalyptic publications, both books and periodicals, do a brisk business; several books would easily make the national and international bestseller lists if such lists ever paid attention to the distributors of such titles. Nearly a million copies of Fr. Gobbi's book alone have been distributed, and one Catholic apocalyptic website I frequent claims a thousand hits a week.
Judging from what I have learned in my immersion in this literature for several years now, and given the global extent of the phenomenon, I have little reason to doubt these figures. More than a hundred thousand of the faithful gathered on October 13 in Conyers, Georgia, to hear the final public messages of visionary Nancy Fowler, tying up traffic a hundred and fifty miles from Atlanta to Augusta, and there were similar meetings, though with smaller attendance figures, in other cities that day. Such events provide striking anecdotal evidence of the current fervor. We should also keep in mind that apocalyptic excitement is stirring not just throughout the United States but also in dozens of nations around the globe.
We will use as our primary texts the published messages of contemporary visionaries, locutionists and prophets as they appear in books and periodicals as well in that gushing fountain of primary texts in current popular religion — I mean, of course, the Internet.
Catholic and Protestant: Some Common Themes
First we should note in a little more detail the apocalyptic ideas that contemporary Catholics and Protestants share. Given their common heritage of biblical apocalyptic literature, we should not be surprised to find that those believers within these two Christian traditions who are occupied with the end of the world also have much in common in their expectations for the last days. In agreement with many Protestant apocalyptic messengers, today's Catholic prophets draw from scriptural and other historical sources to predict the commonplace scenarios of a grim but ultimately hopeful future.
First, echoing the language of the books of Revelation and Daniel and the "little apocalypse," as scholars have named it, of the Gospel accounts, apocalyptic Catholics speak of signs and wonders in the heavens: supernatural lights or supernatural darkness, or more natural yet nonetheless remarkable phenomena such as comets. Like many of their Protestant counterparts, they took great interest in the appearance of Hale-Bopp as a possible warning sign. According to locutionist John Leary of Rochester, New York, Jesus told him: "You have seen the Anti-Christ's sign of coming in the Hale-Bopp comet." [11-2-98]. Maria Esperanza, a stigmatist and visionary in Betania, Venezuela, seems to have predicted this comet’s arrival before the astronomers did and insisted that it would be a divine signal of things to come. [video]
Second, apocalyptic Catholics, like the Protestants, expect global catastrophes — in some scenarios, for example, the comet strikes the earth. The terrifying scenes that fill the biblical apocalyptic texts spill over into contemporary Catholic literature as well, rivaling the expectations of their Protestant counterparts: earthquakes and accompanying tidal waves; new and deadly plagues; unprecedented droughts and famines. Fr. Gobbi, for example, parallels many Protestant preachers in declaring that in our day, the "overturning of the order of nature is multiplying, such as earthquakes, droughts, floods and disasters . . . followed by epidemics and incurable diseases which are spreading everywhere." [TJ 285]
Of course, not all the disasters are natural or even supernatural; some are human-made. Catholics join Protestants in seeing Chernobyl as the first of several major eco-disasters. These will be rivaled in destructiveness by collapses of world financial systems, "wars and rumors of wars" — in this regard, Russia still figures prominently for both groups — and perhaps most frightening of all, a nuclear holocaust (a scene that offers another possibility for the fulfillment of the Wormwood and Akita warnings). The warnings of nuclear war have in fact become the most strident of the messages published on the Internet and by e-mail. Consider this example from locutionist Carol Ameche, whose words were e-mailed to a wide audience from her home in Scottsdale, Arizona, on October 21:
You will first warn this country and then the world … about the need to seek shelter from nuclear fallout. Russia has its missiles pointed toward this country. Each of the major powers is ready to attack instantly. You cannot imagine the destruction that will occur once the firing begins. [email]
This is only one of many such warnings from Ameche and others that have intensified in recent days, prompting many in their audience to construct "places of refuge" away from the cities where they will be safe.
In the political and spiritual realms — which in their view will converge as the end approaches — apocalyptic Catholics share with their apocalyptic Protestant brothers and sisters a cluster of additional expectations. They anticipate widespread apostasy within the Christian community, which they believe is already well under way, just as Jesus, countless visionaries, and Pope Leo XIII have predicted it would be. In a now-famous locution of October 13 (there's the magic date again), 1884, Leo heard a dialogue between God and the devil, much like the one depicted in the first chapter of Job. Satan taunted God with the claim that with enough time and power, he could destroy the Church. God granted him a century — the twentieth century — and, according to typical apocalyptic interpretation, the attacks of Modernism and the turmoil following Vatican II reflect most clearly this diabolical attempt to subvert the Church.
Like many apocalyptic Protestants, apocalyptic Catholics warn of a demonically inspired, Masonic-led conspiracy poised to join forces with New Age religion and the greedy, power-hungry princes of global finance to form a one-world government. This New World Order will then persecute faithful Christians, resulting in countless martyrdoms. Deeply suspicious of modern technology, especially the computer, these end-time messengers expect the "mark of the beast" to be a smart card computer chip imbedded under the skin in order to monitor and control every movement of the world's citizens. Their literature is replete with warnings to avoid any kind of smart card, debit card or credit card — all of which are simply preparing the way for the Beast.
One Catholic website entitled "The New World Order" cheerfully announces itself this way: "Covering the New World Order and One World Government in Light of Marian Apparitions. With God, All Things Are Possible. Keep Your Chin Up." The webmaster is Roger Thibault, a savvy, sassy commentator who attended a "UN Blue Helmet Shoot" in Pittsburg this month (the helmets they shot were of course empty) and who posts letters from hundreds of correspondents, with his own observations — sometimes tongue in cheek, sometimes deadly serious. He writes often of United Nations activities that threaten America's sovereignty in preparation for the One-World Government that will attack the Church.
Like apocalyptic Protestants, apocalyptic Catholics also look for the soon appearance of Anti-Christ, who will become the charming but ruthless and undisputed leader both of the new global political state and of its new official religion. In an open letter to "U.S. Generals and High-Ranking Officials," Thibault offers this exhortation: "There's no FEMA to be afraid of in Heaven." (FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency; conspiracy theorists of all stripes cheered to see that the recent X-Files movie portrayed it as the shadow government they believe it to be.) "So what," he continues, "if they try to take you out — make you a martyr? Put your hand up for Jesus Christ, and keep it there until the Anti-Christ and his dominions martyr you, or Jesus Christ comes in glory." [website]
Perhaps surprisingly, apocalyptic Catholics also share with apocalyptic Protestants a deep suspicion of certain elements within the Catholic Church hierarchy. They are for the most part trusting, of course, of Pope John Paul II, who is their hero. In locutions from Jesus and Mary he is referred to as "My Pope son" or "this greatly Beloved of all in Heaven" or "the greatest gift which My immaculate heart has given you, for the time of the purification and the great tribulation" [Leary 10-17-98; Ameche 10-19-98; Gobbi 917]. Yet they fear the Vatican bureaucracy that surrounds him and the secret global network of Masonically-aligned cardinals, bishops and priests who thwart the Holy Father's attempts to purify the Church (one website offers a list of 124 current church leaders — including cardinals, bishops and theologians — who are identified as Masons). They fully expect, as many Protestants do, that Anti-Christ will take over the Vatican.
Unlike the Protestants, however, they believe that the Anti-Christ will be, or will be allied with, an anti-pope rather than a true pope. According to several locutionists, a usurper will take the throne of Peter after a Vatican coup sends John Paul (or perhaps his valid successor) into secret exile while deceiving the world into thinking he has died. One of Leary's locutions lays out the scenario:
My people, I am preparing you for the time when a schism will occur in My Church. … The next elected "pope" will occur while my Pope son John Paul II will still be alive. My Pope son will be exiled and an evil "pope" will assume his position. He will change the Mass and many laws with his decrees, but they will violate my Tradition and the Faith passed on by My Apostles. … When you see him joining the Church with the state in worshipping the Anti-Christ, there will be no doubts about his evil intentions. Do NOT be a part of this apostate and schismatic Church. Instead, seek out those priests loyal to Me and to my Pope son John Paul II. There you will find valid underground Masses. You will have to go into hiding with the coming of this evil imposter pope.
In this persecution, Leary concludes, "evil men will seek out all religious people, to kill you for your faith in Me." [10-17-98]
Despite these important Catholic-Protestant differences in the Anti-Christ scenario, however, the result is much the same: Satan's political and spiritual power will emanate from Rome, which will be in the hands of a Masonic New World Order. Prophecies of this development have a long lineage: Blessed Joachim of the twelfth century; John of Vitiguerro of the thirteenth; Blessed Anna-Maria Taigi and the children of the Marian apparitions at LasSalette in the nineteenth; and Pope Pius X, to name a few. [TJ 255; Dupont 22 ].
Notwithstanding such dire predictions, like their Protestant counterparts, apocalyptic Catholics draw from biblical sources to offer a vision that is ultimately hopeful. They are millennialists, not in the strict sense that they expect a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth, but in the sense that they expect the great tribulation to come to an end with the return of Christ and the establishment of an era of peace, justice and prosperity in the world. A locution to Father Gobbi predicts:
The new era, which awaits you, corresponds to a particular encounter of love, of light and of life. … This is the heavenly Jerusalem, which comes down from Heaven upon earth, to transform it completely and to thus shape the new Heavens and the new earth. The new era, toward which you are journeying, is bringing all creation to the perfect glorification of the Most Holy Trinity. … [It] coincides with the defeat of Satan and of his universal reign. All his power is destroyed. He is bound, with all the wicked spirits, and shut up in hell from which he will not be able to get out to do harm in the world. Herein, Christ reigns in the splendor of His glorified body. [TJ 359-61]
This millennial paradise is referred to variously as "the New Era," "the Era of Peace," and "the Second Pentecost."
These are the primary parallels, then, between Catholic and Protestant apocalyptic thought. But what of the distinctives? What are the Catholics saying that would cause typical premillennial Protestants to shake their heads in disbelief?
The first difference to note is a difference in the sources of apocalyptic thought. Search the pages of a book such as Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth, and you will be hard pressed to find any prophetic source other than the Bible. Catholics, on the other hand, are drawing on a wealth of extrabiblical end-time predictions, some traditional, some contemporary. The 1970 book by Yves Dupont, Catholic Prophecy: The Coming Chastisement, arranges prophecies thematically, gathering them from such diverse sources as popular medieval saints, obscure religious men and women of the modern period, and even Nostradamus. The Reign of Antichrist, a 1951 volume of collected prophecies by R. Gerard Culleton, takes a chronological approach, moving from the Bible through Jewish and Christian apocrypha, Patristic sources, medieval prophecy, and modern predictions down to 1948. Vincent P. Miceli's work The Antichrist also moves chronologically, but with considerable commentary and with a fascinating chapter on John Cardinal Newman's Advent sermons on the Antichrist.
In addition to such historical sources, apocalyptic Catholics rely on the visions and "locutions" of a bewildering variety of contemporary prophetic messengers. Though the Akita message has the approval of the local bishop, the great majority of these latter-day revelations have not received ecclesiastical approval of any kind. But that seems to make little difference to the enthusiasm of the thousands who take these prophecies seriously.
The number of claims for apocalyptic messages has exploded in recent years. Counting only those since 1970, more than a hundred such claims have been published around the globe, and though Americans are well represented in this group, the international diversity is astonishing. Messages have been announced in all the inhabited continents, appearing in nations such as the U.S., Canada, Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, Austria, Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, England, Poland, Switzerland, the former nations of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, the Ukraine, China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Rwanda, Australia. [need I go on?]
A few of these message sites involve an apparition of Jesus or the Blessed Virgin Mary — that is, a claim that these heavenly visitors are actually present, though usually seen only by one or at most a few at the site. Most, however, are simply visions or "locutions" — visual or auditory messages that are interior to the chosen messengers. Some, such as Nancy Fowler of Conyers, Georgia, have attracted large audiences in person because the visitations have been regular and predicted publicly. Others, such as Emmanuel Segatashya of Kibeho, Rwanda, seem simply to have been caught off guard by a startling private visit. Father Gobbi has carefully recorded and published his locutions, which began in 1972 and continued until the beginning of this year; they fill well over a thousand printed pages.
Despite concerns that computers will enable the Antichrist to control the world, these messengers are making the most of such technology while they can. A number of visionaries and locutionists appear on the Internet. John Leary's website archives messages received over several years, and he sends out the latest weekly messages by e-mail, as does a group of twelve North American prophets, whose announcements are published every few days.
Most apocalyptic Protestants, of course, would be appalled by these claims. The exception to this rule, not surprisingly, is Pentecostal Protestants, who often rely on contemporary prophets, and whose prophets these days are also warning of imminent judgment. As I argued in a paper at last year's AAR meeting in San Francisco, reliance on prophecy is one feature of Pentecostalism that demonstrates its move back toward a more Catholic, sacramental religious imagination. We cannot pursue that topic any further at this time, but I did want to note that I realize some typical Catholic-Protestant differences, apocalyptic and otherwise, tend to disappear when the Protestants are Pentecostal.
Apocalyptic Catholics recognize that their Protestant counterparts, and even their fellow Catholics, have a difficult time believing that such messages from heaven are genuine. Not surprisingly, then, a second distinctive of the Catholic apocalyptic movement is its claim that contemporary prophetic messages are often accompanied by miracles that function as signs of divine validation. This ancient connection between prophecy and confirming signs is of course an historical commonplace of Jewish and Christian thought: Witness the miracles of Elijah and Jesus, for example.
Nevertheless, most apocalyptic Protestants assume that the age of both the prophets and their wonder working ceased with the apostles. Thus the only wonders they anticipate will not be associated with everyday individuals who prophesy. They allow only for the kinds of supernatural events specifically noted in the Bible for the end times: be signs in the heavens, for example, and the false miracles of the Antichrist.
Once again, Pentecostals blur these distinctions somewhat. But even here there are differences: Pentecostal miracles are usually associated with the needs of individuals, rather than with some confirmation of end-time messages. More importantly, just as traditional Catholic claims for miracles of the saints include several kinds that most Protestant Pentecostals have never witnessed — for example, levitation and bilocation — in the same way, the kinds of miracles Catholics claim for apocalyptic messengers, other than physical healings, are generally unheard of in Pentecostal circles and would be viewed with suspicion.
The statue of Mary at Akita, like many other statues and icons, wept tears of oil or blood, perspired and gave off a supernatural fragrance. Sister Agnes herself, like many other Catholic visionaries, displayed the stigmata. Eucharistic miracles in which the Blessed Sacrament shows itself visibly as human flesh and blood have accompanied messengers such as Julia Kim of Naju, Korea. Silver rosary chains have turned gold at Conyers, Medjugorje, and other apparition sites. Children in a trance receiving messages in Garabandal, Spain, became so heavy that even several men together trying to lift just one of them could not do so. In the Philippines, at an apparition site in Quito, rose petals fell from the sky, carrying miraculous images of Jesus, Mary and the Holy Family.
All these signs are puzzling or even disturbing to apocalyptic Protestants, some of whom have even concluded that these wonders are connected to the end times only as examples of the satanic counterfeits the Bible warns about. But to apocalyptic Catholics, such confirming miracles provide heaven's stamp of approval, not only on end-time prophecies, but also on the Catholic doctrines that Protestants tend to attack most vehemently: the unique privileges of Mary, the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, and prayer to the saints.
Details of the End-Time Scenario
Given that Catholics draw from a variety of prophetic sources not accepted by Protestants, we should not be surprised to find that the Catholic end-time scenario contains a number of important features not found in the Protestant speculations. The two traditions share the general chronological structure familiar to students of premillennial thought: unprecedented tribulation followed by the Second Advent of Christ and a paradisal era of peace, justice and prosperity on earth. But many features of the Catholic account would come as a startling surprise to most Protestants.
Apocalyptic Catholics disagree among themselves over the details, and many individual Catholics take an eclectic approach, gathering from so many sources that they often end up holding on to several diverse scenarios at the same time that might seem difficult to reconcile. Those who draw heavily from medieval sources, for example, look for a "Great Monarch" of French lineage whose reign will be marked by peace and religious revival, and who will be the support of the Pope. Though he will be successful in defending Europe from its Muslim enemies, he will finally die in Israel at the hands of the Antichrist. [Dupont 18 et al].
Another important event in the Catholic scenario is the "Great Warning." According to one account, this is "an event that will allow every man, woman and child to see the state of their own souls through the illumination of conscience." Father Gobbi reports: "What will come to pass is something so great that it will exceed anything that has taken place since the beginning of the world. It will be like a judgment in miniature, and each one will see his own life and all he has done, in the very light of God." [TJ 309-310] These words echo the prophecies of Blessed Anna Maria Taigi of the nineteenth century, as well as those of the visionary children of Garabandal, Spain, in 1961. According to the children, the warning will come as a “correction of the conscience of the world.” [TJ 313]
Following the Warning, or perhaps connected with it, is a "Great Sign" to appear in the heavens that can be seen by the entire world. According to one account from a visionary in the Northeastern United States, the entire human race will be able to witness again the crucifixion of Christ. Blessed Sister Faustina Kowalska of Cracow, Poland, spoke of a similar event in a locution from Jesus: "Before the day of justice arrives, there will be given to people a sign in the heavens of this sort: All light in the heavens will be extinguished, and there will be a great darkness over the whole earth. Then the sign of the cross will be seen in the sky, and from the openings where the hands and feet of the Savior were nailed will come forth great lights which will light up the earth for a period of time." [TJ 318-20]
The Marian apparitions at Garabandal are striking in the specificity of their predictions. Within one year after to the Warning, the visionaries have predicted, a great Miracle will take place at Garabandal at 8:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening when the Church will be celebrating the feast of a young martyr of the Eucharist. The exact nature of the miracle has not been disclosed, but its supernatural origin will undeniable to the whole world, and once it happens, the human race must either change or face unprecedented chastisement
Afterward, a "permanent sign" of some sort will appear over the pines at Garabandal and remain there until the end of the world. Anyone who visits the site will be able to see it, photograph it, and even televise it, but not touch it, and no scientist will be able to explain it. The visionaries of Medjugorje also claim that such a "permanent sign" will appear at that site.
In the "Great Chastisement" that follows (Protestants usually call if the "Great Tribulation"), apocalyptic Catholics expect most of the same catastrophes that are anticipated by their Protestant counterparts. But one striking feature of the Catholic scenario sets it apart: the "three days of darkness." The prediction of Blessed Anna-Marie Taigi is typical of prophesies that have come from Europe, the Middle East and North America over the last two centuries:
There shall come over the whole earth an intense darkness lasting three days and three nights. Nothing can be seen, and the air will be laden with pestilence which will claim mainly, but not only, the enemies of religion. It will be impossible to use any man-made lighting during this darkness, except blessed candles. He, who out of curiosity, opens his window to look out, or leaves his home, will fall dead on the spot. During these three days, people should remain in their homes, pray the Rosary and beg God for mercy. [Dupont 44]
Details differ with regard to the aftermath of this event: Some say the world is renewed by it; others see more disasters to follow. No one seems to b able to locate it precisely within the rest of the chronology, but most apocalyptic Catholics seem to take it for granted as a given.
Mother of the Second Advent
By now the fourth significant distinctive of Catholic apocalyptic thought should be obvious. We need only recall the Marian apparitions, visions and locutions; the weeping statues of Mary; the showers of rose petals; and the miraculously golden rosaries to recognize that the Blessed Virgin stands at the heart of Catholic apocalyptic belief. For many Catolics, this is indeed the "Age of Mary," the "Marian Times"; she herself is the preeminent sign of the last days, and her multiplied appearances worldwide signal her unique role in them.
Such a role was not conjured up by contemporary believers. The idea perhaps has its roots in the biblical vision of "the woman clothed with the sun," who appears in John's apocalypse [Rev 12:1] and has fired the imagination of Catholics for two millennia. In the seventeenth century, Saint Louis de Montfort observed “just as Mary preceded the fist coming of Jesus on earth, so too the Trinity has ordained that she will precede Christ’s second coming.” [TJ 20]
For apocalyptic Catholics, Mary plays at least three roles traditionally assigned by Protestants to other biblical figures. First, she is the "Prophetess of our times" who issues a "wake-up call" to reveal God's plans, to warn us of the wrath to come, and to call us to repent. [TJ 337]. Protestants, drawing from several biblical passages, typically expect some kind of Elijah figure to prepare the way for Christ as John the Baptist, in “the spirit of Elijah,” did the first time. [Mal 4:5; Mt 11:13-14; 17:10-12]. But in the Catholic scenario, as one writer put it, “God has sent His Mother, the Queen of Prophets, in these last times as Prophetess.” [TJ 337] “As John the Baptist prepared the way for the first coming of Jesus,” he concludes, “Mary prepares the way for His second coming” [TJ 12].
In this role, joined to her "Spouse," the Holy Spirit, she comes to us as "the Virgin of Revelation." "I will bring you," she promises Father Gobbi, "to the full understanding of Sacred Scripture. Above all, I will read to you the pages of its last book, which you are living. . . . I am opening for you the sealed book, that the secrets contained in it may be revealed." [TJ 90-91]
The second role of Mary is that of Warrior and Conqueror, who leads the end-time army of God. Traditionally, Protestants have assigned this role to Michael the archangel or to Jesus Himself, relying on the references to them in the biblical apocalypse [Rev 12:7; 19:15]. But a look at nearly any statue of Mary shows that Catholics have a long history of designating her as the woman whose heel crushes the serpent, based on the celebrated passage in Genesis [3:15].
No doubt St. Michael still figures prominently in the picture. After his famous 1884 vision of Satan's sifting of the Church in the twentieth century, Pope Leo XIII composed a prayer to St. Michael asking him to "thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits," and that prayer remains a staple among the petitions of apocalyptic Catholics. St. Michael also appeared first in the apparitions at Garabandal, so he is by no means pushed aside.  But it was Mary who announced at that most famous of modern apparitions, Fatima: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” [TJ 51] Confirming that announcement, Fr. Gobbi reports this locution from the Virgin:
I have come from heaven to reveal to you my plan in this struggle which involves everyone, marshalled together at the orders of the two opposing leaders: the Woman clothed with the sun and the Red Dragon [that is, the Devil]. … I am now announcing to you that this is the time of the decisive battle. During these years, I myself am intervening, as the Woman clothed with the sun, in order to bring to fulfillment the Triumph of my Immaculate Heart.” [TJ 90-91]
This vision of Mary-as-Warrior echoes many similar prophecies, both historical and contemporary, such as Saint Louis de Montfort's prediction that "Mary will raise up apostles of the latter times to make war against the evil one." [TJ 73]
The third end-time role of Mary is as the Queen who reigns after defeating her enemy, Satan. Protestants, of course, drawing from biblical images, assign this position strictly to Christ. But the Catholic view has Him sharing the power and glory with His mother. In some scenarios this reign comes before the millennial reign of Christ, as in Saint Louis de Montfort's prophecy that "a Reign of the Blessed Virgin" will "precede a Reign of the Lord Jesus." [TJ 20] In others, however, she seems to reign either alongside her Son or as His vice regent.
Sister Natalia, for example, is a Hungarian nun and mystic whose revelations led in part to Pope Pius XII's designation of May 31 as the "Feast of Mary, Queen of the World." She reported:
I saw that when the glorious peace arrives and love reigns, there will be only "one fold and one shepherd." Mary, the mother of all believers, will guide the life of souls, appearing under various forms. She will be the Queen of the Coming Age. … My Immaculate Mother [Jesus says] will be victorious over sin with her power as Queen. The lily [her symbol] represents the cleansing of the world, the coming age of Paradise, when humanity will live as if without sin. … When my Immaculate Mother will step on the neck of the serpent, the gates of hell will be closed. [TJ 364-5]
Clearly, here the biblical images of the millennial kingdom seem to be applied to her rule in the "New Era" or the "Era of Peace." Such images simply parallel, we should note, the long-standing tradition that Mary has been crowned Queen of Heaven; and if Queen of Heaven, why not also Queen of the millennial kingdom on earth?
All three of these roles are perhaps best summed up in a locution to Fr. Gobbi: "I was chosen by the Most Holy Trinity," Mary said, "to become the Mother of the Second Advent, and thus my motherly task is that of preparing the Church and all humanity to receive Jesus, who is returning to you in glory." [TJ 360]
Mitigation of the Tribulation
The fifth distinctive of Catholic apocalyptic expectations, and the final one we will note, is the insistence that the prophesied catastrophes can in many cases be delayed, lessened or even averted if those who hear the warnings will repent, pray and make sacrifices of reparation. The Protestant approach to the end times typically assumes that the script, including all the timing, has been written in stone. The "prophetic clock," as it is often called, is ticking away, and when God's foreordained time comes for each event prophesied in the Bible, nothing can keep it from happening according to the eternal plan.
The most we can do, then, is to profess Christ as our personal Savior now so that we can be spared the wrath to come. For many apocalyptic Protestants (though of course not all), this attitude is reinforced by the notion of the "pretribulational Rapture" — that all those who are saved will be snatched from the earth before the end-time catastrophes begin, leaving the wicked behind to be plunged into terrible judgment. It is telling, I think, that the "Great Warning" typically holds in Catholic thinking the place that this "Rapture" holds in Protestant belief. In place of a rescue of the faithful, we have a last- chance call to repentance and good works of the faithful and the unfaithful alike.
Thus apocalyptic Catholics hope, as their Protestant counterparts do, that today's warnings will lead many to repent and turn to God. But they also frequently hold out the hope that the end-time scenario itself could be changed in some way by the prayers and sacrifices of the faithful. In some regards, the script has yet to be written. And since most, though not all, Catholics reject the notion of the Rapture, they expect that sufferings will come to everyone — as the warning of Akita put it, "the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful." The purpose of such suffering even for Christians is to cleanse them, shortening their time in purgatory, and to allow them to make reparations for others. In short, their suffering will be redemptive.
We can see this redemptive emphasis immediately in the Catholic terminology: While Protestants typically refer to the period of global catastrophes as "the Great Tribulation," Catholics more often refer to it as "the Great Chastisement." More specifically, we hear this theme in countless apparitions and locutions. In the words of a locutionist named Julka of Zagreb, Yugoslavia:
It seemed to one priest that many prophecies, particularly that of the warning and the great miracle of Garabandal, should have been long since fulfilled. Our Lord Jesus answers as follows: "As it has been foretold, so it will be. But one cannot postpone one incident without postponing all others. If I have extended one happening there, I have also extended the others and have shortened [the duration and intensity of punishment].” There are many victim souls on the earth. Through their prayers and sacrifices, and especially through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, many postponements have been granted. Through this the whole purification process has been significantly extended, but because of this, the great catastrophe will not be as severe as prophesied. [TJ 362]
In a similar way, for example, the visionaries of Medjugorje insist that Mary has told the faithful repeatedly: "Your cooperation is necessary to me. I cannot do anything without you." According to one of these visionaries, one great evil threatened by heaven has already been averted by penitential behavior. "You have forgotten," Mary said, "that with prayer and fasting, you can ward off wars and suspend natural laws." [TJ 157] Though Christ will surely return to judge the living and the dead, our proper human response to warnings now can change at least the details and the timing of heaven's plans for the end.
Reflections of Larger Historic Catholic Distinctives
These, then, are five distinctives of Catholic apocalyptic fervor. As a final observation, we should note that all these features reflect in some way certain larger historic traits of Catholic tradition. In the diverse sources of apocalyptic thought, we see the Catholic assumption that authoritative Tradition extends beyond the biblical text and that genuine prophetic activity continues within the Church. Since many locutions come not just from Mary but also from other saints, we see here as well the Catholic sense of the communion of saints. In the claims that contemporary supernatural signs confirm these prophecies, we find the Catholic insistence that miracles did not cease with the apostles. In the three end-time roles of the Blessed Virgin, we see the traditional Catholic veneration of Mary. And in the hopes that the faithful can lessen, delay or even avert certain aspects of the divine wrath, we find the traditional Catholic affirmations that suffering can be purgatorial and redemptive, that "victim souls" can make reparations for the sins of others, and that good works are efficacious and have merit.
We should not be surprised, then, by any of the distinctives we have identified in contemporary Catholic apocalyptic belief. In many ways they are simply tokens of distinctives within the larger tradition. The ways in which traditional Catholics view the world as a whole inevitably shapes their view of how it will come to an end.