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Ask A Franciscan: First Friday Devotion

I am very interested in knowing more about the First Friday devotion—for example, its background, rules, and benefits. How does this devotion fit into the larger picture of our Catholic faith? I feel called to promote this devotion. Any suggestions?

This devotion is one expression of a larger devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The custom of receiving Communion on the first Friday of nine consecutive months greatly increased after the reported apparitions of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690).

All popular devotions need to be understood within their context and why that devotion has spread. First Fridays arose at a time when Jansenism was very strong in France and elsewhere.

In A Concise Dictionary of Theology, Gerald O’Collins, SJ, and Edward Farrugia, SJ, describe Jansenism as “a theological and spiritual movement, characterized by moral rigidity and pessimism about the human condition.” It is named after Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638), bishop of Ypres, Belgium. Jansen “argued that God’s grace irresistibly determines our free choices and without special grace we cannot keep the commandments.” Five Jansenist propositions were condemned in 1653 and later. The movement greatly influenced how people thought about God, themselves, and others.

Although few people were diehard Jansenists, many people were influenced by it. The First Friday devotion was a way of encouraging frequent (for those times) reception of Communion, linked to confession of mortal and venial sins. In 1905, St. Pius X encouraged more frequent reception of Communion, and in 1910 lowered the age for first Communion to 7.

I can remember in the 1950s that our parish bulletin announced upcoming Communion Sundays for various groups such as the ladies’ sodality, rosary/altar society, Knights of Columbus, and similar organizations. I served at many funerals where no one received Communion; at weddings, only the bride and groom did in many places.

A few First Friday groups had breakfast after morning Mass, sometimes with a talk on a spiritual topic. Other groups attended noon Mass at a downtown church and had lunch together. In the 1950s and 1960s, this was the closest thing to a men’s spirituality or women’s spirituality group that many parishes had. Could your First Friday efforts involve an initiative to foster group reflection and spiritual growth? Some parishes still have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on First Fridays.

A little Internet research will yield the 12 promises associated with First Friday observance. No prayer, of course, enables a human being to create an obligation that God must fulfill. The First Friday devotion can aid our ongoing conversion to the Lord’s ways.