Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday of Our Lady

Decades ago, as a boy growing up enveloped in the exuberant embrace of Bronx Catholicism, I remember being perplexed by the expression Saturday Office of the BVM, which appeared with some frequency on our home wall calendar provided by our parish church (courtesy, of course, of some local funeral home).  It is, I suppose, a universal human trait to try to make things make sense. So for a while I imagined that the Blessed Virgin Mary had an office in heaven to which she faithfully went on Saturdays and where she regularly responded to people's prayers. Bizarre as it may sound to today's adult ears, that "explanation" seemed satisfactory - at least until I learned at school about the Divine Office and hence the real meaning of the term Saturday Office of the BVM. 

One of the liturgical joys of "Ordinary Time" is the opportunity it offers on many Saturdays to recite the Saturday Office of the BVM - or, as it is now named in the new liturgy, the "Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday" - and, along with that, to celebrate one of the 40+ Votive Masses in Our Lady's honor which the current liturgy makes available for Saturday use.

This practice of celebrating a Votive Mass of the BVM on Saturday is said to go back to Alcuin (735-804), Charlemagne's principal court Benedictine and primary architect of the Carolingian liturgical reforms. Alcuin composed Votive Masses for each day of the week, and honored Mary with two for Saturday. Subsequently, popular piety seems to have come to associate Saturday with the idea that on that first Holy Saturday Mary persevered in faith in her Son and in his promise to rise again. So Saturday's devotion to Mary is seen as “a remembrance of the maternal example and discipleship of the 'Blessed Virgin Mary who, strengthened by faith and hope, on that great Saturday on which Our Lord lay in the tomb, was the only one of the disciples to hold vigil in expectation of the Lord’s resurrection'." It is also seen as "a prelude and introduction to the celebration of Sunday, the weekly memorial of the Resurrection of Christ; it is a sign that the Virgin Mary is continuously present and operative in the life of the Church.” (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, 188; cf. Blessed Paul VI, Marialis cultus, 41).

This being the Holy Year of Mercy, at Mass this morning I said the Votive Mass of Mary, Queen and Mother of Mercy. The Marian title Mother of Mercy has been ascribed to Saint Odo of Cluny (c.878 - 942). The votive Preface calls Mary "the gracious queen who has herself uniquely known your loving kindness" - an echo, I presume, of her Magnificat, a theme also picked up by Pope Saint John Paul II who referred to Mary as having "obtained mercy in a particular and exceptional way" (Dives in misericordia, 9).

A suitable subject for a quiet summer Saturday!

(The above image of Our Lady of Mercy is a photo of the Ravensburger Schutzmantelmadonna, attributed to Michel Erhart, c. 1480, in Berlin's Bode Museum.)

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