by Kathryn Mulderink
“I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months shall confess, receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.”
Most of us are familiar with these words of our Blessed Mother, spoken to Lucia, one of the three young visionaries of Fátima, at her convent in Pontevedra, Spain. This message, given in 1925, was a sort of “follow-up” to the words Our Lady had spoken to Lucia in the second apparition of Fátima in June, 1917, when she told Lucia that she was to remain in the world because “Jesus wishes to use you to make me known and loved. He wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.”
It may come as some surprise that this devotion requested by Heaven was not absolutely new. It fit precisely into the long tradition of Catholic piety that, having devoted Fridays to the remembrance of the Passion of Jesus Christ and to honoring His Sacred Heart, found it very natural to devote Saturdays to His Most Holy Mother.
In fact, the great request of Pontevedra appears as the joyous culmination of a whole movement of devotion. It began spontaneously, was encouraged and codified by Rome, and seems to be nothing less than the providential preparation for what was to come later.
Saturdays Devoted to the Virgin
Honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday was first “officially” promoted by Saint Alcuin (735-804), the Benedictine monk who was “Minister of Education” for the court of Charlemagne and who contributed in a decisive manner to the Carolingian liturgical reform. He composed different formulas for Votive Masses for each day of the week, with two set aside to honor Our Lady on Saturday. This practice was quickly and enthusiastically embraced by both clergy and laity, the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday eventually becoming the Common of the Blessed Virgin.
There were several theological reasons for dedicating this day to Mary. A 15th century missal gives several of those reasons in a hymn: Saturday is the day when creation was completed; therefore it is also celebrated as the day of the fulfillment of the plan of salvation, which found its realization through Mary. Sunday is the Lord’s Day, so it seemed appropriate to observe the preceding day as Mary’s day. In addition, as Genesis describes, God rested on the seventh day, Saturday. The seventh day, and the Jewish Sabbath, is Saturday; we rest on Sunday, because we celebrate the Resurrection as our Sabbath Day. In parallel, Jesus rested in the womb and then in the loving arms of Mary from birth until she held His lifeless body at the foot of the Cross; thus the God-head rested in Mary.
The great theologians of the 12th and 13th centuries, Sts. Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure, explained the dedication of Saturdays to Mary by pointing to the time of Christ’s rest in the grave. On that first Holy Saturday, while everyone else had abandoned Christ, Mary continued to believe, demonstrating her deep faith by never doubting for a moment her Son’s promise of resurrection. As stated in the Pontifical document, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, Saturday is designated as a memorial of the Blessed Virgin as “a remembrance of the maternal example and discipleship of the Blessed Virgin Mary who, strengthened by faith and hope, on that great Saturday on which Our Lord lay in the tomb, was the only one of the disciples to hold vigil in expectation of the Lord’s resurrection; it is a prelude and introduction to the celebration of Sunday, the weekly memorial of the Resurrection of Christ; it is a sign that the ‘Virgin Mary is continuously present and operative in the life of the Church.’”
The custom of dedicating Saturday Masses to Mary was fostered especially in the cloister churches of the various orders, and quickly spread throughout the whole Church. Hence, through the early centuries of the Church, Saturday acquired its great Marian tone and the existing fast on that day became associated with Mary.
During the second millennium of Christianity, other great souls furthered and refined these pious devotions. Cardinal Peter Damian († 1072) fostered Marian Saturday celebrations. During the time of the crusades, Peter of Amiens started out with a vanguard for Constantinople on a Saturday, March 8, 1096, under the protection of the Blessed Virgin. Pope Urban II (1088-1099) admonished the faithful to pray the liturgy of the hours in honor of the most holy Virgin for the crusaders.
In the centuries to follow, the Marian Saturdays were expressed in several local devotions. This was the day the faithful selected to go on pilgrimages. Sodalities held their meetings on Saturdays and called them Fraternity Saturdays or Sodality Saturdays. The seven colors or sorrows of Mary were in some places commemorated on seven consecutive Saturdays. The 15 Saturdays before the liturgy in honor of Mary as Queen of the Rosary, October 7, recalled the fifteen decades of the rosary; in some areas this was the day that the crops and harvests were blessed and celebrated. An Irish version of the Saturday devotions to Mary is known as the Fifteen Saturdays of the Rosary. The devotion consists in receiving Holy Communion and saying at least five decades of the Rosary sometime during the day or evening on fifteen consecutive Saturdays or to meditate in some other way on its mysteries. The three Golden Saturdays that followed the Feast of St. Michael were festively celebrated in Austria, Bohemia, and Bavaria with reception of the sacraments and with pomp and circumstance particularly at places of pilgrimage. Traces of the festivities are still found in these cultural areas today.
The growing devotion in honor of the Immaculate Conception by the Franciscans also contributed to furthering the Marian Saturdays. In 1633 the Order’s Chapter determined that a Holy Mass in honor of this mystery was to be celebrated.
Vatican II with its liturgical reforms did not abolish the practice of Masses in honor of Our Lady. A new sacramentary and lectionary were published with 46 options for votive Masses in honor of Our Lady. Today, the strongest trace of Mary’s relationship with Saturday occurs in the Liturgy. Saturday is dedicated to Mary by a Mass or Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Through these liturgical acts, Christians exalt the person of Mary in the action that renews the sacrifice of Christ and in the action that prolongs his prayer.
Devotion to the Immaculate Heart
The first indication of this general Saturday devotion to the Blessed Mother being connected with her Immaculate Heart comes from St. John Eudes, (1601-1670) whom Pope St. Pius X called the Immaculate Heart’s Father, Doctor and Apostle. It was through him that this devotion was made public and received ecclesiastical approbation. St. John Eudes, as a theologian, was the first to explain this devotion to Mary’s Heart in his book, The Admirable Heart of Mary. The feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which is celebrated on the first Saturday after the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (which is celebrated on the first Friday after the feast of Corpus Christi), was established in 1644 as the paternal feast of his congregation of Priests, for which he composed a Mass and office. Later it was established throughout the French dioceses (being extended to the Universal Church in 1944 by Pope Pius XII).
Modern times have seen a further focusing and codification of this devotion. In 1889, Pope Leo XIII granted to all the faithful a plenary indulgence for the well-established practice of the fifteen consecutive Saturdays. This pope, who wrote 12 encyclicals on the Rosary, and in June of 1899 had consecrated the whole world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was asked to make a similar act to honor the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Both Pope Leo XIII and his predecessor, Pope Pius IX, felt this honor should be given to Our Lady but that the time had not yet come.
The First Saturday of Reparation
In 1889, an Italian woman named Maria Inglese, prompted by an interior revelation, instituted the pious practice of “Communions of Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary” with the approval and recommendation of her Bishop. In 1904 she composed a series of prayers for each mystery of the Rosary, as well as prayers for the Holy Hour of Reparation to Mary. She brought these to Rome and St. Pius X indulgenced them immediately, warmly encouraging Maria to continue her apostolate. He later encouraged this devotion throughout the Church. Thus, with St. Pius X, the First Saturday Devotion of Reparation to the Immaculate Heart was introduced. He later promoted it further by the granting of additional indulgences on June 13, 1912: “All the Faithful who, on the first Saturday or first Sunday of twelve consecutive months, devote some time to vocal or mental prayer in honor of the Immaculate Virgin in Her conception gain, on each of these days, a plenary indulgence. Conditions: Confession, Communion, and prayers for the intentions of the Sovereign Pontiff.”
Five years later, on that same date, June 13, there took place at Fátima the great manifestation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, “surrounded with thorns which seemed to pierce it.” Sister Lucia was to say later on: “We understood that it was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged by the sins of humanity, which demanded Reparation.” It was also on this day that Our Lady told Lucia she was to remain in the world because “Jesus wishes to use you to make me known and loved. He wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.”
One month later, on July 13th, in the third apparition of Fátima, the children were shown a vivid vision of condemned souls. Our Lady said to them, “You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart… I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the first Saturdays. If what I ask is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.”
Our Lady would wait eight years to make that request of Lucia.
As if in anticipation of this request, five years earlier, November 13, 1920, the Church, in the person of Pope Benedict XV, encouraged the devotion of the Saturdays of Reparation by granting new indulgences to this practice when accomplished on the first Saturday of eight consecutive months.
Finally, on December 10, 1925, Heaven crystallized all these devotions, and sealed them with a magnificent promise from the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary and the Child Jesus appeared to Lucia at her convent in Pontevedra, Our Lady resting her hand on Lucia’s shoulder and revealing a heart encircled by thorns.
The Child Jesus said: “Have compassion on the heart of your most holy Mother, covered with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no one to make an act of reparation…”
Our Lady spoke next, saying: “Look, my daughter, at my heart, surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You at least try to console me and say that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess, receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.”
How awesome it is to see Heaven at work, laying the foundation, and setting each stone in its due time, using the incremental steps of devoted souls. By the time of this apparition, all the preliminary steps had been taken, so that it seemed Heaven was only crowning a great movement of Catholic piety. In requesting the Pope to solemnly approve the devotion of Reparation revealed at Pontevedra, Our Lady was not really asking for anything new. Providence had prepared everything so thoroughly that in 1925 this devotion was right in line with a series of papal decisions refining the First Saturday devotion as we know it.
And yet, there are new elements in this message of Pontevedra, notably in the concessions which only Heaven could grant: the Virgin Mary does not require fifteen, twelve, or even eight Saturdays to be devoted to Her. She asks for only five Saturdays – as many as the decades on our Rosary.
Then, above all, the promise joined with it has increased so remarkably we would be foolish to ignore it. No longer are we merely granted indulgences [that is, the remission of punishment for sins already forgiven], but a much more irresistible grace: the assurance of receiving at the moment of death “all the graces necessary for salvation.”
Such is the generosity of our God, and the tenderness of Our Lord for His Mother; in His ardent desire to see her consoled He makes such a lavish promise in exchange for our love. A more powerful promise could hardly be conceived.
Kathryn Mulderink is a home schooling mother of seven, a Consecrated Marian Catechist, a member of the Catholic Writer’s Association, the Blue Army, and is a Secular Discalced Carmelite. She has given presentations at various home school conferences and she and her husband head the local chapter of the Fátima Family Apostolate. They live near Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, Chapter V, has principles and guidelines regarding Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Originally published in The Tilma, Summer 2003.