Visions and Private Revelations

Letter to the Editor, Emmitsburg Dispatch

August 18, 2005


An authentic vision is a charism or a charismatic grace.  These graces are given to an individual or a group primarily for the spiritual good of others or for the Church as a whole.  Nobody is required to believe in these visions of others, nor are they to be ever pressured into believing private revelations.


The recipient of the apparitions and revelations at Emmitsburg is a good practicing Catholic and has been exemplary in her obedience to the decree of the Cardinal.  This decree states that after study by experts, the Cardinal declares that, in this case, "constat de non supernaturalitate."  The term "supernatural" ordinarily has a much wider application than it does here and refers to a number of gifts which are not miraculous; for example, an act of love is supernatural.  Here the term would mean supernatural in the way the event has transpired.  That is, the phenomena perceptible to the senses cannot be explained by natural causes and is therefore miraculous.  So what the Latin words mean is that the presumed apparition is clearly not miraculous or there are not sufficient reasons manifesting it to be so.  It does not mean that the events are diabolical in their origin or only present in the mind and imagination of the individual or individuals involved, but may still be within the workings of the Holy Spirit in a faithful soul.


Now the certitude that can be reached as a result of investigating apparitions and private revelations can never be the certitude of the divine faith that we receive in the mysteries of our faith, such as the Trinity or the Incarnation.  The Church humbly states its judgment knowing that it is always a fallible one, but one that should be respected by the faithful.  With all this in mind, it is therefore not a matter of sin or disobedience for the faithful to incorporate this devotion in their private prayer lives. 


Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D.

Carmelite Monastery, Washington, D. C.


Editor's note:  Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. is the English translator of the writings of both St Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.  He is a member of the Institute of Carmelite Studies and was the vice-postulator for the canonization of St. Edith Stein.