Saturday and the faith of Mary

In the Catholic Church, Saturday is a day consecrated from time immemorial to Mary. Why does the piety of the faithful reserve for this day an honour all its own? What is the deeper meaning of this ancient devotion?

The importance and timeliness of this question is underlined by Our Lady’s message to the shepherd children of Fatima, appropriately defined as the most important event of the twentieth century. In it, in fact, the practice of the communion of reparation on the first Saturdays of the month and the consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart are the conditions explicitly requested to avert the terrible chastisement that looms over the world on account of men’s sins.

In order to adequately understand these requests, we must not forget that Mary, the humblest and simplest of creatures, has gathered within herself an inexhaustible treasury of wisdom: she is the mother of the Incarnate Word, of that God who has “ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight” (Wis 11:21), of uncreated Wisdom itself. For her, as for her Divine Son, there is no such thing as coincidence, but every name, every place, every day has its mysterious meaning. It is therefore evident that the selection of devotion on Saturday, on the part of Our Lady at Fatima, must have a profound relationship with the current situation of the world and of souls.

Saturday, according to many saints and theologians, was the day of Mary’s absolute and perfect faith: it was the day, in the most radical formulation of the thesis, on which faith remained solely in the Blessed Virgin, in such a way that at that moment she alone was the Church. Non exstinguetur in nocte lucerna eius (Pr 31:18). Mary was the burning flame, the inextinguishable lamp which, with its faith, illuminated the terrible night of the Passion. As darkness was falling on Golgotha, Pius XII says, at the foot of the Cross there shone the star of Mary — Maris stella — Mother of the Crucified and our Mother. While everything around her trembled in fear, she stood like an unwavering pillar. Stabat iuxta crucem mater eius (Jn 19:25).

Even amid atrocious suffering, Mary preserved the most perfect recollection and the most ineffable calm; with complete awareness of what was happening, she heroically submitted to the plans of divine providence and, spontaneously, offered to divine justice the sacrifice of her Son for the salvation of the human race.

It was during the Passion that Mary won the crown and merited her association with the Redemption of her Son. For her, the Passion of Jesus had begun at His birth, and her whole life was one long death, one long martyrdom. But the culmination of the suffering, even more than at the foot of the Cross, she experienced in Jerusalem, after the sepulchre was closed with the heavy slab.

Terrible was the darkness of Calvary, but what greater darkness is there than a world deprived of the presence of the Saviour? On Golgotha, Mary’s solitude was not yet complete: there remained for her, in her immense pain, the joy of being able to contemplate the adorable Body of the Redeemer. But when the stone was rolled against the mouth of the tomb, the last keen sword foreseen by Simeon (Lk 2:35) was thrust into the most pure heart of the Virgin.

The light of her eyes, Jesus, disappeared. What dawn more bitter for Mary than that Saturday? What day more dark and desolate than this? Who can gauge the boundaries of a suffering which approached the agonising extremity forming the edge of the infinite? Yes, Saturday was for Our Lady the bitterest day on which she participated to the highest degree in the same abandonment and in the same mysterious affliction that her Son suffered on Calvary. Never as on this day did Mary make her own the words of Jesus, which, as she revealed to St Bridget, could never again leave her mind for the rest of her life: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).

But Saturday, the day of the deepest darkness and of the cruelest abandonment, was also the day on which Her faith shone most sublimely.

To Mary, the most perfect of souls after Jesus Christ, the words of St Paul are applied to an eminent degree: Iustus ex fide vivit (Rom 1:7). There has never been nor will there be a faith more intense than hers. “Blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord” (Lk 1:45). As at the time of the Annunciation, so too at that of the Passion her act of faith was perfect. At the foot of the Cross, she never for one moment ceased to believe that her Son was truly the Son of God, God himself, victorious over the devil, over sin, over the flesh.

Yet this sublime act of faith was not spent on Good Friday, but was prolonged and intensified through all of Saturday, the day on which Mary’s faith, like her suffering, reached its peak. Golgotha had still seen a few glimmers of light: the acts of faith of the good thief and the centurion, who recognised the divinity of Jesus Christ in the hour of cowardice and desertion. But on Saturday, Mary was alone: alone in her heroic faith and in her boundless pain.

Where, in fact, was the faith of the apostles during the Passion? “No one at all,” St Augustine comments, “not even the one who had protested: I will be with you unto death” (Enarratio in Psalmum 138). And in which of the other apostles should fidelity be sought, if this was lacking in their prince, in the one who was destined to be the visible foundation of the faith of the rest and who for this reason deserved to go into the sepulchre before John did?

John, it is true, followed Our Lord all the way to Calvary, but, according to St Antoninus, if he stood beside the Cross in body, he was far from it in mind, not believing, not even he, in the divinity of Christ. John, the fathers observe, during the Passion represented the synagogue, while Peter represented the Church. Arriving at the sepulchre, “he saw the linen cloths lying; but yet he went not in” (Jn 20:5), because the synagogue, St Gregory the Great says, despite knowing the secrets of sacred Scripture, hesitated to believe in the Passion of the Lord. He whom Scripture had prophesied about for so long and in so many ways, the synagogue saw Him present, but did not want to believe in Him. Our Lord was speaking to all the apostles, without exception, when He said: “All you shall be scandalised in me this night. For it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed” (Mt 26:31). And when He appeared to them after the Resurrection, while they were at table, the Evangelist, after specifying that there were eleven, meaning all of them, writes that Jesus “upbraided them with their incredulity and hardness of heart, because they did not believe them who had seen him after he was risen again” (Mk 16:14).

Certainly more courageous than the apostles, during the Passion, were the pious women, but where was their faith on that terrible Saturday? They did not run away, but “bewailed and lamented him” (Lk 23:27); they had human compassion, tenderness of heart and sentiment, yet they were not capable of the heroic act of supernatural faith required in that moment. In which of them should faith be sought, if not even St Mary Magdalene, the first in devotion and love for Jesus, believed in His divinity before the Resurrection?

Our Lady alone did not bring perfumes and ointments to the sepulchre, as the pious women did; she did not weep, nor did she seek the living among the dead, as Mary Magdalene did; she was not surprised, as Peter was; nor, before the Risen One, did she struggle to believe, troubled and bewildered, as the apostles did. Thus many authors have maintained that in the Passion of the Lord some had neither faith nor compassion, like the infidel Jews who insulted him, and the demons; others had compassion, but not faith, like the apostles and the pious women; still others had the knowledge of faith, but not compassion, like the angels, who are impassive. The Blessed Virgin alone had intimate compassion and true faith.

All the disciples sinned, and in that Triduum they were dead to faith. St Antoninus too insists on the defection of all the disciples, and recalls that the candles lit at the Tenebrae service represent the twelve Apostles and the three Marys — Magdalene, Mary Salomè, and Mary of Alphaeus — in whom there was an extinguishing of faith in the divinity of Christ, which remained alight only in the Blessed Virgin.

“Mary was alone and she spoke with the angel. She was alone when the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her. She was alone and the salvation of the world was carried out, and she conceived the redemption of all men” (St Ambrose, Epist. 49).

She was also alone that Holy Saturday on which she epitomised in her heart the faith of the Church. And it was therefore the heart of the Church — Cor Sponsae — that kept vigil in unshakeable faith. That Holy Saturday, says St Bonaventure, upon that heart, God built His Church, as upon a mystical rock.

On the strength of so many and such authoritative testimonies it can therefore be affirmed that in the terrible Triduum in which the beating of the heart of the Redeemer stopped, all the faith and all the life of the Mystical Body were enclosed in the immaculate and sapiential heart of Mary. Her Immaculate Heart was the Church.

Does Our Lady’s request at Fatima that we honour Saturday, the day of her perfect faith, have any relationship with the grave crisis of the Church and with the terrible loss of faith of our time? Is it possible to connect Saturday, the day on which Mary lost sight of the adorable humanity of Jesus, to the days of the apparent disappearance of the Mystical Body of the Saviour?

What is certain is that in the darkness of the Passion Mary shone to an eminent degree. She was the city set on a mountain (Mt 5:14), the rainbow in the clouds (Gen 9:13), the banner raised among the nations (Is 62:10), the light that shines in a dark place (2 Pet 1:19). In the darkness of the present hour, let us ardently ask her for the gift of purity and integrity of faith for all those who, in keeping with her requests, unite themselves on Saturday with her Immaculate Heart with meditation and Communion. Let us therefore earnestly ask her for the priceless gift of a faith as whole and pure as that which shone in her Immaculate Heart during Holy Saturday.

Mary, Leo XIII says, has a mysterious task in bringing us to faith (Encyclical Adiutricem populi), and on her, St Pius X adds, as on the noblest foundation after Jesus Christ, rests the faith of all ages (Encyclical Ad diem illum laetissimum). In fact, according to St Louis-Marie Grignion de Monfort, with the consent of the Most High, she preserved the faith in glory in order to maintain it in the Church militant in her most faithful servants. Among the main fruits of true devotion to Our Lady is precisely, as this same saint teaches in his treatise, True Devotion to Mary, participation in Mary’s faith: authentic faith, alive and animated by charity, solid and immovable like a rock, active, penetrating and courageous. 

“Lastly, this faith will be your flaming torch, your very life with God, your secret fund of divine Wisdom, and an all-powerful weapon for you to enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. It inflames those who are lukewarm and need the gold of fervent love. It restores life to those who are dead through sin. It moves and transforms hearts of marble and cedars of Lebanon by gentle and convincing argument. Finally, this faith will strengthen you to resist the devil and the other enemies of salvation.”

What to add these blessed words? Opus tuum fac! May the faith of Mary burst forth around the world, and in short order, as soon as possible, may the marvellous promise be fulfilled: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph!”