Q. A friend is going to Medjugorje in Bosnia. She says that the Blessed Mother has been appearing there to six visionaries since 1981 and that Our Lady gives them messages on the 2nd and 25th days of each month. Can you shed some light on this for me? Is this something that is sanctioned by the Catholic Church? How does one verify that it is not a hoax? 

A. In May 2019, the Vatican announced that parishes and dioceses around the world are now permitted to sponsor official pilgrimages to Medjugorje. At the same time, however, the Vatican clarified that it was making no statement on the authenticity of the alleged apparitions.

In 1981, six young people claimed that Mary had appeared to them at Medjugorje, which is located in the nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Some of the six claim that Our Lady continues to appear to them up to the present and gives them messages daily, while others of the group say that Mary now appears to them only once a year.

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI formed a papal commission to study the alleged apparitions, but that commission has yet to issue an official report.

In 2017, speaking with journalists during a flight from Fatima, Portugual, Pope Francis offered an insight into the Vatican’s official thinking. “About the first apparitions when (the ‘seers’) were young,” said the pontiff, “the report more or less says that the investigation needs to continue.” However, he added, “concerning the alleged current apparitions, the report expresses doubts.”

In its most recent move – permitting organized pilgrimages to the site – the Vatican acknowledges that Medjugorje continues to be for countless pilgrims a place of authentic prayer and spiritual deepening and that many visitors have experienced “abundant fruits of grace.”

Pilgrims are offered the sacrament of penance in seven different languages, and confessional lines are sometimes several hours long.

Q. Is there any prohibition against having Masses said for deceased Protestants or Jews, or should they only be requested for Catholics?

A. There is no canonical rule against having a Mass said for a deceased non-Catholic. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true; the Church’s Code of Canon Law says, “A priest is free to apply the Mass for anyone, living or dead” (Canon 901).

This means that the Eucharist can be offered for anyone – dead or alive, Catholic or non-Catholic. And that brings up another question: If you attend the wake of a non-Catholic, is it OK to bring a Mass card? The answer is “Yes.”

One might think the opposite; most Protestants, for example, do not believe in the existence of purgatory; they feel that their deceased loved ones, if they lived a worthy life, are already experiencing eternal beatitude.

Since the Mass is an intercessory prayer (it re-presents the salvific acts of Christ in his death and resurrection and seeks to apply those merits to the deceased), one might suspect that Protestants would see this as unnecessary and could be offended if given a Mass card. But I have never found that to be so; instead I have found them consistently grateful.

Which brings up still a third question: Can you have a Catholic funeral Mass for a non-Catholic? Here again the answer is “Yes,” under certain circumstances. Canon 1183.3 provides that a Catholic Church funeral may be offered for baptized non-Catholics “unless their intention is evidently to the contrary and provided that their own minister is not available.”

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.