A “First Friday” is the first Friday of the month and is often marked by special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus since Jesus died for us and won our salvation on a Friday. Every Friday of the year, and not only the Fridays in Lent, is a special day of penance as stipulated in the Code of Canon Law: “The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent” (Canon 1250).
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) reported visions of Jesus Christ directing her to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on nine consecutive First Fridays in reparation for sins and in order to show love to Jesus. In return for this act of devotion, which usually includes Mass, Communion, confession and even an hour of Eucharistic Adoration on the eve of the first Friday of the month, our blessed Savior reputedly promised St. Margaret Mary the following blessings:
“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.”
The devotion is officially sanctioned, but it was not so at first. In fact, St. Margaret Mary met with resistance and incredulity from the start in her own religious community, and not until 75 years after her death was the First Friday devotion to the Sacred Heart officially recognized. Almost 240 years after her death, Pope Pius XI stated that Jesus had appeared to St. Margaret Mary in his encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor (1928), fully eight years after she was formally canonized a saint by Pope Benedict XV.