Blessed Mother Mary and the Saturdays’ Devotions
I was always fascinated in my youth by a revered elder, who after a busy working week, would always make it a priority to attend Saturday morning Mass. Upon enquiry as to why, he explained that spending that time honouring the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Eucharist was very important to him. If you look at Saturdays on a liturgical calendar, you will notice that the Mass has the option of being celebrated as an Optional Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Each weekday Mass is an opportunity to develop our Eucharistic spirituality, however we need to keep in mind that Sunday is the primary and essential gathering of Christians for worship.
It is an ancient Church custom to dedicate Saturday in honour of Mary. Early Church records indicate that on the Saturday before Pentecost, the newly baptized were led from the baptistry of St John Lateran to the basilica of St. Mary Major. (The original church was built under the reign of Pope Liberius, who was Pope from 352 -66). There is an account that Jesus appeared to Mary on the Saturday after his crucifixion to recognise her perseverance at the foot of the Cross. In any case, early Church writings attest to liturgies on a Saturday honouring Mary.
Such liturgies on Saturdays are Optional Memorials, which means that they do not have to be celebrated; the celebrant may choose the Mass of the Day for example the Saturday of the 27th week in Ordinary Time with the readings set for that occasion. In the case of the Optional Memorials, different prayers are listed to provide choice and they all refer to Mary. One type of such liturgical texts are the Entrance Antiphons, which accompany the Entrance Procession. “Hail, Holy Mother, who gave birth to the King who rules heaven and earth for ever” is used across multiple Marian Feasts including the Solemnity of the Holy Mother of God on January 1st and is found in the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Missal. This is an assortment of liturgical prayers for Saturday memorials of Mary or for Votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“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 Mary
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 honour 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 colours or sorrows of Mary were in some places commemorated on seven consecutive Saturdays. The 15 Saturdays before the liturgy in honour 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 honour 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 honour of this mystery was to be celebrated.
Vatican II with its liturgical reforms did not abolish the practice of Masses in honour 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.
Grant us, O merciful God,
protection in our weakness,
that we, who keep the Memorial of the holy Mother of God,
may, with the help of her intercession,
rise up from our iniquities.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.