Cover in Ashes:
An Alleged New Message from an Approved Marian Visionary

by Guillermo Moreno

April 11th, 2021

On October 6, 2019, Sister Agnes Sasagawa, the visionary of Our Lady of Akita, allegedly received a new message from an angel from thirty years prior. The message stated: “Cover in ashes and please pray the Penitential Rosary every day. You (Sister Sasagawa) become like [a] child and every day please give sacrifice.”[1] This brief message is the first message that Sr. Agnes received since the series of visions and miracles of Our Lady of Akita, dating from 1973 and 1975 through 1981, in the diocese of Niigata, Japan.

In brief, the messages of Our Lady of Akita called for a renewed commitment to prayer, penance, and sacrifices in reparation for the sins of mankind,[2] and they are a continuation of the messages from Fatima and Amsterdam.[3] It was disclosed to Sr. Agnes to pray the Rosary every day for the Pope, the bishops, and priests.[4] Our Lady gave Sr. Agnes three messages. The final one on October 13, 1973, included the following excerpt:

As I told you, if men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the deluge, such as one will never seen before. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead. The only arms which will remain for you will be the Rosary and the Sign left by My Son. Each day recite the prayers of the Rosary. With the Rosary, pray for the Pope, the bishops and priests.

The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres… churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.

The demon will be especially implacable against souls consecrated to God. The thought of the loss of so many souls is the cause of my sadness. If sins increase in number and gravity, there will be no longer pardon for them.[5]

Throughout this brief period of Our Lady’s messages, many mysterious events took place, including shining rays of light that only Sr. Agnes could see emanating from the tabernacle, wounds appearing on the right hand of the wooden statue of Mary in the chapel, which bled on four occasions, the disappearance of that wound, the statue producing sweat, and Sr. Agnes developing a cross-shaped wound on her left hand, which bled and caused her much pain. After the third message, from January 4, 1975 until 1981, the statue of Mary wept  at intervals for a total of 101 occasions.[6] Furthermore, Sr. Agnes had numerous encounters with her guardian angel.[7]

  

There are two things to initially keep in mind. First, the events dating from 1973 and 1975 through 1981 are ecclesiastically approved, meaning that they are deemed authentic and in line with the Catholic faith by the competent authority, in which this case  is the local bishop (the Ordinary).[8] 

 

A quick note regarding these kinds of miraculous events is the distinction between ‘public revelation’ and ‘private revelation.’ Public revelation is the work of God throughout salvation history culminating in the person of Jesus Christ and his work in our redemption, after which there will be no new public revelation until his second coming, whereas ‘private revelation’ includes events such as Marian apparitions, events which do not fulfill Christ’s work but aid us in our salvation.[9] With these considerations the faithful are not obligated to believe private revelations.[10]

 

Second, the message from October 6, 2019, has yet to be approved. Bishop John Ito approved the messages of Our Lady of Akita in 1984, after eight years of thorough investigation.[11] This was in light of the supernatural phenomena revolving around the messages of Our Lady of Akita. As of today, there is no news of an investigation of this new message by the current bishop of Niigata, Bishop Paul Daisuke Narui. Not even the website of Sr. Agnes’s convent, featuring a message by Bishop Narui, mentions an  investigation, nor does it even mention the new message itself (as of April 11, 2021).[12]

 

Regardless, this alleged message is by an approved visionary, and if this message is authentic, it is probably a continuation of the previous messages or relevant to them. It is doubtful that it consists of a new set of messages. But why now, so suddenly after more than thirty years?

 

The date is cause for speculation. Namely, it is the date of the beginning of the Amazon Synod, which is responsible for the scandal caused after the apparent idol worship of Pachamama. Admittedly, Vatican officials do not claim that idol worship was intended at the tree-planting ceremony, attended by Pope Francis, at which Pachamama was featured. However, the Vatican officials refuse to answer questions, whether to confirm or to deny idol worship at the tree-planting ceremony. Yet, when interviewed, one of the officials of the Synod expressed indifference about whether or not idol worship took place, saying that “Even if that had been a pagan rite, what took place was still a worship service.”[13] The fact that this event occurred was a major scandal to the Church. Even more scandalizing was the indifference some Church officials expressed towards rightful concerns of paganism.

 

What is also a cause for speculation is the phrase, ‘cover in ashes’ in the 2019 message. This calls to mind one of the Biblical uses of ashes as a gesture of repentance,[14] as what happened at Nineveh when Jonah warned of its destruction in forty days if the Ninevites did not repent (Jon 3). But this is where some Catholics make certain connections and come to believe that the great chastisement which Sr. Agnes warned about in 1973 has come. They connect Jonah’s warning of a punishment from God in forty days if the people do not repent, and the ‘cover in ashes’ in that passage with the angel’s 2019 message of ‘cover in ashes.’ The disturbing coincidence is that the Jonah reading fell on October 8[15] and that the first possible case of COVID-19 can be traced to November 17,[16] forty days later. People thus believe that COVID-19 is the beginning of the great chastisement, having begun as the fulfillment of a prophecy of impending doom after forty days of its announcement as the consequence of an unmet condition. It may also be important to note that, in an interview in the mid 90s, Sr. Agnes was asked if the chastisement could be avoided, to which she answered no, but that it could be mitigated through prayer and sacrifices.[17]

People could believe that COVID-19 is not only a punishment from God, but the beginning of the chastisement warned about in 1973 to Sr. Agnes. I believe that this is possible, but the following are reasons why I do not think so.

First, an analysis of the message itself. ‘Cover in ashes’ is a form of penance, and while this may not exclude literally wearing ashes, it does mean to repent in the imperative; to enter into a mode of repentance as we do in the beginning of Lent,[18] in which we do put on ashes but do not wear them throughout. It need not be correlated with prophetic chastisement in and of itself. ‘Pray the Penitential Rosary every day’ recalls the Fatima message to pray the rosary every day in reparations for the sins of mankind. Furthermore, Sr. Agnes is called to be like a child and offer up sacrifice. Bishop Ito himself acknowledged that the messages of Akita are a continuation of the messages of Fatima and Amsterdam, in which Mary requests a fifth Marian dogma to save the world from a great catastrophe.[19]

Second, there are some inconsistencies between the story of Jonah and the Ninevites and the supposed connection with this new message. For instance, there is no mention from the angel in the Akita messages of a chastisement in forty days, whereas with Jonah it is clear: “Yet forty days, and Nin’eveh shall be overthrown!” (Jon 3:4). Again, to cover in ashes is a call to penance, and to connect it with the coming of chastisement due to a similar event in the book of Jonah appears to be looking for and finding something that may not necessarily be there. It may also be important to note that only the king of Nineveh specifically resorts to ‘sit in ashes’ as well as to cover in sackcloth, while all the other Ninevites only put on sackcloth; nor does the king instruct his people to cover in ashes but to fast, cover in sackcloth, pray, and repent (Jon 3:5-8). It seems misleading to imply that to ‘cover in ashes’ calls for a worldwide repentance in forty days when the concept, while in fact meaning repentance, was in a way physically (the king sat in ashes, not covered in ashes) and figuratively manifested by one individual in that passage; everyone else figuratively covered in ashes.

Also in Jonah there is a clear indication that an apocalyptic event is to occur within a specific time frame contingent upon whether or not the people who received the message repent, for God had sent Jonah to evangelize the Ninevites to repentance (Jon 1:2; 3:2). In the 2019 message, there is no clear indication of such an event in a particular time frame. While Sr. Agnes did receive the warning of the chastisement in 1973, there is no evidence that the 2019 message refers specifically to a chastisement that is supposed to occur in forty days or even to the one mentioned in 1973.

Third, COVID-19 does not fit the description of the great chastisement which Our Lady warned about. It is not fire falling from the sky, wiping out most of humanity. Tragically, millions have in fact perished due to the pandemic, but it is not most of humanity. One could argue that the chastisement has been mitigated through prayer and sacrifice, but I would doubt it since the rate of people attending church has been in decline since the 1950s.[20] 

Fourth, there is a difference between the natures of the messages; they are two different kinds of messages. The series of messages from 1973 are clearly prophetic, while the one from 2019 appears to be only imperative. In other words, the 2019 message is a call to act upon a command or request, to do something, as various private revelations indicate without necessarily prophesying impending events. The 2019 message is simply stating that we need to repent and pray, which we always need to do. There is no prophetic content in this message as there was in the messages from 1973.

Fifth, this new message has yet to obtain ecclesiastical approval, an investigation which, had it begun as soon as the message was disclosed to the public, would have undoubtedly taken more than forty days. It must also be noted that without ecclesiastical approval the Catholic faithful can only be “open, but cautious.”[21] To the best of my knowledge, there is no investigation that has begun since the message was disclosed, and there are no miraculous events, conversions, etc. occurring in relation to this new phenomena.

Lastly, this doomsday interpretation had not been promoted by influential figures in Catholic media; at least not in English. Most notably, there is no word from the bishop of Niigata, no word from the Magisterium, and no word from prominent credible sources in Catholic media. Not even Dr. Mark Miravalle, Mariology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, has weighed in on this interpretation of the 2019 message. Notably, in November 2019 he was interviewed on Relevant Radio regarding this new message, in which he asserts, “Our Lady wants us to reexamine the messages of Amsterdam and Akita.”[22] Then, in March 2020, he wrote a beautiful article on the Catholic response to this pandemic.[23] Having addressed the October 2019 message and written on COVID, Dr. Miravalle could have connected the two events and concluded that COVID-19 is the chastisement as the consequence of a failure to “cover in ashes” within forty days. But neither he, nor any other influential Catholic figures, have advocated this idea nor have they urged church officials to investigate and to confirm this interpretation.

In conclusion, the Catholic faithful must do two things. Firstly, indeed, to cover in ashes and repent, fast, offer up sacrifices, and pray the rosary as Our Lady urges us to do. Secondly, the faithful must await ecclesiastical approval of this new message and even await any more possible messages to confirm the chastisement interpretation of the message of the angel to Sr. Agnes in October of 2019. As of this time there is too little information to make the inference that the messages of Akita are connected with the COVID pandemic.

 

Endnotes

[1] http://wqphradio.org/2019/10/27/a-new-message-from-sister-agnes-of-our-lady-of-akita/

[2] https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/message-from-our-lady--akita-japan-5167

[3] https://relevantradio.com/2019/11/chaplet-akita-message/

[4] https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/message-from-our-lady--akita-japan-5167

[5] https://relevantradio.com/2017/11/lady-akitas-warning-coming-fruition/

[6] https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/message-from-our-lady--akita-japan-5167

[7] http://www.miraclehunter.com/marian_apparitions/approved_apparitions/akita/index.html

[8] https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19780225_norme-apparizioni_en.html

[9] C.f. ibid.

[10] http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20111214_prefazione-levada_en.html; https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-publishes-guidelines-on-apparitions-private-revelations

[11] https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/message-from-our-lady--akita-japan-5167

[12] http://www.seitaihoshikai.com/us/

[13] https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/analysis-why-pachamama-took-a-dip-23186

[14] https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/what-do-the-ashes-mean.html

[15] https://www.usccb.org/about/divine-worship/liturgical-calendar/upload/2019cal.pdf pg. 37

[16] https://www.livescience.com/first-case-coronavirus-found.html

[17] https://relevantradio.com/2019/11/chaplet-akita-message/

[18] https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/what-do-the-ashes-mean-936

[19] https://relevantradio.com/2019/11/chaplet-akita-message/

[20] https://news.gallup.com/poll/232226/church-attendance-among-catholics-resumes-downward-slide.aspx

[21] This expression borrowed from https://www.motherofallpeoples.com/post/mary-in-private-revelation

[22] https://relevantradio.com/2019/11/chaplet-akita-message/

[23] https://catholicexchange.com/the-coronavirus-and-the-crowning-of-mary

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