Long haul for Our Lady of Subang Jaya
IT will be a long wait before the Malaysian Catholic community gets “official approval” from the local bishop or the Vatican to raise a Hail Mary or light a candle to Our Lady of Subang Jaya although hundreds of them are already singing Ave Maria at a “holy” site in front of a private hospital.
For now, to the corporate Catholic Church of Malaysia, Our Lady of Subang Jaya — a purported apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary on a window pane at the Sime Darby Medical Centre — which first appeared to a window cleaner and is being witnessed by hundreds of people daily — is just a pixel of an abstract image on a window pane.
This sighting of the Mother of Jesus may be deemed as authentic or not at all by Kuala Lumpur Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam, who will most likely discern according to the “Norms of the Congregation for Proceeding in Judging Alleged Apparitions and Revelations” — a document issued in 1978 by the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (SCDF).
Like previous apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary such as the one in Lourdes (France), or Fatima (Portugal) or Guadalupe (Mexico), it is going to be a long haul for Our Lady of Subang Jaya.
She has to earn her pedestal through rigorous theological and scientific verification by local theologians and other experts.
This could take years or even centuries to gain acceptance as an authentic phenomenon — as was the case of Our Lady of Laus (France) which received diocesan approval for Catholic devotion in 1665 but formal recognition as a supernatural event only in 2008.
According to the 1978 SCDF prescription, the diocesan bishop can initiate a process of investigation on his own initiative or at the request of the faithful when such a phenomenon occurs.
However, the bishop may refrain from looking into it if he chooses, especially if he feels that not much will come off the event.
The bishop may also refer the matter to the president of the national conference of bishops (Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei) who may intervene, if the event grows to become nationally important or creates an impact in other dioceses of the Catholic Church.
Such occurrences may also be investigated by the Apostolic See (the Vatican) at the request of the bishop or the faithful or on its own inspiration.
In matters such as supernatural apparitions and visions or visitations of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Church in its wisdom seeks to be prudent to sift out “unholy chaff ” from the grain of “sacred truth”.
The steps of the investigation are mandated with the initial evaluation of the facts of the purported event based on both — positive and negative criteria.
The positive criteria requires a “moral certainty” (the certainty required to act morally in a situation of doubt) or at least great probability as to the existence of a private revelation at the end of a serious investigation into the case.
The seer or visionary (persons to whom the image or apparition appeared or who witnessed the apparition) will undergo a process of having their personal qualities appraised which includes mental state, maturity, honesty, moral life, sincerity, obedience to Church authority and willingness to practice faith in a normal way.
Church officials will also examine the content of the event. This means the revelation must be free from theological errors, meaning it must not be opposed to faith and established morals of the Church.
Overall, the event itself must create a sense of healthy devotion and spiritual fruits in the lives of the community such as conversion of hearts, the adoption of an intense life of prayer and embracing works of charity.
In examining the negative criteria, what comes under the scope is first glaring errors with regards to facts, doctrinal errors attributed to God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or to the Holy Spirit.
The event must also not generate any financial gain to anyone including the seers and witnesses. At the time of the apparition, the seers and visionaries should not have committed gravely immoral acts of any nature (must be in a state of grace, so to say) and must be free from psychological disorders.
Only after this initial investigation and if the event is found to have met the positive and negative criteria soundly will an initial cautionary permission be issued stating that “for the moment, there is nothing opposed to it” and the green light for public participation of the devotion will be given.
If the local bishop gives the go-ahead for devotion to an apparition based on initial investigations, it does not constitute formal approval that the event is supernatural.
Ultimately, a final judgment and determination has to be issued, giving approval or condemnation of the event.
A good example here, would be the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary reported to have appeared at Medjugorje located in western Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Our Lady of Medjugorje and Our Lady of Peace are the titles given to the apparition that has been appearing since June 24, 1981 to six children.
The visionary Marija Lunetti claims to receive messages from the Virgin Mary on the 25th of every month while Mirjana Soldo reports receiving messages on the second of every month.
The Medjugorje apparition site has grown to become a major pilgrim spot in Europe catering to Catholics from all over the world. Medjugorje faithful have reported visual phenomena including the sun spinning in the sky or changing colours and icons such as hearts and crosses in the sky.
Some visitors have suffered eye damage while seeking to experience such phenomena — something that will not go well when it comes under theological scrutiny based on this negative side of popular religious fervor.
The Medjugorje apparition is yet to be approved by the Catholic Church. In March 2010, the Vatican announced that the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith forming an investigative commission, made up of bishops, theologians and other experts under the leadership of Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the pope’s former vicar-general for the diocese of Rome.
The commission is expected to report its findings to the Congregation, which has responsibility for any possible judgment on the case.
For the record, off the 295 reported apparitions studied by the Vatican through the centuries only 12 have been approved including Lourdes, Fatima and Guadalupe.
So for now, Our Lady of Subang Jaya has a long way to go before she could be deemed a Marian luminary worthy of devotional attention or earn herself the sobriquets Our Lady of the Hospital or more aptly Our Lady of the Sick. - By JOSEPH MASILAMANY