Some time ago, while I was working on the Total Consecration, I wrote about my reluctance to enter deeply into Marian devotions -- a reluctance that was brought into high relief when I encountered a certain online book by Fr. William Most that discussed Mary as "co-Redemptrix":
"This is the kind of Marian writing that makes the tops of Protestants' heads blow off. ...[A]s I read it, I found myself struggling with some of the concepts, precisely because of the Protestant, anti-Marian influence in American Christian culture. It was very edifying, because intellectually, Father Most's arguments make a great deal of sense to me. And yet the logical conclusion of his arguments suggests an attitude toward the Blessed Virgin that feels radical to me. Deep down, it seems, I feel a sort of repulsion against fully embracing the idea of Mary as intercessor, which as I search my history seems can only have come from contact with American Protestantism. I didn't even realize that I felt that internal repulsion until reading Fr. Most's arguments forced me to confront it."
I have long had that feeling about many Marian devotions. Take, for example, the Five First Saturdays devotion. Originating in a request that Our Lady reportedly made in an apparition to Lucia Santos, it is a superficially pleasant-sounding-enough activity: Attend Mass, say a rosary, go to Confession, and spend fifteen minutes in meditation, all with the intention of making reparation for sins committed against the mother of Jesus. Do it five first Saturdays in a row, and you are done. A simple little thing, not terribly demanding, a one-time commitment, like making a pilgrimage.
But I was always bothered by the fact that, in recommending it to us, the Church, or Mary, didn't stop there, but instead went on to promise something in return. Here is a direct quote of what Sister Lucia reports that Mary told her in her vision:
"I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all who on the First Saturday of five consecutive months confess their sins, receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the purpose of making reparation to my Immaculate Heart."
One resistance: I felt that this promise ...cheapened the devotion somehow. And that Mary had made it that much harder to do it with the purpose of making reparation, by dangling a carrot of promised graces before us.
It felt presumptuous too. All I have to do is check off these items, and I get the graces necessary for salvation? (I hadn't noticed the subtle difference between promising salvation, and promising the graces necessary for salvation.)
Finally, it seemed disturbingly superstitious, which is to say that I could not see any logical or natural connection between "do these things now, and when you die, possibly far off in the future, after who knows what temptations have assailed you and after you have failed in who knows how many ways, you will get something you don't deserve, just because you checked off the boxes." Even if I mean it now, suppose I become hard and unrepentant later? How can doing this now protect me and help me then? This put it in company with a number of other Marian devotions, e.g., the wearing of the Brown Scapular (what? Die with your magic necklace on and you're good to go? How does THAT work?)
Okay, well, I decided to try to do it anyway. I get Saturday mornings off, at least if Mark isn't traveling, and so I didn't have much excuse not to give it a whirl. I prayed for the grace to purify my intentions, so that I really could do it with the purpose of making reparation; I found a local parish that had a Saturday morning Mass; and off I went, on the first Saturday in July, which turned out to be the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I went on to complete the devotion over the next four months as prescribed.
For the benefit of anyone else who is creeped about Marian devotions because they smack of superstition, presumption, and illogical connections, I want to report back on two results that had the effect of removing my creeped-outedness completely. The caveat is that they are specific to me -- I haven't the foggiest idea whether other people would get similar results. Another caveat is that I can only speak for this moment in time -- for all I know I may think differently after life has thrown more curveballs at me. I am just throwing it out there, as a sort of personal testimony, in the now.
Direct result #1 of doing the Five First Saturdays: I discovered that I rather like going to Mass and confession once a month. This was a bit of a surprise. I rather thought I would be ready to have a "Woo-hoo, I did it, now I'm done!" party. Instead, by the time I had been through five of them, I wanted to keep it up. And so now it is sort of an established habit of mine. I go to Mass on the first Saturday of the month, if I can. I show up early enough to say the rosary with the other folks who are there. I go to Confession. After my penance I stick around for fifteen minutes. I like it. I don't know why I never thought of going to Mass on Saturday mornings before, along with the trip to the gym and the library and getting my hair cut and running personal errands and all those other things I try to do in those few hours I have to myself each week. It was a great idea that I somehow never came up with on my own. I don't know for sure if I will keep it up for the rest of my life, but it has certainly lasted longer than the five Saturdays I originally signed up for, and who knows how much good I will get out of it? Maybe exactly what is necessary.
Direct result #2: On the second Saturday, the priest in the confessional advised me to make the Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. If you have been following along at all, you know that the Total Consecration, encompassing as it does pretty much all authentic Marian devotion, feels to me transcendently more radical than something like the five first Saturdays. Here I was, just trying to check off the boxes and asking please for the grace to do it with the right intentions and not the wrong ones, and now I was being invited to go deeper. I went away knowing I had at least a responsibility to find out more about the Consecration and to discern whether I should make it. You know by now that I did this, and that I made the Consecration in the fall.
Has it changed me in any real way? I can't know that for sure. I hope so. But its totality, inherently, promises more than five Saturdays seems capable of promising. The Five First Saturdays seemed so mean a commitment; so much more might happen to me afterwards; it seemed insane to accept that in any natural way, in any just way, they could be part of the cause of graces received maybe fifty years from now or more. But the Total Consecration promises to be a bridge across the unknown future, between now and that hour of my death, across all the pitfalls that could still swallow me, across the pavement of my good intentions. It is not a guarantee, but it is an accessible path from here to there. And there is no doubt that the invitation came as a result of the First Saturdays.
Obviously there is no way I can generalize from my experience to anyone else's. I only know what is inside me. And I have written before that I am fully aware of the proclivity of the human mind to see patterns wherever we want to see them. Perhaps I am only unconsciously justifying my irrational decisions by overlaying a perception of rationality that comes from outside myself and cannot be falsified by any external test. Like persisting in the belief that my spouse loves me; I can't prove its truth or falsity, but it is certainly convenient to think so.
It is just that I tried something that I couldn't make sense of, and received a result that -- well -- not so much made it make sense, as left the possibility that it could make sense. And as a result, I am not sorry I tried. YMMV.