Matt Nelson – Catholic Answers Article –
One hundred years ago, the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in six visitations near Fatima, Portugal. She sealed those visitations with a miracle of the sun, which danced and emitted colored rays of light before tens of thousands of eyewitnesses, a fitting maternal signature upon what the Vatican has recognized as “the most prophetic of modern apparitions” (The Message of Fatima).
Mary’s message to the three young visionaries did not consist merely of information: it was a call to action. The apparitions at Fatima were, above all, a call to penance. Fr. John Hardon affirms, “Our Lady of Fatima’s message to a sinful world in our day, may be summarized in the . . . imperative, ‘Do penance’” (Penance and Reparation). The imperative nature of this message was made apparent in the third part of the secret where St. Lucia records “the angel [crying] out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, penance, penance.’”
With penance at the core of our Lady’s message at Fatima, it is essential that we understand it.
Sin causes a rupture in our communion with God and a loss of grace. To heal that rupture we must act. We must first acknowledge our sinfulness and then sincerely resolve to turn from sin. Finally, we must make reparation and strive to repair what our sin damaged in ourselves and in the world. Thus penance is an action inspired by our love of God that expresses our desire to undo the disorder our sins brought into the world.
The sacrament of penance (normally referred to as reconciliation or confession) is central to the Church’s mission of sanctifying its members. The resurrected Christ conferred this priestly “ministry of reconciliation” on the apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit.If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23). As with all the sacraments Christ instituted, the sacrament of penance functions only by God’s grace.