Article by Victor Balaban, Enyclopedia of millennialism and millennial movements (publisher link), "Marianism", Routledge (2000).
Millennial dreams of a new world arise when the old rules and the old dreams become meaningless. It is in these situations that people pin all their hopes on the drawing of a new age and the prophets who will bring it about. In the modern era, popular Catholic millennialism has been expressed through devotion to apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
The Marian worldview is fundamentally a millenarian one, believing in the Millennium of Christian prophecy and the coming of an ideal society through a radical change. What has developed is a transnational, transhistorical apocalyptic ideology, meaning that the Virgin’s messages at apparition sites all over the world are believed by devotees to provide a single extended warning, given in different times and different places, of how the apocalypse will happen. Thus the Virgin’s famous “Third Secret” from Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, her prediction of a permanent sign in the sky from Garabandal, Spain, in 1961, and the warnings from Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, in the 1980s are all considered to be part of the same ongoing warning. The message is simple. God and Jesus are angry because mankind is so sinful, and Mary, in her infinite mercy is interceding, holding back her son’s arm, to give humanity one last chance.
Like many folk beliefs, the Marian end times scenario is fairly inchoate, and there are many individual variations in the timetable and in the degree of coherence of this script among pilgrims, but the basic outline is usually similar. Similar to many Christian apocalyptic belief systems, it is largely based on the Books of Daniel and Revelation, but also incorporates many specific events and warnings taken from the messages at various apparition sites. Briefly, it is believed that the world is entering the end times. It is usually presumed that the beginning of the End of Times will be preceded by chastisements to mankind; and various world events, such as earthquakes, violence, AIDS, and legalized abortion are often cited as examples of these chastisements. This period of chastisement is often the focus of elaborate conspiracy theories involving an evil Antipope as well as the rise of the Antichrist. Then there will be a permanent sign in the sky, which will herald the next stage, the Warning. The Warning, sometimes called a “correction of conscience” is a time when all human activity will stop, and people will be forced to see all their sins, and the impacts of all their sins on others. This judgment will allow people one last chance to repent and be baptized. Sometime after this there will be Three Days of Darkness, followed by disasters where those who do not believe will be taken to hell, while a Remnant will be saved. This is followed by the Second Coming of Christ, which will usher in the Millennium, with its attendant thousand years of peace.
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The Influence of La Salette
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The rise of Marian millennialism in the nineteenth century cannot be reduced to a simple conflict between tradition and modernity or between the church and popular religiosity, but rather a complex response to chaos and upheaval in a rapidly changing world. Church authorities had been forced to integrate visions and apparitions into the life of the church; and in so doing, had maintained institutional control over widespread popular movements as potentially heretical millennialism and channeled and made orthodox.
Later apparitions have followed the patterns and scripts of the nineteenth century, and have all, in one way or another, attempted to negotiate the same divide between church doctrine and the underlying apocalypticism of their messages. The church has, in many ways, redirected and defused the apocalyptic energies of popular Marian movements, but their millennial and apocalyptic elements have not been eliminated. Instead, these became part of a vibrant popular Catholic apocalypticism that continues to the present day.
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