“Whether the world has war or peace depends on the practice of this devotion, along with the consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This is why I desire its propagation so ardently, especially because this is also the will of our dear Mother in Heaven.” – St. Lúcia of Fátima (March 19, 1939)
The devotion known as ‘First Saturdays’ (also called the ‘Act of Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary’) is a relatively new tradition in the Catholic Church. Established following Our Blessed Mother’s appearances at Fátima and in response to a subsequent appearance of Mary and Jesus to St. Lúcia of Fátima at Pontevedra, Spain, there is a great promise attached to this devotion. For those who fulfill its conditions in a spirit of piety and devotion, Mary promises to help at the moment of their death with all the graces needed for salvation.
Why do we honour Mary on Saturdays?
The practice of honouring Mary on Saturdays has its roots in the early Church. It was first promoted by St. Alcuin (735-804), an English scholar and teacher at the court of Charlemagne, who composed different formulas for Votive Masses for every day of the week; two of these masses were composed in honour of Mary.1 The celebration of the Mass on Saturdays in honour of Our Blessed Virgin Mother was enthusiastically welcomed by both clergy and laity, and this practice later evolved into the Common of the Blessed Virgin.2
Although St. Alcuin did not tell us why he chose Saturday as the memorial day of Mary, theological explanations can offer us some insight. “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.”3
The Directory of Popular Piety and the Liturgy explains that the Saturday memorial “is 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’.”4 Tradition holds that Mary’s faithful vigil was rewarded – that after Jesus’ death on the Cross, He first appeared to His Blessed Mother, Mary, on Holy Saturday.
History of Saturday Devotion to Mary
Various religious orders within the Church took up the custom of dedicating Saturday Masses to Mary, and the tradition spread quickly throughout the whole Church. St. Peter Damian (1007-1072), Peter of Amiens (c. 1050-1115), and Pope Urban II (who reigned from 1088-1099) also played important roles in encouraging the faithful to practice devotion to Mary.5 ‘Sodality Saturdays’, the Fifteen Saturdays of the Rosary, and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (introduced by St. John Eudes) are among the many practices instituted in her honour.
Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
In the late 19th century, the practice of Marian devotion was further expanded. “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 [on July 1, 1905], 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.”6
On November 13, 1920, 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.”7 But it was not until 1925 that the practice of five consecutive First Saturdays in reparation to Our Lady came into being.
Apparitions of Mary at Fátima
Many of us are familiar with the story of Our Lady’s miraculous appearances at Fátima between 1916 and 1917. During one of those apparitions – on July 13th, 1917 – Our Blessed Mother promised she would return to ask “that on the First Saturday of every month, Communions of reparation be made in atonement for the sins of the world.”8 One of the three visionaries, Lúcia Santos, later entered the Institute of the Sisters of St. Dorothy in Pontevedra, Spain.9 It was there, eight years after the first apparitions at Fátima, that Our Blessed Mother returned to fulfill her promise.
Our Lady’s Promise
On December 10, 1925, the Boy Jesus and Our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Lúcia in a private revelation. Jesus spoke first, saying, “ ‘Have pity on the Heart of your Most Holy Mother. It is covered with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no one to remove them with an act of reparation.’ Our Lady then spoke: ‘See, my daughter, my Heart encircled by thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. Do you, at least, strive to console me. Tell them that I promise to assist at the hour of death with the graces necessary for salvation all those who, in order to make reparation to me, on the First Saturday of five successive months, go to confession, receive Holy Communion, say five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for a quarter of an hour, meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary.’ ”10
If we fulfill these four conditions on five consecutive Saturdays – if we go to Confession, receive Holy Communion, say five decades of the Rosary, and meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary for 15 minutes – Mary promises to be present with us at the moment of our death, to give us the graces necessary for salvation.
But this doesn’t mean that the purpose of this devotion is “as simple as going to Mass for five months and then expecting to receive extra graces at the hour of death.” Philip Kosloski writes, “The purpose of this devotion is to lead a soul closer to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The closer we get to Mary, the closer we are to Jesus, her Son. By practicing these extra devotions, we allow Mary to form our hearts and prepare us for a lifelong relationship with Christ. Mary wants to lead us to heaven and a sure path to eternal life is the frequent reception of Holy Communion and the Sacrament of Confession.”11 Mary’s promise means that we will be given all the graces we need so that we will be able to respond to the call of grace and feel true contrition for our sins at the moment of our deaths.
Why five consecutive months?
St. Lúcia asked Our Lord why it was important that we honour Our Blessed Mother on five consecutive Saturdays. He told her that it is because there are “five kinds of offenses and blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary:
– blasphemies against the Immaculate Conception;
– against her virginity;
– against Her Divine Maternity and, at the same time, refusing to recognize her as the mother of men;
– the blasphemy of those who seek to sow in the hearts of children indifference, contempt or even hatred for this Immaculate Mother;
– those who directly insult her in her Holy Images. (Cf. Memórias e Cartas da Irmã Lúcia, Porto, 1973)”12
Each time we honour Mary through the devotion of the Five Saturdays, we make reparation to her for all these insults and blasphemies; little by little, we gently remove the painful thorns from her heart. But honouring Mary in this way is also important for our own spiritual growth. “The idea of the Five First Saturdays is obviously to make us persevere in these devotional acts for this period of time, and to overcome the initial obstacles. Once this is done, Our Lady knows that the person will — if he faithfully cooperates with her grace — become attracted to her pure and Immaculate Heart, and persevere in practicing such devotion on all First Saturdays, laboring thereby at his own personal sanctification, and for the salvation of others.”13
As we prepare to practice this devotion, it’s important to remember that we must fulfill each of these conditions with the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But even if – despite our best efforts – we forget to do so, our Lord still wants us to be able to receive the promised grace. “On the occasion of the visit of the Child Jesus to Sr. Lucia (Feb. 16, 1926), she asked: “My Jesus, what about those who forget to make the intention?” Jesus answered: “They can do so at their next confession, taking advantage of their first opportunity to go to Confession.”14
Devotion to the Five Saturdays
There are many benefits that flow from practicing the devotion of the First Five Saturdays. Not only does it console the heart of our Blessed Mother, but it also helps us grow in our love for Mary, for her Immaculate Heart, and for the Rosary. It nurtures within us a tender love for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Blessed Eucharist, and it helps us resist trials and temptations. By drawing closer to Mary, we are helped to draw closer to Jesus. But above all, the great promise of Mary’s help at the moment of our deaths instills within us the hope of heaven and the promise of a life spent in eternity with our beloved Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
- Sharon van der Sloot
Prayer of Reparation for Insults to the Blessed Virgin Mary
(from The Raccolta, 1950 edition)15
O blessed Virgin, Mother of God, look down in mercy from Heaven, where thou art enthroned as Queen, upon me, a miserable sinner, thine unworthy servant. Although I know full well my own unworthiness, yet in order to atone for the offenses that are done to thee by impious and blasphemous tongues, from the depths of my heart I praise and extol thee as the purest, the fairest, the holiest creature of all God’s handiwork. I bless thy holy Name, I praise thine exalted privilege of being truly Mother of God, ever Virgin, conceived without stain of sin, Co-Redemptrix of the human race. I bless the Eternal Father who chose thee in an especial way for His daughter; I bless the Word Incarnate who took upon Himself our nature in thy bosom and so made thee His Mother; I bless the Holy Spirit who took thee as His bride. All honor, praise and thanksgiving to the ever-blessed Trinity who predestined thee and loved thee so exceedingly from all eternity as to exalt thee above all creatures to the most sublime heights. O Virgin, holy and merciful, obtain for all who offend thee the grace of repentance, and graciously accept this poor act of homage from me thy servant, obtaining likewise for me from thy Divine Son the pardon and remission of all my sins. Amen.
Prayer of Reparation for Blasphemy Against the Blessed Virgin Mary
(from The Raccolta, 1950 edition)16
Most glorious Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, turn thine eyes in pity upon us, miserable sinners; we are sore afflicted by the many evils that surround us in this life, but especially do we feel our hearts break within us upon hearing the dreadful insults and blasphemies uttered against thee, O Virgin Immaculate. O how these impious sayings offend the infinite Majesty of God and of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ! How they provoke His indignation and give us cause to fear the terrible effects of His vengeance! Would that the sacrifice of our lives might avail to put an end to such outrages and blasphemies; were it so, how gladly we should make it, for we desire, O most holy Mother, to love thee and to honor thee with all our hearts, since this is the will of God. And just because we love thee, we will do all that is in our power to make thee honored and loved by all men. In the meantime do thou, our merciful Mother, the supreme comforter of the afflicted, accept this our act of reparation which we offer thee for ourselves and for all our families, as well as for all who impiously blaspheme thee, not knowing what they say. Do thou obtain for them from Almighty God the grace of conversion, and thus render more manifest and more glorious thy kindness, thy power and thy great mercy. May they join with us in proclaiming thee blessed among women, the Immaculate Virgin and most compassionate Mother of God.
Hail Mary three times.
1 A Votive Mass is a mass offered for a special intention.
2 The Common of the Blessed Virgin forms part of the readings of the Divine Office, also known as the Liturgy of the Hours. It includes the texts of prayers used in the Liturgy of the Hours as well as the Mass.
3 Kathryn Mulderink, “Saturdays and the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” Marian Catechist Apostolate; available from http://www.mariancatechist.com/formation/mary/saturdays/; Internet; accessed 27 February 2017. Originally published in The Tilma, Summer 2003.
4 Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, “Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines,” #188; available from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20020513_vers-direttorio_en.html; Internet; accessed 27 February 2017.
5 Cf. Mulderink, “Saturdays and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
6 Mulderink, “Saturdays and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
8 “The Five First Saturdays Devotion,” The Most Holy Rosary.com; available from http://themostholyrosary.com/appendix2.htm; Internet; accessed 22 February 2017.
9 Sr. Lúcia later became a Carmelite nun (in March, 1948) and died on February 13, 2005 at the age of 97. On February 13, 2008 – the third anniversary of her death – Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would dispense with the five-year waiting period established by Canon Law in order to open the cause for her beatification.
10 “The Five First Saturdays Devotion,” The Most Holy Rosary.com.
11 Philip Kosloski, “5 Things to Know About First Saturdays,” Aleteia; available from http://aleteia.org/2016/05/07/5-things-to-know-about-first-saturdays/; Internet; accessed 22 February 2017.
12 “First Saturdays,” Heralds of the Gospel; available from http://heralds.ca/first-saturdays/; Internet; accessed 23 February 2017.
13 “The Great Promise of the Five First Saturdays,” Salve Maria Regina; available from http://www.salvemariaregina.info/FirstSaturdays.html; Internet; accessed 22 February 2017.
14 “Devotion of the Five First Saturdays,” Rosary Center (Dominican Fathers); available from http://www.rosary-center.org/firstsat.htm; Internet; accessed 27 February 2017. Our Confession can be made a week (or more) before or after the First Saturday, provided we receive Holy Communion in a state of grace. If work, school, illness, or some other just reason prevents us from receiving Holy Communion on a First Saturday, we may do so on the following Sunday (provided the priest gives us permission). St. Lúcia explained that it isn’t necessary to meditate on all the mysteries of the Rosary on each First Saturday; meditating on one or more mysteries is sufficient.
15 “Reparational Prayers 2,” Catholic Tradition; available from http://catholictradition.org/Two-Hearts/reparation10.htm; Internet; accessed 27 February 2017.
*Painting of Charlemagne and St. Alcuin by Jean-Victor Schnetz – http://www.devoir-de-philosophie.com/images/portraits/alcuin.jpg, Közkincs, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37414261
**Photo of Lúcia dos Santos with Jacinta and Francisco Marta attributed to Joshua Benoliel – http://www.santuario-fatima.pt in Ilustração Portuguesa no. 610, 29 October 1917, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6785257.