Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Saturday, Nov. 27, 1830, was the day before Advent began that year. That Saturday our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Catherine Labouré in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity in Paris to give her the Miraculous Medal. Describing the design, Our Lady also said the medal was to have the inscription, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” The medal was to be spread far and wide. It was, and continues to be.
Saturday, Sept. 19, 1846, was the day Mary appeared as Our Lady of La Salette to the young shepherd children Melanie Calvat and Maximum Giraud with a major message about changing living patterns and turning back to God.
Saturday, Dec. 9, 1531, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared for the first time to St. Juan Diego. (The Julian calendar was still the calendar in use during that time.) She told Juan to tell the bishop to have a chapel built there, “For in truth I am your compassionate Mother, yours and of all who live together in this land and of any others who love me, seek me, and call on me with confidence and devotion. In that house I will listen to their weeping and their sadness, I will give them help in their troubles and a cure for their misfortunes.”
Saturdays are surely Mary’s days right from the start.
Saturday’s Deep Roots
Not long after the Resurrection and the early days of the Church, honoring Mary in major ways began on each Saturday. As Sunday was the Lord’s Day, Saturday soon became Mary’s day.
“Saturdays stand out among those days dedicated to the Virgin Mary,” the Vatican’s Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy tells us.
In a great talk given in 1947 on Our Lady of Fatima, Servant of God Jesuit Father John Hardon gave a clear picture of the history of Saturday being Mary’s day. He highlighted some peak points of the development of Marian devotion on Saturdays, observing that “we may reasonably suppose that the last day of the week was specially dedicated to Our Lady from the first centuries of the Church.”
He pointed out that St. Innocent I who reigned from 401-417 wrote the faithful a significant letter decreeing that each Saturday was to be observed as a day of abstinence in honor of the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Skipping to the 8th century St. John of Damascus made known that Saturdays were dedicated to Mary in the Church of the East and celebrated as such. Saturday Masses in honor of Mary are found in 9th and 10th century liturgical books.
“Sts. Bernard, Thomas, and Bonaventure explained the dedication of Saturdays to Mary by pointing to the time of Christ's rest in the grave. Everyone else had abandoned Christ; only Mary continued to believe. This was her day!” notes another source.
In the late 11th century, Blessed Pope Urban II required priests and monks to pray the Office of the Blessed Virgin on Saturday, and “Votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin were decreed for every Saturday of the year unless prohibited by explicit rubrics to the contrary,” noted Father Hardon. His personal Marian devotion led Urban II to compose a Mass Preface in her honor which was still used in the later 20th century.
Saints Substantiate Saturdays
In the 12th century when St. Bernard of Clairvaux arrived on the scene, Father Hardon said “a new era was born in the Church’s devotion to the Mother of God.” St. Bernard was a major Marian devotee.
Listen to St. Bernard’s preaching: “In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.”
Here’s what St. Bernard preached about Mary that put the firm foundation on why Saturday’s are devoted to her:
“In Mary alone did the faith of the Church remain steadfast during the three days that Jesus lay in the tomb. And although everyone else wavered, she who conceived Christ in faith, kept the faith that she had once for all received from God and never lost. Thus could she wait with assured hope for the glory of the Risen Lord.”
Then St. Thomas Aquinas interpreted why Saturdays were dedicated to Mary. custom of dedicating Saturdays to Mary. Father Hardon quotes Aquinas who asserted:
“Since the Resurrection took place on a Sunday, we keep holy this day instead of the Sabbath as did the Jews of old. However, we also sanctify Saturday in honor of the glorious Virgin Mary who remained unshaken in faith all day Saturday after the death of her Divine Son.”
In the 16th century, St. Charles Borromeo prayed the Rosary and Our Lady’s Office every day. On his knees. Father Hardon described how the saint, “On hearing the Angelus bell, though the ground might be wet and muddy, he would fall on his knees even in the public street. Over the main door of every church in the archdiocese, he caused an image of Mary to be placed as a reminder to the faithful that she is the Gate of Heaven…St. Alphonsus Liguori records of him that he fasted on bread and water every Saturday of the year in praise of the Mother of God.”
On Saturday, Nov. 3, 1584, St. Charles Borromeo died.
On Saturday, Dec. 14, 1591, another Marian devotee died — St. John of the Cross.
Father Hardon said an eyewitness testified on oath that John of the Cross declared a few hours before he died: “The Mother of God and of Carmel hastens to purgatory with grace, on Saturday, and delivers those souls who have worn her scapular. Blessed be this merciful Lady who wills that on this day of Saturday I shall depart from this life.”
Father Hardon noted that in the 18th century, St. Alphonsus Liguori, wrote: “It is well known that Saturday has been set aside by the Church as Mary’s Day because it was on the Sabbath after the death of her Son that she remained unshaken in her faith. For this reason, the clients of Mary are careful to honor her on that day by some particular devotion and especially by fasting…I affirm that those who practice this devotion can hardly be lost; not that I mean to say that if they die in mortal sin the Blessed Virgin will deliver them, but that those who practice it will, through Mary’s help, find perseverance in God's grace easy and obtain from her a happy death…On Saturdays we should always practice some devotion in honor of Our Blessed Lady, receive Holy Communion, or hear Mass, visit an image of Mary, or something of that sort.”
Saturday’s Major Role
Fatima again highlights the connection to Saturday Marian devotions.
Saturday, Oct. 13, 1917, was the day the big miracle occurred at Fatima — the Miracle of the Sun. And the day Mary identified herself as Our Lady of the Rosary — and also appeared as Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Mount Carmel because of the importance of the scapular.
Saturday, Dec. 17, 1927, Sister Lucia had a vision of Jesus. In Pontevedra, Spain, she went before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle because she wanted heaven’s permission to reveal part of the secret her spiritual director asked her to include in her memoirs. She asked Jesus “how she should comply with what had been asked of her, that is, to say if the origin of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary was included in the Secret that the most holy Virgin had confided to her.”
Lucia continued in the third person, “Jesus made her hear very distinctly these words: My daughter, write what they ask of you. Write also all that the most holy Virgin revealed to you in the Apparition, in which she spoke of this devotion. As for the remainder of the Secret, continue to keep silence.
What was Lucia referring to that she was asked to reveal? It was about devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, another major part of the Fatima message. She wrote that specifically in 1917, Our Lady said: …Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and loved. He wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. I promise salvation to those who embrace it, and these souls will be loved by God, like flowers placed by me to adorn His throne.
There’s the all-important devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that Jesus tells her to reveal. He told this to Lucia on a Saturday, Mary’s day.
Also, what major request did Our Lady make at Fatima? Devotion of the Five First Saturdays. She told Lucia:
Look, my daughter, at my Heart, surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce me 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 fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.
The reference to the Five First Saturdays devotion — on the day the Church dedicates to Our Lady — and combining that with Holy Communion and then with the Rosary that Our Lady asked for during each of her apparitions, couldn’t be a clearer request and promise. Neither could the reference to Our Lady of Sorrows as Our Lady also appeared during the Miracle of the Sun on Saturday, Oct. 13.
Although little known, On Saturday, Oct. 13, 1973, Our Lady appeared at Akita, Japan, to Sr. Agnes Sasagawa of the Handmaids of the Eucharist, with some dire warnings for the world if people did not repent.
Saturday, May 13, 2017, the Church celebrated the 100th Anniversary of Mary’s appearance in Portugal as Our Lady of Fatima bringing an essential message to the world.
Isn’t it time to make sure to honor Mary every Saturday?
This blog was originally posted at the Register on May 5, 2018.