One of the joys of Catholic school education in the 1940s and 50s was observing the Nine First Fridays devotion in honor of the Sacred Heart. If begun in October and concluded in June, children could take the summer months off in good conscience. Since students could not eat breakfast before the First Friday Mass, breakfast could be brought to church in a brown paper bag and then eaten after Mass in a classroom’s clothes’ press. (Why Catholic school closets were called a press escapes me.) Bananas were a staple of those breakfasts and probably peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as well. And of course the breakfast experience was prolonged as long as possible. Giggling and horsing around were part of the experience.
Not quite as popular (for obvious reasons) was the devotion of the Five First Saturdays in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is probably generally assumed that Our Lady of Fatima revealed this devotion to the three peasant children when she appeared to them in the Portuguese countryside. But this was not the case. On December 10, 1925, at the convent of the Sisters of St. Dorothy in Pontevedra, Spain, our Blessed Mother appeared in a cloud of light with the child Jesus before Sister Lucia. Our Lady expressed her request in the following words: “See, my daughter, My Heart surrounded with thorns with which ingrates pierce me at every moment with blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, make sure to console me and announce that all those who for five months, on the first Saturdays, go to confession, receive Communion, say five decades of the Rosary and keep me company for 15 minutes meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the purpose of making reparation to Me, I promise to assist them at the hour of death with all the graces necessary for the salvation of their souls.” Sacramental Confession, Holy Communion, and a meditated rosary – all on a Saturday – what could be easier?
Five years later in 1930, Sister Lucia put the details of her visions into writing, sending a letter to her confessor, Monsignor Manuel Pereira Lopes, from the city of Oporto, Portugal. Sister Lucia here outlined that the five Saturdays corresponded somewhat to Mary’s great privileges: the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth, the Divine Maternity, the Assumption of Mary, and the Queenship of Mary over all men and women. She included in this enumeration a lament that children were sometimes misled about these great privileges and that images of these great privileges were sometimes disrespected. In subsequent heavenly encounters, it was conceded that confession would not necessarily have to take place on the same day as Communion was received and that meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary could focus on any or all of the fifteen (now twenty) mysteries.
Anyone reading Sister Lucia’s statements supporting this devotion is struck by references to blasphemies, sacrileges and insults leveled against the Blessed Virgin Mary and her Divine Son Jesus. Apparently previous generations of Catholics were more keenly aware of how much veneration was due to Mary and how much adoration was due to Jesus. Blasphemies, sacrileges and insults were understood to be genuine affronts to the Divine Persons as well as to Mary and the Saints. Verbal and pictorial assaults against heaven weighed heavy on the consciences of previous Catholic communities.
Blasphemies and sacrileges are atrocities that rarely cross the minds of contemporary believers. The name of God and Jesus are regularly invoked in vain at the cinema, on television, over the radio, and, let’s be frank, in our own conversations. Fashionable art has presented some truly insulting representation of Jesus and Mary as well. Persons who have not been to Mass and Communion for years will approach the altar at weddings and funerals and receive the Body of Christ with no remorse. And the thought of making an act of reparation though prayer or sacrifice for one’s own offences or for the offences of others rarely strikes the modern consciousness. Mary’s several messages clearly request that blasphemy of any sort be repudiated and blasphemies of all sorts be repaired by the willing prayers and eager sacrifices of faithful Christians.
The privilege of daily Communion available to practicing Catholics today was not always the situation. Until the beginning of the last century, Communion was infrequently received by the average Catholic. Devotions like the First Fridays and First Saturdays were meant to encourage Communion more often among the faithful. But, even today, during this hundredth anniversary of Fatima, these devotions are still a reminder of the reverence all should have toward God and toward the saints.