Bishop Schneider Responds to “TERRA DEL CIELO” Controversy and Consecration of Russia

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By Diane Montagna

[UPDATE]

March 25, 2022 (OnePeterFive)—In recent days, controversy has arisen over a discrepancy in the translation of a title attributed to Our Lady, in the Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart to be offered by Pope Francis this evening in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Whereas the English translation says:

Therefore, O Mother, hear our prayer.
Star of the Sea, do not let us be shipwrecked in the tempest of war.
Ark of the New Covenant, inspire projects and paths of reconciliation.
Queen of Heaven, restore God’s peace to the world.

The Italian original says:

Accogli dunque, o Madre, questa nostra supplica.
Tu, stella del mare, non lasciarci naufragare nella tempesta della guerra.
Tu, arca della nuova alleanza, ispira progetti e vie di riconciliazione.
Tu, “terra del Cielo,” riporta la concordia di Dio nel mondo.

The original Italian “terra del Cielo” does not translate into English as “Queen of Heaven,” [this would be “Regina del Cielo”] but as “earth of Heaven,” or “Heaven’s earth.”

Having brought this discrepancy to the attention of Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni, who has forwarded it on to the proper authorities and is awaiting a response, we asked Bishop Athanasius Schneider, whose expertise is patristics (i.e., the study of the Church Fathers), if he was familiar with this expression, and if there are any inherent problems with its use. Here below is his response:

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(Bishop Athanasius Schneider): In the Act of Consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the expression “terra del Cielo” [from the Italian original] has been translated into the Romance languages (Portuguese, Spanish, French) in the same way. In German, it has been translated: “Du Irdische im Himmel” (i.e., You are the earthly one in Heaven). In many Slavonic languages, and in Russian, it has been translated: “heavenly earth”; in Slovak: “earth from heaven”; and in Polish: “earth of heaven.” And as you note, in English it has been translated “Queen of Heaven,” when a more accurate rendering would be “Heaven’s earth” or, more literally, “earth of Heaven.”

While there is an evident discrepancy in the translations, the expression “heaven’s earth” [terra del Cielo] is not it itself heretical or Pagan. One should not immediately see in this expression a parallel to Pachamama but interpret it in an objective, benevolent, and Catholic way, which is possible. There are traditional Catholic Marian poems and songs with quite similar expressions like “Mary is the heavenly garden” or the “garden of Heaven.” Let us consider how the expression accords with Sacred Scripture, the Fathers, and the Liturgy:

Sacred Scripture

The expression “earth of heaven” or “heaven’s earth” can be interpreted in a manner consistent with Sacred Scripture. It can have the meaning of “new earth” used in 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1-2 and is consistent with the Old Testament prophecy that we see fulfilled in Mary: “Let the earth open, that salvation may sprout forth” (Isaiah 45:8).

Church Fathers and Doctors

We also find similar expressions in the Church Fathers. St. Ephrem the Syrian wrote: “The virgin earth of old gave birth to the Adam who is lord of the earth, but today another virgin has given birth to the Adam who is Lord of heaven” (Hymns on Nativity, 1:16). Here, virginity is compared to earth; the “virgin soil” chosen by God to bring forth the first Adam is a type of Mary, the virgin earth who gave birth to Jesus Christ, the second Adam. Later, St. John Chrysostom would say:

The word Eden signifies virgin land. Now such was that region in which God planted paradise. … Now this virgin (earth) is a type of the Virgin. For as that land, without having received any seed, blossomed forth for us paradise; so too Mary, without having conceived of man, blossomed forth for us Christ (De mutatione nominum, 2, 3-4).

Likewise, St. John Damascene said: “The gates of paradise open and receive the God-bearing earth, on which Christ, the tree of eternal life originated” (Homily 3 on the Dormition of St. Mary). And in an eleventh century hymn composed by St. Peter Damian in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saint exclaims “Es et terra cœlestis,” i.e., “and you are the heavenly earth” (Rhythmus de S. Maria virgine).

Byzantine Liturgy

According to an article published on March 23, 2022, in the Vatican newspaper, The Osservatore Romano, the expression “terra del Cielo” is “taken from a Byzantine-Slavic monastic hymn, and poetically signifies the union of heaven and earth that we can contemplate in Mary, who is also assumed into Heaven with her body.” The Byzantine liturgy does, in fact, contain expressions similar to “Heaven’s earth.” Of Mary it is said: “I am the untilled earth” (Byzantine Liturgy, Octoechos [Book of Hymns], voice 8, Sunday, hymn 6), meaning, “I am the heavenly earth”, “the virginal earth,” the “paradisiac earth.” And elsewhere she is praised as “Blessed earth, blessed Bride of God, earth untilled and saving the world” (Canon for Holy Communion, Ode 1, Theotokos).

Mary is the Mother of the new creation. The mystery of her bodily Assumption into heaven is also linked to the meaning of “new earth” or “heavenly earth.” Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange explains it thus:

The divine curse expressed in Genesis includes, in part: ‘And to dust thou shalt return.’ Mary, blessed among all women, was to be exempt from this curse, she was not to know the corruption of the tomb; that is to say, the hour of the resurrection was to be anticipated for her. The glorious resurrection is followed by the Assumption or elevation into heaven of her glorious body, which is no longer made for the earth where everything passes, withers and is corrupted.

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[UPDATE]

ROME, March 23, 2022 (OnePeterFive)—With the Vatican’s publication today (in 35 languages) of the Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that Pope Francis will use on March 25, we asked Bishop Athanasius Schneider if he believes the formula satisfies the essential elements of Our Lady’s request at Fatima. Here below is his response, followed by our in depth interview on the Consecration of Russia and Ukraine.

(Bishop Athanasius Schneider): “In comparison with the wording of the two previous acts of consecration, made by Pope Pius XII (in 1952) and by Pope John Paul II (in 1984), the words and form of the consecration that will be used by Pope Francis on March 25 more clearly express the requests of Our Lady of Fatima. Pope Francis has even added the word “solemnly” to “consecrate,” an expression lacking in the formulas of 1952 and 1984:

1952: “in a very special way, we consecrate all the peoples of Russia to the same Immaculate Heart” (Apostolic Letter of Pius XII, SACRO VERGENTE ANNO, Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary)

1984: “O Mother of men and peoples … In a special way we entrust to you and consecrate to you those men and nations who are in particular need of this entrustment and consecration.” (Pope John Paul II, Consecration of Men and Nations)

2022: Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the Church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine (Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary).

Our Lady did not say that papal approval of the communion of reparation on the First Saturdays should be a part of the formula of Consecration. She asked for papal approval of this practice only with a view to obtaining the fruits she promised by the act of Consecration. Papal approval could be manifested, for instance, in a decree from the Apostolic Penitentiary saying that the faithful who practice the communion of reparation on the five First Saturdays will obtain a plenary indulgence. Such a decree generally indicates that it has been approved by the Holy Father.

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Exclusive: Bishop Schneider on Pope Francis’ Consecration of Russia and Ukraine

March 21, 2022 (Rome)—As Pope Francis prepares to consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25, Bishop Athanasius Schneider shares his thoughts on this historic event and what the faithful should expect should the consecration be carried out according to Our Lady’s wishes.

As well as his hopes for peace, the auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, whose early years were spent in the Soviet underground Church, and who built the largest church in central Asia, dedicating it to Our Lady of Fatima, also discusses the decision to include Ukraine in the consecration, the importance of Benedict XVI’s participation, and his hopes for possible unity with the Orthodox through this act.

Bishop Schneider, who said in our 2019 book, “Christus Vincit: Christ’s Triumph Over the Darkness of the Age,” that he believes the consecration of Russia has so far not been carried out according to Our Lady’s wishes, spoke to OnePeterFive on March 21. Here below is our interview:

(Diane Montagna): Your Excellency, for readers who may not be familiar with the history and details of Our Lady’s request at Fatima that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, what should they keep in mind?

(Bishop Athanasius Schneider): I would offer readers the following excerpt from an article of Father David Francisquini, published in the Brazilian magazine “Revista Catolicismo” (Nº 836, Agosto/2020), and titled “A consagração da Rússia foi efetivada como Nossa Senhora pediu?” [“Was the consecration of Russia carried out as Our Lady requested?”]. I believe the author provides a succinct summary of the essential elements. He writes: “

In the apparition of July 13, 1917, Our Lady told the children that God would “punish the world for its crimes through war, hunger and persecution of the Church and the Holy Father. […] To prevent this, I will come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the communion of reparation on the first Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not, it will spread its errors throughout the world, promoting wars and persecutions; the good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated; in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to Me, which will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”

Twelve years later, on June 13, 1929, while residing in Tuí, Spain, Sister Lucia had a vision in which Our Lady told her: “The time has come when God asks the Holy Father to do, in union with all the bishops of the world, the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, promising to save her by this means.”

Still in 1929, the seer made this request known to Pope Pius XI, and the following year she wrote to her confessor, Fr. José Bernardo Gonçalves S.J., reporting that Our Lord had urged her to ask the Holy Father for the approval of the reparative devotion of the first Saturdays. And she added: “If I am not mistaken, the good God promises to end the persecution in Russia if the Holy Father deigns to make, and likewise orders the Bishops of the Catholic world to make, a solemn and public act of reparation and consecration of Russia to the Most Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary.”

In a later intimate communication, Our Lord complained to Sister Lucia: “They would not grant my request. Like the King of France, they will repent; and they will, but it will be late. Russia will have already spread its errors around the world.” In a letter to her confessor, dated May 18, 1936, Sister Lucia declares: “Intimately, I have spoken to Our Lord about the matter; and a little while ago I asked Him why He did not convert Russia without His Holiness making this consecration.” This was the answer that Sister Lucia received from Jesus: “Because I want my whole Church to recognize this consecration as a triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to then extend its veneration and place, alongside the devotion of my Divine Heart, the devotion of this Immaculate Heart.”

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Sister Lucia addressed the new Pope, Pius XII, directly: “In several intimate communications, Our Lord has not ceased to insist on this request, promising lately — if Your Holiness deigns to make the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with special mention for Russia, and to order that, in union with Your Holiness and at the same time, all the Bishops of the world do so too — to shorten the days of tribulation with which it has determined to punish nations for their crimes, through war, famine and various persecutions of the Holy Church and Your Holiness.”

From 1984 until the fall of the Berlin Wall, Sister Lucia maintained that none of the consecrations made until then had been “valid” (in the sense that they had met the requirements set by Our Lady). In an interview given in 1985 to Sol de Fátima magazine, she peremptorily declared, regarding those carried out by John Paul II in Fatima (1982) and in Rome (1984): “There was not the participation of all the Bishops, nor was Russia mentioned.”

In a letter dated November 8, 1989, Sister Lucia stated: “Yes [the consecration] has been carried out as Our Lady asked, since March 25, 1984.” And in a conversation of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone with Sister Lucia, she reportedly declared: “I have already said that the consecration desired by Our Lady was made in 1984 and was accepted in Heaven.”

(DM) Your Excellency, how do you explain this change in Sr. Lucia’s thinking in a span of just four years?
(+AS): In the above-mentioned article, Fr. Francesquini offers this plausible answer:
” It is legitimate to conjecture that, when re-evaluating the act of John Paul II in 1984, Sister Lucia allowed herself to be influenced by the atmosphere of optimism that spread in the world after the collapse of the Soviet Empire. It should be noted that Sister Lucia did not enjoy the charism of infallibility in the interpretation of the lofty message she received. Therefore, it is for the Church’s historians, theologians, and pastors to analyze the consistency of these statements, collected by Cardinal Bertone, with the previous statements of Sister Lucia herself. However, one thing is clear: the fruits of the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, announced by Our Lady, are far from having materialized. There is no peace in the world.
(DM): Your Excellency, do you believe that the consecration of Russia to Our Lady has been made?
(+AS): In chapter 19 of our book, “Christus Vincit: Christ’s Triumph Over the Darkness of the Age” (Angelico Press, 2019), we discussed this question. I said in that exchange:
As we know, on March 25, 1984, Pope John Paul II consecrated all mankind to the Immaculate Heart, in the presence of the real, original statue of Fatima, in St. Peter’s Square. In that consecration, he especially mentioned those people whose consecration Our Lady desires to be made. Therefore, it was an implicit consecration of Russia.
In the Cathedral of Our Lady of Fatima in Karaganda, the centenary of the first apparition of Our Lady in Fatima, May 13, 2017, was celebrated in the context of a Mariological Congress. Pope Francis sent for this occasion a Papal Legate, Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, and in the homily Cardinal Cordes mentioned the so-called consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart, which Pope John Paul II did in 1984. He said that sometime after the 1984 consecration, he was invited by the Pope to his apartment for dinner, and during this meeting he asked the Holy Father: “Why did you not explicitly consecrate Russia?” John Paul II answered him, saying, “It was my intention to do so.” The pope then added that, due to concerns of the Vatican diplomats, he could not make the consecration as he had initially intended, consecrating Russia in an explicit manner. We can therefore see that, because of political consequences presented by Vatican diplomacy, Pope John Paul II made the consecration in this implicit way. These are the facts.
Sister Lucia was asked about this act. She said: “Heaven accepted it.” But this phrase of Sister Lucia, or other similar phrases, do not mean for me that this act was the most perfect. Of course, when a pope makes such a beautiful prayer and consecration, heaven accepts this. Heaven accepts every sincere and beautiful prayer. But it does not mean, in my opinion, that in the future a more perfect act of consecration could not be made, which heaven will also receive and accept.
(DM): So, do you believe that the consecration, as Our Lady asked for it at Fatima, has been made or not?
(+AS): It has not yet been made in the manner Our Lady requested. In my opinion, the consecration has to be made more perfectly, and this means with the explicit mention of Russia along with the other conditions, as Our Lady specified. I hope and believe that one day, by a perfect act of consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart by a future pope, heaven will pour out many abundant graces for the Church and mankind, and for the full conversion of Russia (Christus Vincit, pgs. 299-300).
(DM): The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, during a 5pm penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Holy See Press Office has informed journalists that the consecration itself will likely take place around 6:30pm (Rome), that is, at the conclusion of the penance service. The Vatican also confirmed that Pope Francis has invited the bishops of the world, and their priests, to join him in this consecration. Some people wonder why the Pope has included Ukraine, and if its inclusion presents an obstacle to fulfilling Our Lady’s specific request. What would you say to those who are wondering about this?
(+AS): Given the current and painful war in Ukraine, it is entirely understandable that Pope Francis would also mention Ukraine. One should also consider that in July 1917, when Our Lady first spoke of the consecration of Russia, a major part of the territory of the present-day Ukraine belonged to the Russian Empire, which named certain regions of this territory “Little Russia” and “South Russia.” Were the Pope today to mention only Russia, a large part of the territory (i.e., the majority of present-day Ukraine), which Our Lady had before her eyes in July 1917, would be excluded from the consecration.
(DM): Some have argued that, in order to respond faithfully to Our Lady’s request, the Pope must “order” and not only “invite” the world’s bishops to join him in consecrating Russia to the Immaculate Heart. How would you respond to this concern? What, in your view, are the essential elements that need to be included in the consecration, and what is not essential?
(+AS): In Our Lady’s request, one must distinguish essential from secondary elements. The essential elements, in my opinion, are: the consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (and not just to the “Mother of God” or the “Blessed Virgin Mary”); the explicit mention of Russia (the additional mention of another nation close to Russia, or of all nations of the world, will not invalidate the consecration since the essential element of “Russia” is included); that it be made in union with all the bishops (this union does not have to include one hundred percent of the bishops quantitatively speaking, but the entire episcopate in a moral sense. In a similar sense, were the pope, in an ecumenical council, to join a doctrinally sound minority and reject a heterodox majority, the doctrine or dogma promulgated would be the teaching of the entire Church, even though it was proclaimed by the pope together with the minor part of the episcopate). The manner whereby the Pope summons the bishops to participate in the act of the consecration (whether by a formal invitation or by an explicit order) is secondary in my view.
(DM): Is the mention of the communion of reparation on the five First Saturdays essential?
(+AS): As noted above, in the apparition of July 13, 1917, Our Lady said that to prevent the Divine chastisements (war, hunger and the persecution of the Church and the Holy Father) she would come to ask for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart and the communion of reparation on the first Saturdays. “If my requests are heeded,” he said, “Russia will be converted and there will be peace.” Later, in a letter from 1929 to her confessor, Fr. José Bernardo Gonçalves S.J., Sister Lucia reported that Our Lord had urged her to ask the Holy Father for the approval of the reparative devotion of the First Saturdays. In my opinion, the approval of the practice of the communion of reparation on the First Saturdays does not necessarily have to be included explicitly in the formula of consecration. Papal approval could also be manifested, for instance, in a decree from the Apostolic Penitentiary, saying that the faithful who practice the communion of reparation on the five First Saturdays will obtain a plenary indulgence. Such a decree generally indicates that it has been approved by the Holy Father.
(DM): Is the question of public versus private revelation also important for people to keep in mind here?
(+AS): One has carefully to distinguish between public divine revelation and private revelation. The messages in the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima and later separately to Sister Lucia, even though recognized by the Church as supernatural in character, are nevertheless a private revelation. The Church teaches us in this regard: ” 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 (Vatican II Council, Dei Verbum, 4).
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. Christian faith cannot accept ‘revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such ‘revelations’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 67).
(DM): The Vatican has not yet published the prayer of consecration to be used on March 25, but if it contains the essential elements, what effects should the faithful expect from the consecration?
(+AS): The effect of the act of the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, even done in a perfect way according to the request of Our Lady, should not be understood as if it were a sacrament, whose effect comes from its valid celebration (ex opere operato). An act of consecration, theologically speaking, is a sacramental (sacramentale), whose effect depends mainly on the Church’s prayer of impetration (ex opere operantis ecclesiae). Catholic theology specifies that sacramentals (sacramentalia) do not produce grace but prepare for it. An act of consecration does not have an automatic, immediate, and spectacular or sensational effect. God, in His sovereign, wise and mysterious Providence, reserves to Himself the right to determine the time and manner of realizing the effects of a consecration. We do well to keep in mind the words of Our Lord: “It is not for you to know the times or moments, which the Father hath put in his own power” (Acts 1:7). The manner by which Divine Providence guides salvation history and the history of His Church is usually characterized by organic growth and gradualness. Our task is to do what the Mother of God has said; the rest is up to Providence to determine according to times and ways not yet known to us. As St. Augustine said, until Christ returns, “the Church will make her pilgrimage in the midst of the world’s persecutions and God’s consolations” (cf. De civitate Dei, 18, 51).
(DM): Your Excellency, what are your hopes for the consecration of Russia?
(+AS): One must hope that the consecration of Russia hastens its conversion, which necessarily includes the Russian Orthodox Church being reunified with the Apostolic See and thus becoming truly Catholic. Only then will there be a true conversion in the eyes of God, since conversion cannot be by halves. Bishop Alexander Chira (+ 1983), an underground Greek Catholic bishop from Zakarpattia (Carpathian Ruthenia), who lived in exile in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, said in his last sermon, delivered in German, on May 13, 1983: ” In Fatima, Portugal, the Mother of God revealed: Russia will convert to Catholic unity (Russland bekehrt sich zur Katholischen Einigkeit). The painful division between the Church of East and West has already torn Russia away from Christ’s true Church for 900 years. Attempts to heal this old wound in the Mystical Body of Christ have been made more than once. Human wickedness, iniquity, and craftiness have frustrated the most loving and noble endeavors of the Catholic Church. And now, unexpectedly, the loving Mother of God takes the matter into her own hands. She appeared in Fatima to three children. Isn’t it striking that she appeared not to erudite powerful military leaders, but only to three simple village children!? And she revealed: Russia will convert to the Catholic Church!
We must also hope that the consecration of Russia will hasten the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which will consist in the authentic renewal of the life of the Catholic Church, i.e., in a new splendor of the purity of the Catholic Faith, the sacredness of the liturgy, and the holiness of the Christian life.
Lastly, we must hope that the consecration of Russia will hasten an era of peace for humanity. Yet true and lasting peace in human society will be established only if Christ reigns over human society. As Pope Pius XI wrote: “It is no less unquestionable that, in doing all we can to bring about the re-establishment of Christ’s kingdom, we will be working most effectively toward a lasting world peace” (Encyclical, Ubi arcano49).
(DM): Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, has confirmed that Benedict XVI will join Pope Francis and the bishops of the world in the consecration of Russia and Ukraine on March 25. The Vatican has said he will do so privately from the Monastery of Mater Ecclesiae, that is, from the chapel of his residence in the Vatican. What are your thoughts on this news?  
(+AS): It is a joy for the entire Church that the former Pope Benedict XVI who, of course, is one of the most eminent members of the world’s episcopate of our day, will join in the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

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