To dedicate Saturday in honor of Mary is an ancient custom. It is based on a legendary account that Jesus appeared to Mary on the Saturday, the day after His death. He did so to reward her for her steadfast faith in his divinity, which did not waver under the Cross. Another strain of devotional thought explains that Divine Wisdom, becoming flesh of the Virgin Mary, rested (Saturday=Sabbath=day of rest) in Mary as on a bed.
One of the oldest customs traced to honoring Mary on Saturday in the Church of Rome took place on the Saturday before "Whitsunday" [White Sunday]. The newly-baptized members of the Church were led from St. John's baptistry of the Lateran to Mary's great shrine on the Esquilin, St. Mary Major [built under Pope Liberius 352-66]. St. John of Damascus' ( 754) writings testify to the celebration of Saturdays dedicated to Mary in the Church of the East. The liturgical books of the ninth and tenth centuries contain Masses in honor of Mary on Saturday.
The Dictionary of Mary states:
Hence, Saturday acquired its great Marian tone and the existing fast on that day became associated with Mary. 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.
Cardinal Peter Damian ( 1072) fostered the Marian Saturday celebration as well.
The custom was specially furthered during the time of the crusades. Peter of Amiens preached the first crusade and started out with a vanguard for Constantinople on a Saturday, March 8, 1096. Pope Urban II admonished the faithful to pray the hours of the liturgy in honor of the most holy Virgin for the crusaders. At the Synod of Clermont the year before, he had prescribed priests to do so.
The custom of dedicating Saturday Masses to Mary was fostered specially in the cloister churches of the various orders, and quickly spread throughout the whole Church.
In addition to the liturgical celebrations on Saturdays, other customs kept step especially works of neighborly love. For example, King Louis of France ( on the last crusade) fed over one hundred of the poor at his palace. He ate with them and sent them away richly laden with gifts.
The great theologians of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, 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!
A Dominican missal of the fifteenth century additional 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 name the day preceding as Mary's day.
In the centuries to follow, the Marian Saturdays were expressed in several 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 dolors or sorrows of Mary were commemorated on seven consecutive Saturdays. The fifteen 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. A German manuscript from 1673 states:
The people of Hamingen have from ancient times vowed to hold a procession to this church every Saturday from the feast of St. Gregory to the feast of St. James [to ask] for protection for the fruits of the fields and against the storms and hail. Their descendants failed to do so to their great misfortune because the hail did great damage. After they renewed the practice, no one heard further of great damage.
The growing devotion in honor of the Immaculate Conception by the Franciscans 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.
Over time, it became customary for Catholics everywhere to consider Saturday Mary's day just as Sunday is the Lord's Day. Many of the faithful commemorated the day by attending Mass, receiving the Eucharist, and praying the rosary as a family or attending an evening devotion at the Church, as well as performing works of neighborly love in many forms.
Vatican II with its liturgical reforms did not abolish the practice of Masses in honor of Our Lady. Additions were made to expand the number of the liturgies. In 1986 A new sacramentary and lectionary were published with forty-six options for votive Masses in honor of Our Lady. [See this list at: http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/maryliturgy.html]
A widespread type of Marian devotion of early centuries were the three Golden Saturdays which followed the Feast of St. Michael at the end of October.
A document from 1387 founded in the town of Bischofsdorf near Mattighofen, Germany sets its date for the "next three golden Saturdays." This indicates that the custom was well-known by the fourteenth century and widespread in Austria, Bohemia, Bavaria and Württemberg. The golden Saturdays were festively celebrated 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 origin of the three golden Saturdays is not documented with certainty. However, a document from 1765 tells that Emperor Ferdinand received a promise from Mary. She is to have said: "Whoever will honor me on three Saturdays after the feast of the Archangel Michael who always guarded my virginal pure conception, without stain of original sin with a devotion of zealous prayer, especially with the holy rosary..., shall have the consolation of all my graces for a joyfully blessed little hour of death, without any struggle with evil powers and temptations." Even if this report cannot be proven and is only legend, it nevertheless shows how the connection between St. Michael and Mary were explained at the time.
Earlier and more frequently than in the West, the art and popular devotion in the East depict St. Michael as the protector of Mary and the Child Jesus. Here, too, ancient legends connect Mary's death and assumption into heaven, and therefore St. Michael was long considered the patron of the dying.
Why golden and why on three Saturdays? Golden is the term often used to explain something specially valuable, important and effective. The Quatember Weeks [fourth of the ember weeks] was called the golden week, the Quatember fast days were called the Gold Fast, the following Sunday, the golden Sunday, a jubilee year a golden year. There were golden rosaries, and there was also a golden Mass which was considered specially rich in blessings and was therefore used for extraordinary intentions. The Mass formulary had seven oration prayers, seven prayers before the canon and seven post-communion prayers. The number three possibly indicates that the Masses were not celebrated all in one place, but at three different places to which the people could walk on a pilgrimage on three consecutive Sundays. The limit of three possibly intensified the fact of their specialness.
In the message of Fatima, especially in the apparitions of June 13 and July 13,1917, Mary drew attention to the custom of devoting Saturdays to her and praying the rosary in reparation. Lucia, the eldest of the three children heard the following on June 13:
"My child, behold my heart surrounded with thorns which ungrateful men place therein at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, try to console me, and tell them that I promise to help, at the hour of death, with the graces needed for salvation, whoever, on the First Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess and 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."
On July 13, the children were again admonished to say the rosary. At this time, the Blessed Mother asked for the consecration of the world to her Immaculate Heart, and for communion of reparation on the first Saturday of each month. These messages were accompanied by an appeal and a promise an appeal for prayer and reparation by the people for their transgressions against the divine law; a promise of peace and love in this life and eternal happiness in the next on the twofold condition of prayer and amendment.
In 1925, Lucia vouched for this message, saying that Mary would assist us at the hour of death if the first Saturdays of five consecutive months were sanctified with confession, communion, praying the rosary and meditation.
This practice refreshed the custom known as the Rosary Saturdays, popular since the seventeenth century and continued to the present at places of pilgrimage. Both Pope Pius IX and Pope Leo XIII fostered this custom. Grignion de Montfort also fostered the rosary in connection with his missions, which often encompassed Saturdays.
The following material is directly quote from an article from at the Marian Library:
We all know that from time immemorial Christian tradition had consecrated every Saturday to Our Lady. At Fatima, however, it was the First Saturday of each month which she herself particularly singled out for reparation to her Immaculate Heart. Were these words of Our Lady's "Great Promise" at Fatima the origin of the First Saturday Communion of Reparation? No. Both St. Pius X and Benedict XV had previously indulged the practice. Who, then, was the founder of Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the First Saturday? As far as our studies have been able to determine, the founder was a Servite nun. And here is the story.
Apparition of Our Lady
In the latter half of the nineteenth Century there lived at Rovigo, Italy, a very holy family named Ronconi. There were seven sons in the family, all of whom died a saintly death at a very early age. The last to die he was nineteen received an apparition from Our Blessed Lady just before his death. Among other things Our Lady told the dying youth that she wanted his father to become a Servite tertiary and that he could do so by writing to the Servants of Mary at Vicenza. Mr. Ronconi was so enthusiastic about Our Lady's request that he not only became a Tertiary himself, but also eventually succeeded in having the Servite Order canonically erected in the Parish of St. Michael at Rovigo. The date of the Canonical Erection was March 24, 1890.
The new Servite Tertiaries at Rovigo purchased a large oleograph of Murillo's Sorrowful Mother and mounted it over one of the side altars in St. Michael's church. It was before this image that the monthly meetings of the Tertiaries took place.
Second Marian Phenomenon
Early in the morning of May 1, 1895, word went around Rovigo that "the Sorrowful Mother of St. Michael's is moving her eyes!" Before long the whole church was jammed with people and thousands outside fought to get in. The rumor was true. Everyone saw the eyes of the image move, look up to heaven, then look down as if in great sorrow. Later it was discovered that three school girls, who used to go into the church each morning on their way to school to greet Our Blessed Mother, had witnessed the phenomenon for three days running. They had told their parents but no one had believed their story.
Mary English Inspired
Among the people who ran to the church at Rovigo that May 1 morning was thirty-year-old Miss Mary English (Inglese), a most pure soul, all on fire for the Madonna, and a Servite Tertiary for the past four years. The look of Our Beloved Mother, so desolate and appealing, was an interior revelation to Miss English. She knew immediately that Our Lady was asking for reparation and love. At the same time the whole practice of Marian Reparation seemed revealed to her in a flash.
Begins Communions of Reparation
For the next four years Mary English prayed constantly, asking to know more distinctly exactly what Our Lady wanted her to do. Then in February 1889, moved by an irresistible interior revelation, she instituted among her friends the pious practice of "Communion in Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary." In the same month she published a pamphlet How Good Is Mary! which explained her plan and included prayers of Reparation. The Bishop of the Diocese not only approved of the practice, but also recommended it most warmly to his people. In a short time seven hundred units of the Sodality of Our Lady, in Italy and elsewhere, had adopted it officially. he plan at that time was to have members take turns in uninterrupted daily Communions and Hours of Adoration in Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
St. Pius X Approves
Miss English was in very bad health. In 1904 she composed a series of prayers for each mystery of the rosary, as well as prayers for the opening and closing of the Holy Hour of Reparation to Mary. She brought these writings to Rome and St. Pius X indulged them immediately. In 1905 the same Pontiff, in a private audience, warmly encouraged Mary English in her apostolate of Communion in Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Our Lady Appears Again
It was about this time that Our Blessed Lady appeared to Mary English at Rovigo. No words were spoken during the Apparition, but Our Lady showed the girl a nun's habit. By interior inspiration Mary English knew immediately that this was the religious habit which Our Lady wanted her to wear. So she went to the Bishop and asked his permission to start a new Religious Congregation to take over this work of Marian Reparation. The Bishop, Pius Thomas Boggiani, who later became a Cardinal, answered: "No. There is no need to found a new Congregation. Recently I brought the Servite Sisters to this diocese and their devotion to the Sorrows of Our Lady makes them the ideal group for your Marian Reparation. I desire that you confide it to them." The Servite Sisters to whom he referred were those founded at Vidor in 1890 by Sister Mary Elisa Andreoli, who died a most saintly death in 1935.
Joins Servite Nuns
Naturally Mary English was greatly disturbed by this answer of the bishop, since she had interpreted the Apparition of Our Lady as meaning that an entirely new congregation was to be founded. However, in obedience to the bishop, she went to visit the Servite Sisters. Imagine her surprise upon seeing the nuns dressed in the very same habit which Our Lady had shown to her in the Apparition! Immediately she asked to be admitted to the community and on December 29, 1911, was clothed with the Servite Habit and given the name of Sister Mary Dolores.
Institutes First Saturday Reparation
Mother Foundress Andreoli and Sister Dolores then set about revising the Rule of their Congregation so as to make Marian Reparation its chief work. Framework of the new Rule was that each day (from 6:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M.) be a series of uninterrupted hours of Reparation before Our Lady's altar, and that the First Saturday of each month be the most solemn day of Reparation. On each first Saturday the community would engage in special penances and prayers and would renew its Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Also, its apostolate among the school children and then adult laity would concentrate on the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturday of each month. The name of the Congregation was then changed from "Servants of Mary" to "Servants of Mary of Reparation" Congregatio Servarum Mariae a Reparatione.
"The Marian League of Reparation"
The miraculous picture of Our Lady was then moved from St. Michael's Church to the novitiate of the Sisters and the new program of continuous reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary began. The Congregation has since opened many new convents, and in each of them you found at any hour of the day : at least two nuns kneeling in reparation before the image of Our Lady. In 1912 the Sisters began publishing a new monthly magazine entitled The Marian League of Reparation. Chiefly through this magazine they were able to spread throughout Continental Europe their apostolate of the First Saturday Communion of Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Pioneer of Marian Reparation
Sister Mary Dolores died on December 29th, 1928. The question of her possible canonization is being studied in the diocesan curia. She was the first, as far as this writer knows, to popularize the devotion of receiving Holy Communion on the First Saturday of each month in Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She also instituted the practice of continuous Holy Hours of Reparation before the altar of Our Lady. "The work of Marian Reparation instituted by Sister Dolores," wrote Cardinal Boggiani, "is something which Heaven desires. Reparation is necessary in these most sorrowful times. Only the intercession of our Holy Mother can bring sinful society back to the feet of Jesus."
From our sources in the Marian Library: Queen of the Missions, October 1954
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 also on Sundays, if it is not possible on Saturday or to meditate in some other way on its mysteries. The intention of the devotion is to honor Jesus and Mary in specially meditating on the fifteen mysteries represented in the traditional decades of the rosary. Specific to the devotion is to meditate on one of the mysteries each Saturday (or Sunday) when preparing for communion and praying for personal intentions.
Institutes of Consecrated Life (groups of men and women throughout the history of the Church who have consecrated their lives through the three counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience) often foster specific devotions of their own. Some of these customs became common usage in the prayer of the Church. The following examples by no means exhaust the creative ways communities honored Mary on Saturdays (or for that matter, every day).
These customs are often replicated on liturgical days of the year designated to honor Mary.
To gain a more complete perspective on devotion to Mary, no matter what the day of the week or season of the year, the reading of the document, Marialis Cultus, is recommended. This post-Vatican II document speaks about the right ordering of Marian devotion. It underscores the liturgical and scriptural value of the rosary, and it unites true devotion to Mary with the primary worship of the Church in the Liturgy, of which Christ is the center and source. The ancient practice of the Saturday devotions in all their variations attempted (and still attempt) to do the same. These devotions have little meaning unless they are linked to the Liturgy, that is, to the central worship of Jesus Christ, and this is ultimately Mary's purpose when she advises their practice.
Sources: P. Rafael Grud, OFM, Maria am Samstag, 1963; Richard T. Crean, The First Saturday and the Rosary, 1944; H. S. Glendon, OP, The Fifteen Saturdays of the Rosary, 1948; F. Baumann, SJ, Der Herz-Mariä Sühnesamstag, Betrachtungen und Gebete, 1963; Heinrich M. Köster, "Die marianische Spiritualität religiöser Gruppierungen," Handbuch der Marienkunde, Band 1, 1996.
This reflection on the Saturdays of Mary was prepared by M. Jean Frisk at The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute.
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