By Father Edward McNamara, LC
ROME, 17 March 2015 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I have been making an effort to complete the nine Masses for First Friday devotion. April will be my eighth month, but there is no Mass on the first Friday — it is Good Friday. I will be attending Good Friday service and receive the Eucharist. How does this affect the devotion? Does it count for No. 8, or will May be No. 8, or does May become No. 1 because there was no Mass? — M.W.
A: Our correspondent is referring to the last of the so-called 12 promises of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690). These promises are the following:
1. "I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life."
2. "I will establish peace in their homes."
3. "I will comfort them in their afflictions."
4. "I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all in death."
5. "I will bestow a large blessing upon all their undertakings."
6. "Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and the infinite ocean of mercy."
7. "Tepid souls shall grow fervent."
8. "Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection."
9. "I will bless every place where a picture of My Heart shall be set up and honored."
10. "I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts."
11. "Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be blotted out."
12. "I promise thee in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate on the First Friday in nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in my disgrace nor without receiving the sacraments; my divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment."
Since the promise of No. 12 refers to receiving Communion, and not to attending Mass, I think it is safe to say that reception of Communion at the Good Friday Celebration of the Lord's Passion is more than sufficient to comply with the requirements of this devotional practice. At the same time, when Mass is available on the other first Fridays, it is always preferable to communicate within Mass if possible.
According to this devotion, the first Friday of each month was designated by Jesus himself as consecrated to honoring his Sacred Heart, to increase our love for him and to make reparation for past and present offenses against his love.
The list of 12 promises has sometimes been the object of some controversy. These are not found — as a list — in the writings of St. Margaret Mary but are scattered about these writings in different forms and dates.
The list was first tabulated in a booklet published in French in 1863. In 1882 Philip Kemper, a wealthy German-American businessman from Dayton, Ohio, spread this list throughout the world, printing a huge amount of cards with the promises in some 238 languages.
Although Kemper received a papal blessing for this "pious" and "useful" work from Pope Leo XIII in 1895, not all were in full agreement. For example, French Cardinal Adolph Perraud (1828-1906) considered that the promises in tabular form were different from the words and expressions used by St. Margaret Mary and would have preferred the original words to be used. For instance, while the published promises are in direct speech, St. Margaret Mary always used indirect speech: "Our Lord has made known to me that he would bless the homes in which the image of my heart .…" The direct form could indicate the Jesus dictated them to the visionary, which is not usually the case.
There are also a number of instances in which words have been changed. For example, the 10th promise reads, "I will give priests the power of softening the hardest hearts." In her letter to Father John Croiset (circa 1650-1738), her spiritual director and first biographer, Alacoque wrote, "My divine Master has made it known to me that those who labor for the salvation of souls shall be successful in their labors and shall have the art of touching the most hardened hearts, if they have a tender devotion to his Heart and if they labor to inspire everyone with it and to establish it everywhere."
These critiques would not appear to change the fundamental meaning of the promises and especially the 12th, as it appears in the saint's writings: "On Friday during Holy Communion, He said these words to His unworthy slave, if I mistake not: I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that its all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on nine first Fridays of consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they will not die under my displeasure or without receiving their sacraments, my divine Heart making itself their assured refuge at the last moment."
Generally speaking, those who promote this devotion place the following conditions or recommendations so as to avoid this holy practice becoming something automatic or magical:
(1) that Our Lord required Communion to be received on a particular day chosen by him;
(2) that the nine Fridays must be consecutive;
(3) that they must be made in honor 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;
(4) that 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;
(5) that perseverance in receiving Communion for nine consecutive First Fridays helps the faithful to acquire the habit of frequent Communion, which Our Lord eagerly desires; and
(6) that the practice of the nine Fridays is very pleasing to Our Lord since he promises such great reward, and that all Catholics should endeavor to make the nine Fridays.