Today is the first Saturday of June. My dad’s roses are blooming profusely. After so many Marian celebrations last month, my thoughts have turned to the First Saturdays and how they got started. It’s been a few years since Catholic school, and I live out in the sticks, where we’re lucky to have “daily” Mass once a week. So I did a little research on the First Saturdays.
The “official” First Saturday Marian Devotions with their attendant “promises” originated with the apparitions of Our Blessed Mother to the children at Fatima. But Saturday had already long been a special day of devotion to Our Lady. According to Marian Devotions in the Domestic Church, by the ninth century, Saturday devotion to Mary had already become popular. Marian Catechist explains that, according to several theologians of the 12th and 13th centuries, “ Mary continued to believe, demonstrating her deep faith by never doubting for a moment her Son’s promise of resurrection”. They also give several other reasons and traditions for Saturday Masses being dedicated to Mary before Fatima. So, long tradition.
Okay, what about post-Fatima? My favorite take on our current practice of this devotion is at the Bearing Blog. I can totally relate to the author’s reference to superstition and selfish intentions. I returned to wearing the brown scapular and the chapel veil a few years ago. As I put on or remove my scapular, I dedicate myself to Mary, and ask her to help me to practice modesty, purity and holiness (I need LOTS of help!). As I put on my chapel veil for Mass or Eucharistic Devotion, I ask for humility and to remember to try to be of service to the other members of Christ’s body. It really irritates me to hear the scapular promoted as a talisman to protect a person from harm and/or hell. The scapular in itself is just a piece of brown scratchy cloth. It is what it symbolizes that is sacramental and only in that is it nourishing to the spiritual life.
In the same way, to complete the Five First Saturdays, including Holy Communion, Confession, fifteen minutes meditation, and five decades of the Rosary, just to benefit from the Promises – that Our Lady will “assist at the hour of death with all the graces necessary for salvation”, seems abhorrent to me. On the surface. More on that in a few lines. For one thing, there is a fifth requirement to the fulfillment of the Promise – that the devotion be performed “with the intention of making reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary”. Someone who isn’t sincere, will not be able to complete all Five Saturdays without this intention. Even if one starts without that intention, it seems to grow on you in the practice. Secondly, look at the promise. What are the “graces necessary for salvation”? Ponder that. This devotion is not just another easy ticket into heaven.
So what about the superficial motive of performing the devotion just to benefit from the Promise? When I was a child in Catholic school I performed many of the various recommended devotions our rich and ancient tradition makes available to us. I was sincere and devout about them at the time. I stored up a few treasures in heaven. Then I became a teenager and then an adult. I finally went the way of the world, and even left the church for a few years. What’s my point? I came back. I returned hungry for the Eucharist. Starved for teaching and direction for following Jesus. I came back with a desire to amend my life and be a better person. Was it because of all those novenas I made as a child? Was it because of all the prayers of my parents and loved ones?
Certainly I’m not any more special than any other child of the Father. I can’t offer any tangible proof, but I’m certainly not going to discount the power of a Promise. I hope I have a ways to go before I have need of that final assistance. Making another round of Five First Saturdays would undoubtedly benefit me now, as well as later.