Mystics & Private Revelation

These Answers to Frequently Asked Questions concern approved and alleged Mystics and Seers and the private revelations attributed to them. 

Revelation is either Public or Private. Public Revelation is “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3:3). It was passed on in the Church by the Apostles “by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess 2:15). These two sources or founts of Divine Revelation are usually called Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. 

CCC 66 "The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ." Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.

CCC 85. This task of grasping its full significance belongs to the whole Church, but in a special sense to the Pope and the Bishops, to whom the power of teaching, and necessarily, therefore,  interpreting what is to be taught has been given. 

There is also what is called Private Revelation. This generally takes two forms. The most common is an experience of God in the prayer life of someone advancing in the ways of holiness (mysticism). It may or may not be accompanied by phenomenon, such as described by St. John of the Cross in his writings, and it is generally intended for the recipient's advancement in the spiritual life, though it may have broader implications. An example of the latter would be the private revelations of Our Lord to St. Faustina Kowalska on Divine Mercy.

The second kind of private revelation is an apparition, an appearance of Christ, Our Lady, a Saint or an Angel to someone. These often seem to occur to simple people and more generally have broader implications, such as Our Lady at Lourdes and at Fatima. Apparitions are initiatives of God, for His purposes, and may need not be related to a person's progress in prayer. 

In both cases, mysticism and apparitions, since the Magisterium has the office and charism to interpret Divine Revelation it also has the office and the charism to do so for private revelation. This is usually done by some pastoral need, such as the good of the faithful. It can also come about in the course of the evaluation of a candidate for beatification and canonization. The first stage of that process is to investigate the person's theological and moral virtue: their faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. With respect to the person's alleged revelations, the finding of “heroic virture” indicates that the person's affirmations about the revelations are humanly credible, and the faithful may give such human credibility, natural faith, to their writings - as opposed to the divine credibility which supernatural Faith commands regarding Public Revelation. This can be said, therefore, of all those individuals whom the Church has declared venerable, blessed or a saint, or in those cases where apparitions have been investigated and accepted by the Church.

67 Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.