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The First Fridays Devotion: an Invitation from the Heart of Jesus
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Oct 16, 2014)
According to the popes of the last 100 years, there is no devotion more important to the life of the Church than devotion to the Heart of Jesus.
The greatest impetus toward the spread of this devotion came from the apparitions of our Lord Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 1670s, whose feast we celebrate on Oct. 16. The glorified Jesus unveiled His tender, burning love for souls to her and asked for the establishment of the annual liturgical feast of the Sacred Heart (celebrated 19 days after Pentecost), as well as devotional practices such as the First Friday Communions and veneration of the image of His loving Heart. By these means, our Lord intended to rekindle the fire of love in the hearts of the faithful in a modern world in which the hearts of many were growing cold.
In 1882, Mr. Philip Kemper, an American businessman from Dayton, Ohio, gleaned a list of divine "Promises" to devotees of the Heart of Jesus from the writings of St. Margaret Mary, had them printed in mass quantities, and distributed them around the world. They subsequently appeared in 238 different languages. His efforts had such a profound impact on the faithful that Kemper received a papal blessing for this "pious" and "useful" work from Pope Leo XIII in 1895. Included in these promises was the famous twelfth "Great Promise." Jesus said to St. Margaret Mary:
I promise you in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will grant to those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in My disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.
Hence was born the Catholic tradition of receiving Holy Communion as an act of reparation and love to the Heart of Jesus on the First Friday of every month. It is a beautiful way to express sorrow for our sins that have wounded His loving Heart and to make reparation for our failure to return His love. The Merciful Heart of Jesus is certainly brought the greatest joy when His lost sheep draw closer to Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Our Lord made this clear to another great devotee of His Heart, St. Faustina:
What joy fills My Heart when you return to Me. Because you are weak, I take you in My arms and carry you to the home of My Father. ... My Heart overflows with mercy for souls, and especially for poor sinners... I desire to bestow My graces on souls, but they do not want to accept them. You at least, come to Me as often as possible and take those graces they do not want to accept. In this way you will console My Heart (Diary, 1486 and 367).
However, the "Great Promise" was not meant to provide an automatic ticket to heaven! Christ promises to pour out the grace of final perseverance on those who perform this devotion with the proper dispositions of faith and love — but the soul must still cooperate with that grace at the time of death, for God's grace will never compel anyone to surrender to His love.
What the Great Promise of the nine First Fridays shows us is that our Lord will never be outdone in generosity. In return for our simple willingness to receive His Body and Blood on one special day per month, He promises to pour out a never-ending stream of graces and blessings. As Jesus promised in the Gospel, "Let anyone who thirsts come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as scripture says: 'Rivers of living water will flow from within him.'" (Jn 7: 37-38).
So take advantage of the extraordinary generosity of Jesus, and console His Heart by receiving the tremendous graces of the First Fridays devotion.
To learn more about making reparation to our Lord's Sacred Heart, see Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC's Consoling the Heart of Jesus.