What does First Friday mean, and do Catholics still practice it?
The tradition of observing the first Friday (of each month) is rooted in the longtime devotion of the Church to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is our faith tradition that the Sacred Heart of Jesus, by his loving death on Good Friday, is an unending source of mercy and forgiveness. First Fridays commemorate the death of Jesus in gratitude for his mercy and the graces of forgiveness that flow from his Sacred Heart.
An even more particular reason for the devotion to the Sacred Heart comes from the life of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), to whom the Sacred Heart would give several promises. Among the promises given to her (and to all) by our Lord is the following:
“I promise you in the excessive mercy of my heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate [that is, receive holy communion] 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.” (Taken from “The Catholic Sourcebook”.)
Today, many still practice this devotion to the Sacred Heart by receiving communion on first Friday. In addition, the first Friday devotion provides a wonderful outreach opportunity for shut-ins to regularly receive the Eucharist. While this devotion is obviously not one that all can practice (since not all can attend weekday Mass as part of their vocation), it still is one that is highly encouraged among all who can both attend the first Friday Mass, and who desire to give thanks to Jesus in this very particular way for his mercy and forgiveness.
What then is the First Saturday Devotion?
The keeping of First Saturdays is a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary which was given to us through the message of Our Lady of Fatima. Initially, Our Lady told the three children during the apparition on July 13, 1917 to receive Holy Communion on the first Saturday in reparation for sins against her Immaculate Heart. However, it was in 1925 to Lucia (the eldest of the three children and the only one to live into her adulthood) that the Blessed Virgin Mary spoke more specifically of this devotion. At that time, Our Lady said that she will assist at the moment of death, with all the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months shall 1. go to confession; 2. receive Holy Communion; 3. recite five decades of the Rosary; and 4. keep Me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to her. This set of five first Saturdays only need to be accomplished once so as to open one to the promised assistance.
As we are about to begin a new month (and especially minding the good news that both the Friday and Saturday weekday Masses will continue to be offered here at St. Benedict after the new arrangement with St. John’s begins), I encourage all to act upon the opportunities to fulfill these two great Eucharistic devotions to the two hearts of Jesus and Mary – for your own personal benefit and for the good of the whole Church. May we all take refuge in the hearts of Jesus and Mary, relying on the grace that flow forth from them to be drawn into ever deeper union.