17/10: Feast of the “First Fridays’ Saint”!

SAINT MARGARET MARY ALACOQUE, VIRGIN—1690  Feast: October 17

In seventeenth-century France the faith of the people had been badly shaken; there was rebellion against the Church and neglect of its teachings; the rise of Protestantism and the spread of the heresy of Jansenism[1] both had a part in the weakening of the structure built up through the ages. But as every threat brings its response, so now there rose up fresh, strong forces to counter these trends. Three famous religious, who are today venerated as saints, were particularly effective: John Eudes and Claude de la Columbiere were French Jesuit priests and writers; Margaret Mary Alacoque was a simple nun of the order of the Visitation. Their special work was to popularize the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To represent this trio and this movement, we have chosen Margaret Mary Alacoque.  

Click on image to read the 12 Promises of the Sacred Heart

Click on image to read the 12 Promises of the Sacred Heart

She was born in 1647 at Janots, a small town of Burgundy, the fifth of seven children, of Claude and Philiberte Alacoque. Her father was a prosperous notary; the family owned a country house and farmland, and had some aristocratic connections. Margaret’s godmother was a neighbor, the Countess of Corcheval. As a small child Margaret spent a great deal of time with her, but these visits were brought to a sudden end by the death of the countess. The father died of pneumonia when Margaret was about eight, and this was another severe shock to the little girl. Claude had loved his family dearly but had been short-sighted and extravagant. His death put them in hard straits. However, Margaret was sent to school with the Urbanist Sisters at Charolles. She loved the peace and order of the convent life, and the nuns were so impressed by her devotion that she was allowed to make her First Communion at the age of nine. A rheumatic affliction kept her bedridden for four years. During this time she was brought home, where some of her father’s relatives had moved in and taken over the direction of the farm and household. She and her mother were disregarded, and treated almost as servants. This painful situation grew more acute after Margaret’s recovery, for the relatives tried to regulate all her comings and goings. Not allowed to attend church as often as she pleased, the young girl was sometimes seen weeping and praying in a corner of the garden. It grieved her deeply that she could not ease things for her mother. Her eldest brother’s coming of age saved the day, for the property now reverted to him, and the family again had undisputed possession of their home.

Philiberte expressed a hope that Margaret would marry; the girl considered the step, inflicting severe austerities upon herself during a period of indecision. At the age of twenty, inspired by a vision, she put aside all such thoughts and resolved to enter a convent. While awaiting admission, she tried to help and teach certain neglected children of the village. At twenty-two she made her profession at the convent of the Visitation at Paray-le-Monial. The nuns of the Order of the Visitation, founded in the early years of the seventeenth century by St. Francis de Sales, were famed for their humility and selflessness. As a novice Margaret excelled in these virtues. When she made her profession, the name of Mary was added and she was called Margaret Mary. She began a course of mortifications and penances which were to continue, with more or less intensity, as long as she lived. We are told that she was assigned to the infirmary and was not very skillful at her tasks.

Some years passed quietly in the convent, and then Margaret Mary began to have experiences which seemed to be of supernatural origin. The first of these occurred on December 27, 1673, when she was kneeling at the grille in the chapel. She felt suffused by the Divine Presence, and heard the Lord inviting her to take the place which St. John had occupied at the Last Supper. The Lord told her that the love of His heart must spread and manifest itself to men, and He would reveal its graces through her. This was the beginning of a series of revelations covering a period of eighteen months. When Margaret Mary went to the Superior, Mother de Saumaise, with an account of these mystical experiences, claiming that she, an humble nun, had been chosen as the transmitter of a new devotion to the Sacred Heart, she was reprimanded for her presumption. Seriously overwrought, Margaret Mary suffered a collapse, and became so ill that her life was despaired of. Now the Mother Superior reflected that she might have erred in scorning the nun’s story and vowed that if her life were spared, she would take it as a sign that the visions and messages were truly from God. When Margaret Mary recovered, the Superior invited some theologians who happened to be in the town -they included a Jesuit and a Benedictine-to hear the story. These priests listened and judged the young nun to be a victim of delusions. Their examination had been a sheer torture to Margaret Mary. Later a Jesuit, Father Claude de la Columbiere, talked to her and was completely convinced of the genuineness of the revelations. He was to write of the nun and to inaugurate this devotion in England.

For many years the nun suffered from despair, from self-inflicted punishments, and also from the slights and contempt of those around her. In 1681 Father Claude returned to the convent and died there the following year. Margaret Mary was appointed assistant and novice-mistress by a new Mother Superior who was more sympathetic towards her. Opposition ceased-or at least was restrained-after an account of Margaret Mary’s visions was read aloud in the refectory from the writings left by Father Claude, who had taken it upon himself to make known to the world the nun’s remarkable experiences. That she was finally vindicated was to her a matter of indifference. When she was forty-three, while serving a second term as assistant superior, Margaret Mary fell ill. Sinking rapidly, she received the Last Sacraments, saying, “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.”

Although the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was practised before this time, it now gained a strong new impetus through the work of Father John Eudes and the writings of Father Claude. The Sacred Heart is regarded as “the symbol of that boundless love which moved the Word to take flesh, to institute the Holy Eucharist, to take our sins upon Himself, and, dying on the Cross, to offer Himself as a victim and sacrifice to the eternal Father.” The cult first became popular in France, then spread to Poland and other countries, including, at a later period, the United States. The first petition to the Holy See for the institution of the feast was from Queen Mary, consort of James II of England. The month of June is appointed for this devotion, and since 1929 the feast has been one of the highest rank.  Source

Comment

I sometimes wonder if there are  many modern Catholics who still value devotions such as the Nine First Fridays.  Does anyone know?  What about the Catholics in your circle of family and friends – do they ever mention “doing the First Fridays”?  Do the diocesan priests ever preach about this devotion? Have YOU made the Nine First Fridays? If not, why not?

11 responses

  1. Recently I purchased Devotion to the Sacred Heart, by Fr. John Croiset, SJ, who, according to St. Margaret Mary, was commissioned by Our Lord to write the story of her life and to outline the Devotion to the Sacred heart. Strange that neither Father, nor this book, are mentioned in the EWTN excerpt. Perhaps because it was not officially published in English until 1959. (The book was originally published in French in 1691, but placed on the Index in 1704, as was foretold, because Father had apparently omitted certain formalities.)

    The entire first half of the book is devoted to her life and her extraordinary virtues as a victim soul. I’m still near the beginning of the second part, the preparation for the Devotion, but this book is very powerful and I would highly recommend it.

    To answer your question, Editor, I just started the Nine First Fridays last month (inspired by this book). However, we are going to be interrupted, it appears, by the blessing of the new USA Seminary next month. I wonder if I can just do a Holy Hour instead….

    • RCA Victor,

      I am interested in your comment about starting the First Fridays but them being “interrupted”. That has happened to me several times when I started the First Fridays (at a traditional chapel) and the priests cancelled Mass that day for some reason or other. It is very annoying, and can be disheartening if you’ve almost finished and the Mass is cancelled near the end of the nine Fridays. Imagine getting to 8 and then Mass being cancelled for the ninth! I’d say LOL but it really isn’t funny.

  2. Happy Feast of St Margaret Mary, everyone!

    I have done the First Fridays but I am wondering if it is allowed to do them for someone else, a lapsed family member?

    • Happy Feast Day and Name Day to you! If I had a dime (10 pence in the UK) for every time someone called me “Margaret Mary” instead of “Margaret Ann” (my real Christian names), I’d have a tidy sum to give to church now. 😉😊

  3. Here’s one that might set the cat amongst the pigeons (and no, my erstwhile interweb acquaintances, I wouldn’t dare call you pigeons).

    I have done the nine First Fridays…..but have I??? You see, all the nine Masses were novus ordo. I think I know what answer I’ll get but I’ll chuck this out there and wait for it to hit me in the face like an badly thrown boomerang: Have I done the nine First Fridays?

    As a secondary question, am I right in thinking that the Sacred Heart’s 12th Promise is in effect a ‘guarantee’ that the person who completes the First Fridays will not end up in hell? If you like, it’s the equivalent of the last moments scapular-wearing promise but with no physical requirement to wear a particular item.

    And lastly, ‘shall not die without receiving the sacraments’. Why the use of the plural? And does this phrase mean that everyone who’s genuinely completed the nine First Fridays will not die without having received the Last Rites or does ‘sacraments’ not necessarily mean that in this context?

    • Spudeater,

      IMHO, you have definitely done the First nine Fridays, even though it was a novus ordo. It isn’t the fault of the people that the novus ordo is widespread in parishes and I think God’s mercy will take account of that. I would add though that anyone thinking of starting the First Fridays would be well advised to make an effort to find a traditional Latin Mass because there can be no doubt that that Mass is the one that is truly pleasing to God.

      I think you are right to interpret the 12th promise as being a promise to save us from Hell, but obviously that isn’t a green light to live a life of sin, LOL! I don’t really understand what you mean by “the equivalent of the last moments scapular wearing etc” because God doesn’t work like that. Anyone who thinks last minute false conversions works, is seriously mistaken.

      I always think of the last sacraments as being both Confession and Communion, so I’m surprised at that question.

      • I think that Spudeater was referring to the promise of Our Lady: “Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”

      • Lily,

        Thank you for your reply! As Margaret kindly stated, I can confirm that I wasn’t thinking of anyone banking on a dubious last-minute conversion when I made my Scapular comparison. I’m still not totally clear though on what ‘shall not die without receiving the sacraments’ means. If, as you say, this refers to Confession and Communion rather than the Last Rites, then my supposition is that should a person who has done the nine First Fridays afterwards commit mortal sin, they would not eventually die in that state but rather through a subsequent proper Confession and Holy Communion at some stage, die in a state of grace. Amirite?

        Oh, and by the way, you may not have intended to but you HAVE given me a green light and from now on, it’s my intention to switch the salt in the shaker for sugar and vice versa just as often as I can. (I think an apt description is “wickedly incorrigible”).

        • Spudeater,

          In case you mean that you now have the “green light” to attend the novus ordo – I don’t think it works that way. With all due respect to Lily, she can’t give that permission! Not that I think she meant to do so – you’re just being your usual naughty self.

          Here’s my tuppence worth…

          If someone in good faith and in ignorance of the genesis of the new Mass/crisis in the Church, makes the First Fridays by attending the novus ordo then in His justice, I believe God will accept that. Always, however, God knows what WE know! We can’t fool Him! He knows if we have our own motives for NOT making an effort to attend the traditional Mass, so, speaking generally, I think the onus is on each of us to find a traditional Mass and attend it in preference to the novus ordo. To be well informed and to know that, with a bit of effort, I could attend the old Mass, yet opt for the new for convenience, would, it seems to me, in full theological mode, to be “not on”. However, I emphasise my original point. If you have made the First Fridays by attending the novus ordo, I think you can be at rest.

          I don’t see your problem re. the promise of not dying without the sacraments. If a priest attends a death-bed, he will administer Extreme Unction – at least, if the priest uses the traditional rite – the modern rite will, of course, be different… eh… “new” is the word, I believe!
          You can read all about Extreme Unction in the Catholic Encyclopaedia here.

          • Ed.,

            Thank you now for your reply but I seem to have got conflicting answers insofar as I think you are interpreting ‘shall not die without receiving the sacraments’ as referring to the Last Rites/Extreme Unction whereas Lily reads that phrase as meaning Confession and Communion. I think the latter is more likely otherwise it would mean that all those however many souls who had completed the nine First Fridays since the 1670s would have died only after receiving Extreme Unction which though possible seems unlikely. If I’ve got that wrong, would you recommend that I write to the Casa Santa Marta in Rome for definitive clarification?

            I personally did the nine First Fridays 20 or more years ago and knew no more then about the traditional/novus ordo Mass dichotomy than I do now about astro-physics.

            May I end by saying that I resent your attempt to rescind Lily’s green light (which was related to leading a less than perfect life rather than to blithely attending the novus ordo Mass, though I’m not going to ask you if that actually amounts to the same thing). I know you’ve mentioned you are in proud possession of a certificate confirming that you are of sound mind but unless you can also produce one in Advanced Traffic Management, please don’t tamper with road signals that don’t belong to you.

            • Spudeater,

              I have clearly misunderstood your question, for which apologies.

              I had the (obviously mistaken) impression that Lily’s response of “Confession and Communion” wasn’t what you were lookng for. Perhaps because you wrote this:

              “I’m still not totally clear though on what ‘shall not die without receiving the sacraments’ means. If, as you say, this refers to Confession and Communion rather than the Last Rites,”

              That gave me the (obviously mistaken) impression that you were expecting Extreme Unction, so my answer was aimed at allaying your (apparent) fears, in that, were a priest to come with the Sacraments of Confession and Communion to a deathbed, he would – certainly if a traditional priest – give you the anointing etc.

              There, I managed to put that right (I hope) without making any unkind personal remarks. I hope I’ve put it right – if we’ve still not managed to answer your question, please don’t hesitate to let us know – I’m sure one of the others will step in to offer further possibilities.

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