The early Church trained new Christians to celebrate Saturdays with Marian devotion from their earliest days.
The Christian week has a holy rhythm that those who are striving to respond to the Lord's call to holiness through a Plan of Life should note and live.
The most important day of the week is obviously Sunday, the day we call the Lord's because it needs to be dedicated above all to him. It's the day on which Jesus rose from the dead and therefore the day Christians as a body celebrate with joy his resurrection as we recalibrate ourselves to seeking the things that are above. Thursdays, the day on which Jesus gave us his Body and Blood, ought to have a particularly Eucharistic character and Fridays, the day on which Jesus died for us, are supposed to be particularly penitential.
But from the earliest days of the Church, the most important day after Sunday to a Christian's weekly rhythm has been Saturday, consecrated in a particular way in Christian piety to developing our relationship with the mother God the Father chose for his Son and that Son from the Cross chose to be our Mother.
Saturdays developed this Marian character, first, because it was the day immediately before Sunday. Since Sunday was the day of the Lord Jesus and Mary gave the world Jesus according to his humanity, the day before Sunday was considered Mary's day.
The second reason was because Saturday was the day Jesus was in the tomb and therefore was a particular day of Marian faith: when all of the other disciples were dejectedly thinking Jesus was dead never to return, Mary alone lived that day with ardent faith awaiting his resurrection in fulfillment of her Son's promises and the Archangel's word that of her Son's kingdom there would "be no end."
A third reason was that Saturday was the day God rested after Creation was completed, when he looked upon all he had done and pronounced it very good. Mary was viewed as the person whose "fiat" led to the fulfillment of God's plan for the recreation of the world and it was she who incarnated how "very good" the human person is ontologically and can be morally.
The early Church trained new Christians to celebrate Saturdays with Marian devotion from their earliest days. After the legalization of Christianity in ancient Rome, on the first Saturday after they were baptized at the Easter Vigil at the Lateran Cathedral, the Pope would lead the hundreds of neophytes on pilgrimage from the Lateran to the Esquiline Hill, dedicated since 354 to the veneration of our Lady and where now the Church of St. Mary Major stands.
Over the course of centuries, this Sabbatine Marian piety would grow. In the eighth century the Benedictine Monk Alcuin composed two votive Masses to be offered through Mary's intercession on Saturday, something that immediately became popular among clergy and faithful alike. When the recitation of the Rosary spread through the work of the Dominican fathers, Saturday was dedicated to pondering the Joyful Mysteries in which Mary is featured so prominently. Saturday also became a day of Marian pilgrimages, the meetings of Marian sodalities, the occasion for pious practices like meditating on the seven sorrows of our Lady on seven consecutive Saturdays and for pondering the then 15 mysteries of the Rosary on 15 consecutive Saturdays leading up to the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
When Mary appeared in Fatima in 1917, she seemed to give approval to this Saturday Marian tradition, asking the shepherd children to consecrate themselves to her Immaculate Heart and do reparation in a particular way on the first Saturday of five consecutive months.
How should Christians seeking to live a Plan of Life live well the Marian character of Saturday?
Some Christians add to their prayers a particular hymn, like the "Hail, Holy Queen," pray all the mysteries of the Rosary, do a small mortification in union with our Lady's sorrows, or make a visit to a Marian shrine nearby.
The greatest means available to us to mark it, however, is by attending Mass on Saturday and giving Mary the joy of leading us to the blessed Fruit of her womb.
One of the greatest liturgical treasures in the Church has is the "Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary," which contains 46 different votive Masses that feature -- by far! -- the richest and most eloquent prayers in the Latin Rite. Compiled from contemplative communities dedicated to Mary, they were published after the Second Vatican Council in 1986 precisely in order to nourish Marian piety from a Scriptural key and to enrich the Masses to Our Lady celebrated on Saturdays or at Marian shrines.
Sadly in a lot of places these votive Masses aren't known because many parishes don't celebrate Saturday morning Masses. Why? Sometimes priests, because they have Sunday Masses in anticipation on Saturday afternoon as well as frequent Saturday funerals and weddings, don't schedule Mass on Saturday morning lest they break the canonical limit for Masses on a given day.
Sometimes, however, I wonder whether these priests who don't celebrate Mass on Saturday morning were daily Massgoers before they entered the Seminary. When I was a layman, in various places it was so hard to find Saturday morning Masses that one of my promises upon ordination was that I would always offer a Saturday morning Mass so that Catholics around me not only would be able to be truly daily Massgoers but also have the occasion to grow in Marian devotion.
The Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen made a promise on his ordination that he would offer a Mass each Saturday through our Lady's intercession so that she would protect and nourish his priesthood. She did. I occasionally wonder whether one of the reasons why some priests tragically lose their zeal -- or, even worse, their vocations -- might be because they're sleeping on Saturday mornings rather than growing as Marian priests and giving their parishioners a chance to grow in love of Mary and to receive her Son. If every priest kept Archbishop Sheen's resolution, the whole Church, and the parishioners they love, would be better off.
When Saturdays are lived well, we are helped to become more like Mary. There's no great way to live a Plan of Life, and no greatest synthesis of the path to holiness, than imitating her and allowing her to nurture us to become more like her Son.
This week let's take advantage of our national holiday to live our weekly spiritual Mother's Day as a holy day!
Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.