In the popular devotion of the Church, Saturday has long been a day set aside to honor the Blessed Mother. It was the 8th Century Benedictine monk and Carolingian liturgical reformer, St. Alcuin, who first composed Votive Masses to honor Our Lady on Saturday. These masses were so popular among the faithful, that they eventually became accepted into the Missal as the Common of the Virgin Mary.
It was no accident however that Alcuin chose Saturday, for there are deep theological reasons for doing so. The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy explains that Saturday is set chosen 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.’”
This devotion to Our Lady has been sorely tried in recent centuries, beginning with the Protestant Revolution. Rather than being met with indifference, she was treated with contempt. It was within this setting that a practice of receiving Communion in reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary arose. This devotion spread, catching the attention of Pope St. Pius X who attached an indulgence to the practice in 1904. This practice was expanded when on June 13,1912 he offered additional indulgences for “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 to the day, Our Lady appeared to the Fatima visionaries, showing them the Immaculate Heart surrounded with thorns. Sr. Lucia would later say that she understood that the vision was “was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged by the sins of humanity, which demanded Reparation.” It was also during this appearance that Our Lady told the children that Jesus wished to “establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” Our Lady promised Lucia that she would return to explain the practice of the first five Saturdays.
Fast forward eight years and Lucia is now a postulant in a convent in Pontevedra, Spain. Our Lady appeared to her and said “Look, my daughter. My Heart is surrounded with thorns that ungrateful men pierce unceasingly with their blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, try to console me and announce that for all those, who for five consecutive first Saturdays, confess, receive Holy Communion, pray the Holy Rosary and accompany me for15 minutes by meditating the mysteries of the Holy Rosary with the intention to do reparation, I promise to assist them at the hour of death with the graces needed for salvation.”
About a year later, she was taking out the trash when she encounters a little child. She told the child to pray a Hail Mary which He refused to do. So, she tells him to go to the Church and ask the Heavenly Mother for the Child Jesus. When the child returns, she asks him if he did what she said to which He replied “And have you spread through the world what the heavenly Mother requested of you?” She replied, knowing it was Our Lord, that she had met many difficulties in spreading the devotion. He told her to rely on His grace and to “have compassion for your Mother’s Heart. It is surrounded with thorns that ungrateful men pierce at each moment, and there is no one who does acts of reparation to remove them.”
Our Blessed Lord appeared once again to now Sister Lucia on May 29, 1930. He explained that the devotion involved five consecutive first Saturday because it was five kinds of offenses and blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary that required reparation, namely: blasphemies against her Immaculate Conception, against her perpetual virginity, against the divine and spiritual maternity of Mary, blasphemies involving the rejection and dishonoring of her images, and the neglect of implanting in the hearts of children a knowledge and love of this Immaculate Mother. Mary had asked Jesus for this to forgive those who “had the misfortune of offending her.”
Why does it Matter?
Why do all these details matter? Because we are now closing in on the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearance to the visionaries in Fatima. The world has changed in ways the Fatima visionaries could hardly have conceived. But many of the advances that have been made have left us less human. Our Lady appeared in order to warn us of this and offered us a remedy to protect us from ourselves—“Penance, penance, penance.” Many within the Church has chosen to focus on the consecration of Russia as the primary message, but it seems to me that any debate on whether that has actually been accomplished (Sr. Lucia herself said it had) misses the point when we fail to implement the simple call to do Penance.
Our Lady’s instructions are a reminder to all the Faithful of the communal dimension of sin and our obligation to make reparation. Christ came for no other reason than to make reparation. A Christian is meant to continue His work throughout time and space. Sure, He could have done the work Himself had He so willed, but He did not will. Sure, His participation and ours differ immeasurably but He asked for our participation in it when He called upon us to take up our Cross. We cannot be Christians while at the same time striving to live a comfortable life. Christians must act redemptively by consciously making acts of reparation, not just for our sins but for the sins of others. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more, provided we are willing to act like other Christs. Our Lady’s very specific instructions to Sr. Lucia offers us a concrete means to make this happen. She is ever the spiritual mother teaching us. Can we not give to her Son, the First Five Saturdays in honor of His holy Mother?