People from all over the world are traveling to the United States to witness a rare and phenomenal astronomical event. A total solar eclipse will pass across the length of the entire United States, from sea to shining sea, on August 21st. It's being called "The Great American Eclipse."
One astronomer is predicting that this will be the “most photographed, most shared, most tweeted event in human history.” An estimated 12 million Americans will be in the direct path of the total eclipse, while virtually all Americans will be able to step outside and see at least a partial, 60% eclipse from any location. This is truly remarkable.
Observing the beauty and power of the natural world should always lead our thoughts back to its Creator and our relationship with Him. Unlike modern secular man, who has erected a false dichotomy between science and religious faith, the ancients understood that God speaks to us through nature. Scripture attests that creation is part of God's revelation, and that God uses the natural order—including eclipses and other phenomena involving the sun, moon, and stars—to convey messages to mankind.
The supreme example of this is the miraculous eclipse of the sun that occurred while Our Lord, the God-man Jesus Christ, hung on the Cross. There will be a similar darkening of the sun at his Second Coming.
That being said, as Catholics, I don't think we can view major events such as this with the same kind of mindset as do seculars. Our lives are meant to move and breathe with sacred time, that is, with the ecclesiastical calendar of Christ's Church. I think it is important to at least be aware of a few liturgical coincidences regarding the upcoming solar eclipse.
For the Catholic Church, August is the month of special devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. What I think is most striking is that the Great American Eclipse occurs on the eve of the August 22nd feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the traditional liturgical calendar. At Fatima, Our Lady revealed that God wants to establish in the world a devotion to her Immaculate Heart. The Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, is our national patroness. On the vigil of this feast day, the whole world will be looking at something unusual happening in the skies over "The Land of Mary Immaculate."
On the new liturgical calendar, the total solar eclipse occurs on the eve of the feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary—that is, the Queen of Heaven and Earth. This feast honoring Our Lady's queenship over the universe is the octave day of the Solemnity of the Assumption, the dogma that Mary now reigns with Christ—in her physical body—in heaven.
(Interestingly, in 2017 the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the new liturgical calendar—which occurs the day after the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus—was suppressed due to it falling on the same day as, and therefore being trumped by, the June 24th Solemnity of St. John the Baptist; that is, the saint who prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah, and who suffered martyrdom for his witness to the sanctity of marriage).
August 21st is also the feast of Our Lady of Knock, a silent apparition of the Blessed Mother in Ireland in 1879. She appeared standing near an altar mounted by Christ as the Lamb of God, with St. Joseph and the Apostle St. John the Evangelist, who was holding a book, presumably the Book of Revelation, with the gesture of teaching.
This is also the 100th anniversary year of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, when another great astronomical event, the "Miracle of the Sun," was witnessed by a massive crowd of over 70,000 people. The Great American Eclipse will be the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the United States in almost the same length of time; it last occurred ninety-nine years ago, in 1918.
The eclipse will cast a shadow across the totality of the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. It will be the first time the "path of totality" of a total solar eclipse will occur completely within the United States since 1776, the year of our nation's founding—the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.
What does all of this mean? We don't know. Is it meant to convey something? Probably.
No, it's not the end of the world. But, we do know from the prophecies of Our Lady of Fatima (which concluded with the greatest astronomical miracle since biblical times) that there are two things the Blessed Mother foretold that have not yet transpired: one, a major global chastisement if we do not cease offending God and do penance for our sins; and two, the triumph of her Immaculate Heart, a period of peace where the hearts of men will turn back to God.
Will we witness these events happening within our lifetimes? If they did occur within our lifetimes, would we expect some kind of signs or warnings beforehand? What role might America play in these events?
Scientists are lined up across the country to take all kinds of measurements and tests during this eclipse using the latest technology. It will be interesting to see what kind of data will result from this study. Will they find anything groundbreaking, perhaps "proof" of God's existence that will convert hardened atheists? The fact that total solar eclipses even happen at all—that the sun and moon are exactly the right size and distance apart from one another and from our vantage point on Earth—is in itself a natural wonder.
Will witnessing this breathtaking astronomical event be a quasi-religious experience for some, causing them to begin to seek a right relationship with God? As people of faith, we can pray that this total solar eclipse—which will have the entire country looking up to heaven at roughly the same time—will have great conversion power for America. And we can ask the intercession of Mary Immaculate that it will indeed be so.
There will be another total solar eclipse happening in the United States, going in the opposite direction, in seven years.
UPDATE: The total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 will be the liturgical celebration of the Annunciation of the Lord, transferred to that date as in that year March 25th will fall during Holy Week.
What are your thoughts about the Great American Eclipse? Do you have plans to watch it happen?
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