Q: Why does Mary have so many different faces when appearing to her devotees?
A: We should remember that independently from apparitions, Mary has been endowed with countless titles and advocations. They reflect in part Mary's identity, personality and role. But even more importantly, they express our love, creative imagination and personal as well as collective needs. In other words, Mary's titles are not only a description of who she is but also how we see and understand her person and mission. Similarly, in apparitions the human perception of the visionary plays an important role. Not least, because apparitions are so difficult to translate in categories of human visual perception. It is not rare to find seers who were unable to give a concrete and specific description of Mary, and instead spoke of brilliant light and overwhelming beauty.
Sometimes it is not the "looks" of the apparition which defines the title or advocation but the description Our Lady gives of herself and her role (Immaculate Conception/Lourdes; Our Lady of All Nations/Amsterdam). Other titles have nothing to do with Mary's appearance but with the site where she appears (Our Lady of Fatima/Portugal), a sign probably that the seer was either not able to render his/her vision in distinctive enough words and images or was overwhelmed by the abundance of titles and/or messages (Rosary, Immaculate Heart, conversion of Russia, Saturday devotion, etc). The deeper meaning of Mary's many faces in apparitions lies in the nature of apparitions itself and Mary's status as creature assumed into heaven. The seer plays an active part in apparitions. His or her special interest, perception, and understanding shapes the message and the medium (the image received by the seer). A seer is not infallible, and if the apparition is authentic, he or she must faithfully collaborate with God's grace in order to capture and transmit the message with accuracy. The history of apparitions shows that this has not always been the case. On the other hand, living in the state of a glorified creature, Mary possesses a certain freedom of appearance and presence with regard to time and space. The history of apparitions suggests that Mary usually chooses the form and message of apparition which is most adapted or needed in a given situation. Ultimately, the many faces of Mary are proof that God does not work independently from us but mostly with and always for us.
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