Devotion for Our Times
In 1917, three children reported seeing visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal. One of the children, Lucia dos Santos, was later shown Mary’s immaculate heart, and Our Lady promised the graces necessary for salvation to those who practice the First Saturdays devotion.
During the apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, the Blessed Mother told the three shepherd children that to save souls she would come to ask for the “Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays.” That promise was fulfilled in 1925 when she, along with the Child Jesus, appeared to the seer, Lucia dos Santos, who was then a Dorothean religious at Pontevedra, Spain.
In short, Lucia was shown the Immaculate Heart of Mary covered with thorns that Jesus said were caused by five offenses: blasphemies against her immaculate conception, against her perpetual virginity, against her divine motherhood while refusing to receive her as the Mother of all mankind, by those who publicly instill in the hearts of children indifference, contempt and even hatred for the Blessed Mother, and by those who insult her in her sacred images.
The Great Promise
To atone for these five sins, Jesus asked for a “Communion of reparation” to her immaculate heart on five consecutive first Saturdays. Our Lady promised to assist at the hour of death with the graces necessary for salvation to all those who receive holy Communion, go to confession (within eight days of the first Saturday), recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep her company for 15 minutes while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary.
A Mother’s Heart
Mary’s individual promise carries a social promise, too — peace to the world and unity and strength for the universal Church against dissensions, according to Américo López-Ortiz, the international president of the World Apostolate of Fatima, a public association of the faithful under the Pontifical Council of the Laity. With its widespread practice, he believes a great qualitative change will be seen in the life of the Church, a new Marian Pentecost by way of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart.
“By practicing this devotion of reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we are introduced into a school of holiness, the spiritual motherhood of Mary over humanity,” said López-Ortiz. “This is the most important religious experience offered by the spirituality of Fatima, a marvelous treasure of individual and collective salvation for her children.”
Deacon Bob Ellis, national coordinator of the World Apostolate of Mary, U.S.A., said the focus of the third of the five first Saturdays provides insight into this mystery and the urgency of the devotion for our times.
“The mother is the heart of the family — the life-bearer, the nurturer and the peacemaker. Mary is the Mother of the family mankind, and she nurtures us by leading us to her Son. She is our peacemaker in two respects: (1) The peace of the world has been entrusted to her by heaven; and (2) her leading of souls to her Son turns them away from sin, the consequence of which is war,” said Ellis. “When the family mankind rejects Mary as its Mother, it loses its heart, its life-bearer, its nurturer and its peacemaker. The perils of the world today are indicative of a motherless family.”
Father Edward Riley promotes the practice of the First Saturday devotion in his parish, Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Holbrook, Mass., and said it addresses the particular state of society today.
“If you look at the five reasons for the five Saturdays, it’s [because of] a culture that we live. A lot of our sins are against the sexuality of the human person. There’s so much fear and hostility against the conception of life, and we have 1.5 million abortions a year in our country,” he noted.
What is promoted in entertainment, civil laws and sexual-education classes is contrary to the state of chastity and purity that is represented by Mary’s perpetual virginity. When he prepares couples for marriage, Father Riley sees firsthand how the role of motherhood is diminished.
“They’re thinking of having one or two children — again the fear in our culture to have mothers caring and nurturing children, to even have children. If we could restore in our young people a greater sense of purity and chastity, being mothers and life-giving, we’ll have a much more healthy culture,” he said.
Spreading the Devotion
Pope John Paul II practiced the First Saturday devotion for 24 years and transmitted the meditation of the Rosary of reparation via Vatican Radio. He died on a first Saturday, April 2, 2005, when the multitude at St. Peter’s Square finished praying the Rosary and the great Amen was pronounced.
“By his example, the Holy Father John Paul II, more than anyone else, has spread this devotion. But much more is needed to make people conscious of its importance so that it will be practiced in all corners of the world,” said López-Ortiz.
As suggested by the Secretariat of State of the Vatican, the International World Apostolate of Fatima is asking diocesan bishops who have the First Saturday devotion in their dioceses to write to the Holy Father witnessing the great benefits received by the faithful and ask him to promulgate an apostolic exhortation to the universal Church in this respect.
López-Ortiz noted that when Pope Paul VI wrote the apostolic exhortation Signum Magnum, on true devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, it helped spread its authentic devotion through the universal Church.
“Now we would like to see the Immaculate Heart of Mary’s petition of reparation on the first Saturdays practiced along with the reparation of the nine first Fridays devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” he said. “In this way, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary will be jointly honored in the Church.”
Claude Medina of St. Augustine’s Church in South St. Paul, Minn., has been attending and organizing monthly all-night vigils in churches around the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for 30 years. The vigils include all the spiritual elements to fulfill the First Friday and First Saturday requirements. The First Saturday devotion is a regular monthly practice that he has grown to love.
“My life has changed completely. I’ve seen so much good come of it,” said Medina, who was drawn to the story of Fatima and Our Lady’s requests for prayers and sacrifices to repair for mankind’s sins. “All you have to do is open your eyes and look around you. The need for reparation is even greater today than it was at Fatima.”
Father Riley believes the spread of the First Saturday devotion, which can be practiced privately or in community, is the key to unlocking both the personal and universal problems we face: “We’ve tried everything else, including diplomacy throughout the world, but to no avail.”
Barb Ernster writes
from Fridley, Minnesota.