This is the Meaning of the Mysterious Third Secret of Fatima

The story of Our Lady of Fatima is a rich tapestry woven with threads of faith, history, and mysticism. Central to this narrative is the “Third Secret of Fatima,” a message revealed to three shepherd children by the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1917. While its meaning has been the subject of speculation and intrigue for many years, the Catholic Church has taken steps to interpret and provide guidance on this topic. Let’s dig into what the Third Secret of Fatima is, the Church’s stance, and why it matters for Catholics today.

The Fatima Apparitions: A Quick Background

Before we talk about the Third Secret, it’s important to know what happened in Fatima. In 1917, three shepherd children—Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta—witnessed a series of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal. Over six meetings, Mary imparted several messages, which included prayers, calls for penance, and three “secrets.” While the first two secrets were disclosed early on, the Third Secret was kept confidential for many years.

What is the Third Secret of Fatima?

The Third Secret was eventually revealed by the Vatican in the year 2000. It contains a vision shown to the children of a “bishop dressed in white” who suffers amid a ruined city filled with corpses. He prays for the souls of the dead before he, too, is killed by soldiers. The secret ends with an angel crying out, “Penance, Penance, Penance!”

The Official Church Interpretation

In light of the mysterious nature of the Third Secret, the Vatican provided an official interpretation. According to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the vision pertains to the 20th century sufferings that both the Church and the Pope would endure. The “bishop dressed in white” is interpreted to signify the Pope, who walks through a city of ruins—symbolizing the devastation of the modern world—and prays for the dead.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) said, “The vision speaks of dangers and how we might be saved from them.” He explained that the Third Secret is an exhortation to prayer and conversion, which aligns with Jesus’ teaching that prayer can indeed “move mountains” (Matthew 17:20).

I must clarify that I’m paraphrasing Cardinal Ratzinger’s statements, as I can’t provide a word-for-word account of his interpretation. But what is crucial is that the message calls Catholics to deeper faith, prayer, and conversion of heart.

Scripture and Catechism: Aligning the Third Secret with Church Teaching

Prayer and Penance

The call to prayer and penance in the Third Secret echoes throughout the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism states: “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God” (CCC 2559). The call for “Penance, Penance, Penance!” aligns with the Church’s teaching on the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. The Catechism asserts, “This sacrament reconciles us with God and grants us his forgiveness” (CCC 1486).

Suffering and the Church

The vision of a suffering “bishop dressed in white” can be seen in light of the Church’s understanding of suffering. St. Paul wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). The Church teaches that suffering is not meaningless; it can be a form of participation in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the Church.

Theological Opinions vs. Universal Teaching

The Third Secret’s interpretation by the Vatican is to be considered as the authoritative explanation within the Church. However, there are various theological opinions on the matter. Some have speculated about end-times scenarios or apocalyptic revelations. While these viewpoints might be interesting to consider, they are not the official stance of the Catholic Church.

Why Does It Matter Today?

The Third Secret of Fatima serves as a reminder of the urgent need for prayer, penance, and conversion, something that is as relevant today as it was in 1917. It’s not just about historical events; it’s about the spiritual life of every Christian.

The Church teaches us to seek God’s kingdom above all things (Matthew 6:33) and to understand that our primary vocation is to holiness (CCC 2013). In this light, the Third Secret isn’t just a message for the Popes or the hierarchy; it’s a message for all Catholics and, indeed, all people.


The Third Secret of Fatima is a complex and often misunderstood part of Catholic history and devotion. However, guided by the official interpretation provided by the Vatican, the core message becomes clear: it is a call to deeper faith, prayer, and conversion.

In a world plagued by materialism, violence, and indifference, the Third Secret serves as a spiritual wake-up call. As St. James reminds us, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). In answering this call to prayer and penance, we draw nearer not just to the mysteries of Fatima, but to the heart of what it means to be Catholic.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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