As the joke goes: Very carefully.
According to the norms established in 1978 by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the local bishop must investigate the alleged apparition to determine that:
- There is a great likelihood that something miraculous did occur (that the vision isn’t a trick or an effect of the weather, say).
- The alleged visionary is mentally sound, honest and moral, respectful of the Church, and not out for profit.
- Any messages from the apparition are theologically sound and free of error.
- Healthy, enduring spiritual effects (prayer, conversion, etc.) result from the apparition.
If the bishop judges the apparition to be worthy of belief, then Catholics are free to honor Mary at that particular site, if they wish. But it’s good to keep these so-called “private revelations” in proper theological perspective. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
“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)
Ginny Kubitz Moyer is the author of Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God. You can visit her blog at www.blog.maryandme.org