Our Catholic faith is very rich in that it offers so many paths to holiness. You may notice the various devotions people are drawn to or the different practices your friends have adopted to express their faith. There are as many paths to holiness as there are people walking them. It may be confusing to understand what exactly is required of a practicing Catholic in the midst of so many options for prayer and devotion. To help clarify, today we will examine the differences between public and private revelation and how the Church treats each version.

God’s desire has always been for us to know Him. Upon the creation of Adam and Eve, He revealed Himself to them and lived with them in communion in the garden of Eden. After the fall, Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, away from God, but He remained faithful in His desire for us to know Him, so He has revealed Himself in various ways throughout salvation history. The Catechism tells us, “This revelation was not broken off by our first parents’ sin. ‘After the fall, God buoyed them up with the hope of salvation by promising redemption; and he has never ceased to show his solicitude for the human race. For he wishes to give eternal life to all those who seek salvation by patience in well-being.’” (CCC #55) This revelation of God to the human race, is all contained in Sacred Scripture. Beginning with the Old Testament, we can see God reveal himself to mankind through events, prophets, covenants, and miracles. His method of revelation is slow and incremental according to where people are in their journey to salvation, giving them exactly what they need at exactly the right time.

In the New Testament, we see God fully reveal Himself in the flesh of the person of Jesus Christ. “Then, after speaking in many and varied ways through the prophets, now at last in these days God has spoken to us in His Son’. For He sent His Son, the eternal Word, who enlightens all men, so that He might dwell among men and tell them of the innermost being of God.” (Dei Verbum #4) With Jesus comes the fullness of God’s revelation to humanity as a whole. So the Church calls the entirety of Scripture and its interpretation through tradition and the Magisterium, “public revelation”. In other words, through Scripture, God has revealed Himself to humanity, as a whole, in a public manner which is intended for everybody. Since Christ came to complete the act of salvation through His crucifixion, there will be no more public revelation until He comes again. He has already communicated everything He wants us to know. “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.” (CCC #66)

Because public revelation is public and intended for every person, as Catholics, we are obligated to give our assent to all that is contained in Sacred Scripture and everything the Church extrapolates from Scripture and teaches to us through the Magisterium. It is for this very reason that Scripture is the focal point of the first half of every Mass in the Liturgy of the Word. “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and Apostles.” (DV #21)

Now, just because public revelation ended with Jesus here on earth, it does not mean that God does not continue to reveal Himself to individual people according to their own needs, gifts, and vocations. The Church refers to this as “private revelation”. “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.” (CCC #67) There are countless incidents of private revelation, and you may have experienced it yourself in the form of inspiration or a feeling of prodding from the Holy Spirit. You may have a particular private devotion, prayer, or activity that you do because you feel drawn in some way to it. All of this is fine, so long as it facilitates a closer relationship with Jesus and does not detract from it.

Throughout the history of the Church there have been many private revelations that have been given a great deal of attention. We need to understand how to view these incidents within the correct framework. Some examples of these are: the Divine Mercy Chaplet, given to St. Faustina by Jesus; The Miraculous Medal, given to St. Catherine Laboure by Mary; various other Marian apparitions; chaplets and novenas asking for the intercession of particular saints, and so on. When there are bigger moments of private revelation, such as these, the Church will go through a vetting process to determine their validity. If it proves to be authentic, the Church will then give permission for the faithful to accept the revelation if it will serve to further their spiritual growth. The key here is that there is no requirement or obligation for an individual to give their assent to private revelation in the same way we are required to observe public revelation. Therefore, it is up to every individual to discern how different devotions help them along their own personal path to salvation, keeping in mind that the Church will not lead them astray should they choose an approved devotion. “Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.” (CCC #67)

It is very likely that you already have particular devotions from private revelation that you enjoy and find spiritual consolation in practicing. Often we are drawn to certain ones based on our personality, temperament, gifts, or even the life experiences that brought us to them. However, this week, spend some time looking into new devotions based on private revelations and find something new to try. Think of where you are now in your spiritual journey and find something that will supplement a weakness. Anything that helps you foster a deeper relationship with the Lord is a good thing!