A parishioner recently asked me, “Father, what is First Friday? And why do we observe it?” Her question made me think. Our Catholic faith is steeped in Sacred Tradition and ecclesial tradition. The former being those practices and teachings we have received from Jesus Christ by way of the Apostles and their successors, the bishops. The latter concerns how the former is lived out in the Church’s theology, discipline, liturgy, and devotion. First Friday falls squarely under the second category, as it is the lived expression of how we Catholic Christians understand God’s mercy which is revealed to us in the first category.
The First Friday tradition is tied to devotion of Our Lord’s Sacred Heart. Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, a 17th century French nun, had intense visions of Jesus. She was permitted, in one mystical encounter, to lay her head upon His divine heart. Jesus spoke to the sainted nun about His immense love for mankind and His desire for her to spread this message. It was not easy for St. Margaret Mary as she met with initial resistance; some questioned the authenticity of her visions while others questioned her sanity. The sainted nun’s situation did not improve until her priest confessor said that her visions were true, and a new mother superior for the monastery was elected. Yet, it was 70 years after her death that her vision and devotion was officially recognized by the whole Church.
Jesus, in the visions, promised 12 things to those who seek His Sacred Heart. I will paraphrase them here, (1) is grace for one’s state of life, (2) peace in the home, (3) comfort in affliction, (4) secure refuge in life, (5) blessing in all of one’s undertakings, (6) the outpouring of mercy for sinners, (7) fervor in lukewarm souls, (8) fervent souls reaching holiness, (9) the blessing of places where the image of the Sacred Heart is exposed and venerated, (10) gifting priests the ability to touch the most hardened of hearts, and (11) those who promote this devotion will have their names written in His heart. To answer the parishioner’s question, I quote directly the 12th promise, “In the excess of the mercy of my Heart, I promise you that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.”
For nearly 500 years, devotion to the Sacred Heart has borne tremendous spiritual fruit. In many parishes, the faithful gather to pray for the grace, mercy, and peace derived from that same Heart which beat and bled for our salvation. St. Martin de Porres observes First Friday in three ways. After the 8 AM Mass, at Our Lady of Victory, all the mysteries of the Rosary are prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. The Litany of the Sacred Heart is said before the noonday Mass. In the past year, a 7 PM Holy Hour Service was instituted at Holy Rosary where the Litany is prayed along with Vespers and Eucharistic Adoration. I invite all parishioners on First Fridays to pray, “Jesus, meek and humble of Heart, make our hearts like unto Thine. Amen.”
Fr. Daniel O. Kingsley