There are two kinds of revelation. The first, called “public” or “universal” revelation, is the deposit of faith entrusted to the apostles by Christ and handed down to the Church in the form of Sacred Scripture and Tradition. This kind of revelation ended with the death of the apostles, is protected by the charism of infallibility so the Church will not lose track of it, and must be believed by all the faithful. As the Church herself makes abundantly clear, “No new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 66).
However, in addition to this there is what the Church calls “private revelation.” Marian apparitions are a species of private, not public, revelation. Private revelation is an intimate form of communication. It doesn’t reveal new things to the Church (something difficult for certain devotees of particular private revelations to hear, who sometimes treat their fave rave private revelation as though it is part of the apostolic deposit of faith or even as though it supercedes that deposit of faith). But in fact, all private revelation does is help makes public revelation “present” to us today, and help guide us in living out that public revelation. Its recipients are not protected by the charism of infallibility. But it often knocks the wax out of our ears so that we hear the gospel, perhaps for the first time in our sin-dulled lives. It’s often, so to speak, the “spark” that jumps the gap from public revelation to the inner sanctuary of the human heart, quickening the word of God for us by the power of the Spirit. The variety of such private revelations is limited only by the imagination of God.
Of which more next time.