Many people claim to have seen apparitions of Mary or other Catholic saints. However, biblical teachings don’t speak highly of supernatural visions that go against sound biblical teachings. Why, then, do people claim to see these visions, and how should we interpret them?
Human beings were designed to be with God, so we naturally desire spiritual experiences. This can lead us to jump to conclusions, misinterpret, or overreact to situations that seem to be supernatural. It also makes us vulnerable to false teachings (2 Timothy 4:3–4). It’s not unusual to see what we want to see or expect to see, and this can lead us to interpret an odd experience as an apparition of Mary. True messages from God are unmistakable (John 3:1–2) and in harmony with the rest of His Word (John 20:31). Apparitions of Mary, by their very nature, cannot be either one of these.
Sometimes, those who claim to have seen an apparition of Mary are simply lying (see Ezekiel 13:6). Sometimes, basic human superstition or misunderstanding comes into play. Most claims regarding apparitions of Mary involve vague details, few actual witnesses, and so forth. People looking for mystical signs, patterns, or apparitions will tend to find them, even when they aren’t really there. This is an attitude the Bible actually discourages (1 John 4:1; Mark 13:22; 2 Corinthians 13:5), because it distracts from the legitimate moments when God truly speaks through supernatural means (e.g., Matthew 11:21; Acts 2:22; Hebrews 2:4; Exodus 3:20). It is quite possible that some of those who claim to have been visited by Mary did have a real supernatural encounter—although the supernatural being contacting them was a demon masquerading as Mary, rather than Mary herself.
None of this is to say that every claim regarding apparitions of Mary is due to overt satanic influence or that all people making such claims are blatantly lying. But every spiritual claim must be judged against the written Word of God. God can, in fact, speak to people in visions and dreams (Habakkuk 2:2; Isaiah 1:1; Acts 2:17). He has also, on occasion, sent angels to deliver His messages (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:13; Genesis 19:12; Judges 6:11–12). However, the Bible clearly warns that the devil is capable of creating visions and experiences as well (2 Corinthians 11:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:9), so we can’t treat every such incident as if it comes from God. Instead, we must compare our experience to the fixed, objective, written words of God (Acts 17:11; Galatians 1:8) and the doctrines they teach. Any apparition that contradicts or undermines the Word of God is a lying spirit.
There are no biblical descriptions of apparitions or appearances of the dead, other than when Saul consulted a witch who conjured the spirit of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 28). This event seems to be unique in history, however, and the Bible is clear that we are not to communicate with the dead. The question of whether these visions support false Catholic doctrines must be considered when interpreting apparitions of Mary. In other words, there are more biblically sound, reasonable explanations for apparitions of Mary than simply accepting them at face value.