Between 1673 and 1675, at the Convent of the Visitation in Paray-le-Monial, France, St Margaret Mary was favoured with a series of visions of Our Lord, revealing to her his Sacred Heart which symbolised his love for mankind, and was so often rejected. He asked her to spread devotion to this Heart throughout the whole Church, as reparation for the many sins and offenses it endured. In a short time St Margaret Mary had discovered for herself the fruitfulness of this devotion. She wrote:
‘I know of no exercise of devotion in the spiritual life better calculated to raise a soul in a short time to the height of sanctity, and to make it taste the true sweetness that is found in the service of God. If we knew how agreeable this devotion is to Jesus Christ, there is no one Christian, how little his love for this amiable Saviour, who would not practise it…I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the Heart of Jesus’.
At this time, St Margaret Mary relied heavily on advice from her spiritual director, St Claude de la Colombière (+1682), a Jesuit priest then working at the royal court in London as chaplain to the Duchess of York. St Claude encouraged his spiritual daughter, and worked on his own account to foster devotion to the Sacred Heart. It is therefore interesting that England (despite being then almost entirely a Protestant country) was one of the first places where devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was promoted in its modern form.
At the centre of the revelations received by St Margaret Mary are twelve promises, made to her by Jesus. In these, he promises that, in response to those who consecrate themselves and make reparations to His Sacred Heart:
- He will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
- He will establish peace in their homes.
- He will comfort them in all their afflictions.
- He will be their secure refuge during life, and above all, in death.
- He will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.
- Sinners will find in His Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
- Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.
- Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
- He will bless every place in which an image of His Heart is exposed and honoured.
- He will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
- Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in His Heart.
- In the excessive mercy of His Heart, that His all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in His disgrace, nor without receiving the sacraments. His divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.
It should be obvious that the twelfth promise is by far the most important, and the one most especially associated with the custom of the ‘First Fridays’.
We should note here that while the Church has approved of the orthodoxy of these revelations, and many Popes down to the present day have frequently encouraged devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Church has also insisted that these promises be understood correctly. We must realise that they contain no new doctrine not already found in Scripture and Tradition, nor must they be seen as encouragement to live anything less than a full and generous Christian life. To treat the promises in a superstitious or mechanistic way would be quite contrary to Our Lord’s intentions.
Therefore, to understand the promises properly, and in the sense in which the Church intends, it is clear that:
- Our Lord required Communion to be received on a particular day chosen by Him;
- the nine Fridays must be consecutive;
- they must be made in honour of His Sacred Heart, which means that those who make the nine Fridays must practice the devotion and must have a great love for our Lord;
- Our Lord does not say that those who make the nine Fridays will be dispensed from any of their obligations or from exercising the vigilance necessary to lead a good life and overcome temptation; rather He implicitly promises abundant graces to those who make the nine Fridays to help them to carry out these obligations and persevere to the end;
- perseverance in receiving Holy Communion for nine consecutive First Fridays helps the faithful to acquire the habit of frequent Communion, which our Lord eagerly desires; and
- the practice of the nine Fridays is very pleasing to our Lord since He promises such great reward, and that all Catholics should endeavour to make the nine Fridays.
The elements of the devotion
With this understanding to guide us we can now move on to look at what the devotion of the First Fridays actually entails. Essentially, it consists of the following elements:
- Sacramental Confession, as a preparation for;
- Holy Communion, received on nine consecutive First Fridays;
- Making a ‘Holy Hour’ in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
As noted in the outline of the devotion given above, it is taken for granted that those practicing the First Fridays will also have a more general love for the Sacred Heart. This can be expressed in many ways, but would include, wherever possible, celebrating the Feast of the Sacred Heart, which occurs on the Friday after the second Sunday after Pentecost, and perhaps paying some special reverence to the Sacred Heart during the month of June, which is traditionally dedicated to this mystery.
Prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
This blog is extracted from First Fridays and First Saturdays. This booklet sets out how to pray these two well-known devotions: the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and offers helpful guidance as to their value, origins and purpose.
To learn more about the devotions and the elements that make up these devotions, order your copy of First Fridays and First Saturdays.