The Twelve Promises of the Sacred Heart |
by Father Joseph McDonnell, S.J.
Reprinted with permission of Catholic Family News, see Editor's Notes below.
The Twelfth Promise:
"The Great Promise" *
"I promise thee in the excess of the mercy of My Heart, that Its all-powerful love will grant to all those who shall receive communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they shall not die under My displeasure, nor without receiving their sacraments; My Divine Heart shall be their assured refuge at that last hour."
I quote the following from my Commentary on the Litany of the Sacred Heart, page 151:
1. Certain theological principles to be borne in mind.
"Before examining the bearing of this Promise on our present invocation, we must recall the following considerations:
"Final perseverance is a gratuitous gift of God's goodness, and cannot be merited as an acquired right by any individual act of ours. (Trent, Sess. vi, cap. vi, can. 16 and 22). It is rather given as the reward for a series of acts continued to the end: 'He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved' (Matthew 10: 22).
(b) "No one in this life can have an absolute certainty of his salvation.
(c) "Final perseverance can be procured by prayer possessing the requisite qualifications and backed up by good works. Christ has again and again promised to hear our prayers: 'Ask, and ye shall receive,' etc. Of all things that we can ask, final perseverance is immeasurably the most important object of our prayers."
2. The text of the "Great Promise" may be divided into three parts: (a) the source from which the favor springs; (b) the condition to which the favor is attached; (c) the favor itself. Explanation of each.
"Bearing these considerations in mind we turn to the 'Great Promise.' It contains three parts: (a) the source from which the favor springs - i.e. the 'excess of mercy' and the 'all-powerful love' of the Sacred Heart; (b) the condition to which the favor is attached - i.e. the receiving of Communion on the First Fridays of nine consecutive months, in honor of the Sacred Heart; (c) the favor itself - i.e. 'the final grace of repentance,' to which are subjoined the constituent elements of final perseverance: 'They shall not die under My displeasure, nor without receiving their Sacraments [gallice, leurs Sacraments, as found in the two places in which this Promise is set down by Blessed Margaret Mary], and My Heart shall be their assured refuge at that last hour."
(a) "The Source"
"The phrases 'excess of mercy' and 'all-powerful love' are remarkable, and suggest something very exceptional in the nature of the promise. That mercy may well be called 'excesive' which promises salvation to the just or sinners without distinction, on conditions which seem so easy of accomplishment. Yet God is master of His gifts. St. Paul quotes the Divine words addressed of old to Moses: '...I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,...' etc. (Romans 9: 150 From which the Apostle draws the conclusion. 'Therefore He hath mercy on whom He Will. ...' (Romans 9: 19). The 'all-powerful love' of athe Sacred Heart is able, if He will, to obtain from the goodness of His Eternal Faither such an exceptional grace of salvation as this - able, to to bend His creatures' will to His designs without doing any violence to our free will. For God can always give a grace such that, as He foresees, man will yield to it, and, if necessary, be converted. There 'is nothing to hinder God, in reward for the performance of a given act' - in the present instance the making, under certain specific conditions, of nine First Friday Communions - from granting on the bed of death a grace such as, without forcing man's free-will, to infallibly secure his conversion and final repentance. Or else God can give as reward the grace of final perseverance in their good dispositions to such as habitually lead good lives. How many there are who begin life well and end it badly! Such a grace is neither merited nor given as an acquired right, but purely out of God's 'excess of mercy.' 'Who can resist the will of God,' when He chooses to' ... shew the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He hath prepared unto glory?' (Romans 9: 23)
(b) "The Condition"
This is so clearly and precisely laid down that there can be no misunderstanding it. It consists in the reception of Holy Communion, with proper dispositions, in honor of the Sacred Heart, on the First Fridays of nine consecutive months. The performance of this condition implies a very considerable degree of perseverance, and often means the overcoming of many obstacles and difficulties. Hence this condition contains an element of steadfastness and determined fidelity in God's service.
(c) "The Favor Itself"
The final grace of repentance' means a happy death and a blessed eternity. The phrase 'they shall not die without receiving their Sacraments' is peculiar. 'Their Sacraments' does not necessarily mean what are termed the 'Last Sacraments.' Many who have made the Nine Fridays have been known to die without them. For such persons their last Confession and Communion were their 'Last Sacraments.' Sudden death may be a grace. God may foresee that for certain persons an ordinary death would prove dangerous to salvation - that they would yield to despair or some other dangerous temptation on the bed of death.
3. The nature of the certainty of salvation attached to this Promise.
"It must be borne in mind that this Promise does not afford an absolute certainty of salvation. It merely gives that confidence, which amounts to moral certainty. First, because the veracity of the Promise itself rests upon merely human evidence, and can therefore only engender a belief that is natural and human, as opposed to what is supernatural. There is no question whatever of the certainty of Catholic faith. Secondly, because as already stated, no one is absolutely certain of salvation. Even St. Paul, despite his wondrous revelations, felt no absolute certainty of his salvation. 'For I am not conscious to myself of anything,' he said. 'Yet am I not hereby justified: ...' (1 Corinthians 4: 4); and he bids us to work out our salvation 'with fear and trembling.' He dreads lest, after he has preached to others, he himself sxhould become a castaway. Yet if any of the Saints felt assured of his salvation it was St. Paul. We are extremely weak. Of ourselves we can do nothing. This utter distrust of self, this keen consciousness of our utter inconstancy and instability, and the consequent uncertainty as to our own future behavior in God's service, are quite consistent with that entire trust in God's goodness which says: 'I can do all things in Him Who strengthened me.' (Phil. 4: 13) He who is thus disposed is very far from yielding to presumption, or saying to himself: 'I have made the Nine Fridays: I am safe now; no matter what I do I shall be saved.' On the contrary, if he has made his Communions in the proper dispositions, divine grace has filled him with a clearer knowledge of his weakness, and taught him to lean more entirely for help on God. And when the final hour comes he will find an 'assured refuge' in the Sacred Heart, and will experience 'how sweet a thing it is to die after having had a constant devotion to the Heart of Him Who is to be His judge,' and how truly is Sacred Heart 'the salvation of those who hope in It.' Thirdly, to all this it may be added that no one has more than a moral certainty that he has fulfilled the conditions of the 'Great Promise' - that, for example, his Communions were made in the state of grace, since 'man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love or hatred'."
4. Objections Answered
This promise is not genuine. For a long time only eleven Promises were given in printed lists, the twelfth was added later on.
On the contrary, of all the Promises of the Sacred Heart this is precisely the one that carries with it the strongest marks of its authenticity. For, firstly, it is the only one among the "Promises" that is found exactly in its present form in the first formula of "Promises of the Sacred Heart," seven in number, drawn up and duly authenticated by the diocesan authorities of the Diocese of Autun in France, shortly after Blessed Margaret Mary's death. A translation of this ancient French list of "Promises" is given in the Introduction to this book. Secondly, unlike some other of the "Promises," this twelfth one is a verbatim transcript from the writings of Blessed Margaret Mary.
It may bae urged: If all this be so , why is this Twelfth Promise omitted from many of the earlier lists published in the last century?
Answer: Those who drew up those earlier lists were probably unaware of the special claims to authenticity possessed by this Twelfth Promise; or else it contained such extraordinary and exceptional favors that they hesitated about bringing it forward, lest its authenticity should be doubted.
According to this Promise no one who makes the Nine First Friday Communions will die without the Last Sacraments. Now, persons who made these Nine Fridays have, as a matter of fact, died very suddenly without any Sacraments at all. This fact alone throws doubt on the whole Promise.
The Promise gives no assurance whatever that certain individuals will not die without what are termed the Last Sacraments. All that it says is that they shall not die without "their Sacraments." Ils ne mourront point ... sans recevoir leurs Sacrements. The French phrase, leurs Sacrements, is not used by any French writer in our sense of "the last Sacraments."
It may be urged: What does it mean, if so?
Answer: It means exactly what it says, "their Sacraments." This is a curious phrase and must be interpreted in connection with the great object of the Promie, "the grace of final repentance." The fundamental idea of the Promise is death in God's friendship: "They shall not die under My displeasure." Now, the "Last Sacraments," as they are called, are but a means and, note it well, not always a necessary, or even in certain comcomitant circumstances, an advisable, means to this end. Persons who live habitually in the state of grace do not need the "Last Sacraments" as a necessary means to salvation. Beyond this, the Last Sacraments are a source of strength and comfort to the dying. Yet cases are conceivable in which a sudden death without the Sacraments would be more conducive, not merely to the comfort but even to the alvation of the dying person. Not indeed that the Sacraments themselves could be anything but helpful. But it is quite conceivable how for persons of an extremely scrupulous disposition, or filled with an unreasonable fear of death, a sudden death, even without the help of the Sacraments, would from all points of view be better and safer than a more lingering illness in which they might be exposed to dangerous temptations, say, of despair. Will anyone say that in such cases fundamental object of the Twelfth Promise has not been fully and adequately attained?
We may, therefore, interpret the phrase their Sacraments as meaning such Sacraments, if any, as are necessary, or, in their accompanying circumstances of prolonged illness, etc., helpful, to salvation. As we have seen, an unconditional promise of the Last Sacraments, in every possible case, might not be conducive to the spiritual welfare of individual souls.
No one is certain of salvation in this life. Yet this Promise, if it means anything, means that those who make the Nine First Fridays are certain of salvation.
The answer to this difficulty has already been given in the body of the Commentary.
This Promise is liable to very grave abuse: people may make the Nine First Fridays and then say to themselves, "No matter what I do, now, I'm sure to be saved."
This disposition is either prior to, or subsequent to, the making of the Nine Communions. If prior to them, i.e., if before making their Communions they are not truly repentant nor genuinely resolved to avoid mortal sin and serve God, their dispositions are obviously bad and their Confessions and Communions sacrilegious. If subsequent, I either deny the supposition, as contrary to experience, or, if for a time they fall away from their good dispositions and yield to sin, they will get the grace of repentance and finally die in God's friendship. Human nature is, indeed, very inconstant. But here it is exactly that the Promise comes in. Cannot God, in reward for their having complied in past times with the conditions of the Promise, give them the grace of true contrition and confession at their death, or choose some period to call them out of life when they are in the state of grace?
Yes, but final perseverance cannot be secured by a single act. It is the reward of a series of acts continued to the end.
This difficulty has been solved already. It must be remembered that final perseverance is a gratuitous gift of God. It cannot be merited by any individual act of ours. It comes from God's goodness, not from any dispositions of our own. God is Master of His gifts. He can, if He chooses, attach to the performance of certain conditions, in this case, the making of good Communions on the First Fridays of nine consecutive months, the supremely important favor of not dying under His displeasure. Moreover, the making of the Nine Fridays often implies a very considerable degree of perseverance in well-doing.
Blessed Margaret Mary was not sure of this Promise herself. She prefaces it wtih the words, "If I am not mistaken."
This manner of spech was enjoined on her by her superior, Mother Greyfie, as we learn from the Superior herself, to preserve her humility. It does not imply any doubt on Margaret Mary's part. Such formulas are very common in her writings.
Many persons make the Nine Fridays as a means of gaining special intentions of their own, without any reference to the peculiar objects mentioned in the Twelfth Promise.
So long as these persons do not exlude the peculiar objects mentioned in the Twelfth Promise, they may hope for the accomplishment in themselves of these objects. People are free, of course, to offer the Nine Fridays as a species of Novena for temporal or other intentions. God very often grants these intentions. But we may be assured that, above and before all else, He grants them the infinitely more important favor of not dying under His displeasure.
Meditations on the Twelfth Promise
First Point: The Blessed Eucharist and the Grace of Final Perseverance
Even apart from any special promise or revelation, there is nothing more calculated to keep the soul in the state of sanctifying grace, and thus secure final perseverance, than the frequent reception of the Blessed Eucharist: "He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood, hath everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6: 55) "This Sacrament, says the Catechism of the Council of Trent, "is most effacious towards the attainment of eternal glory. O Sacred Feast," says the Church in its liturgy, "in which a pledge of future glory is given to us. "He that eateth this Bread, shall live forever. (John 6:59)
The Blessed Eucharist unites the soul in a most wondrous way with God. Christ Himself tells us so: "He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood abideth in Me and I in him" (John 6: 57) Moreover, it fortifies the soul against sin: "This Sacrament", says the Council of Trent," is an antidote whereby we are…preserved from mortal sin; may, even "freed from daily faults" says the same Council. "That daily Bread", says St. Ambrose, "is taken as a remedy for daily infirmity." "The Sacrament of the Altar," Says St. Thomas, "frees us from sin in this life." Hence it is abundantly evident that the reception of the Blessed Eucharist is the very best possible means we have of avoiding sin and securing everlasting happiness.
O Heart of Jesus, inspire me with a very ardent desire for frequent Communion. Teach me to find the very frequent and even daily reception of the Blessed Eucharist my greatest protection against my own weakness, my greatest hope of final perseverance and a happy death.
2nd Point - First Friday Communions and Perseverance
It is a notable fact that those who one make the Nine First Friday Communions usually continue the practice, and go regularly to Communion every First Friday. This seems to be among the graces given in reward for making the Nine Fridays; and it is so important a grace that, if preserved in, this practice, even apart from any promise, is quite sufficient to secure one's final perseverance and salvation.
Again, experience shows that the making of the Nine First Fridays is usually the beginning of a new and more fervent manner of living. Those who continue in the practice of First Friday Communion are remarkable for leading holy, sinless lives. And we know that as we live so shall we die. The habit of First Friday Communion is the best preparation for a happy death, the best means of securing final perseverance and the everlasting joys of Heaven.
O Heart of Jesus, may I make it, as far as possible, and inviolable rule to receive Communion in Thine honor, without fail, every First Friday of my life. If this means some sacrifice, some effort on my part, it will render my Communions all the more acceptable in Thy sight and all the more beneficial to myself.
3rd Point - The Nine First Fridays and the Grace of Final Perseverance
If you have carefully read over what has been said in the Commentary above, you will understand what a truly wonderful and most exceptional grace is promised to those who, with proper dispositions, make the Nine First Friday Communions: they shall receive the greatest grace that God can give-the grace of final perseverance and repentance; they shall not die under God's displeasure; they shall, ordinarily speaking, die with all the spiritual and sacramental consolations of the Church. Our Lord seems to wish to make this point clear beyond all manner of doubt or question: He repeats in no less than three different ways His Promise of the gift of final perseverance, so that there may be no possible doubt or hesitation as to the real meaning of the Promise. It would be impossible to state it more explicitly.
There is no need to dwell on the supreme importance of the undertaking given in this Promise. It means all and everything worth living for. It is, in short, a promise of eternal life, of Heaven itself, with all its everlasting joys.
O Heart of Jesus, how I thank Thee for Thy goodness! In this Promise, if I use it rightly, Thou hast given me a pledge of my salvation. Where but in Thy boundless mercy, in Thine infinite, unfathomable love, could such a guarantee of everlasting life, on such sweet and easy terms, have originated? How truly hast Thou said: "He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood hath everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
For the List of Promises given to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, see Twelve Promises
EDITOR'S NOTES: Since this site is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we are presenting the Meditations and Commentary first written by Father Joseph McDonnell, S.J. during the pontificate of Pope Saint Pius X. We have received the gracious permission of John Vennari, editor of Catholic Family News to reprint the Twelve Promises of the Sacred Heart in The DAILY CATHOLIC. We urge you to subscribe to John's excellent monthly publication for only $25 a year by calling 1-905-871-6292 or e-mail them at CFN.
The book by Fr. McDonnell has been a favorite of countless Catholics over the decades, and CFN gives it the highest praise, "especially because of the author's erudition in weaving solid doctrinal considerations into his spiritual commentaries. The work, published in 1913 and now out of print, is as much a catechism as it is a book of meditations. It continually instructs and uplifts. We pray this series serves as an incentive for more people to practice the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus." We echo our 'Amen' to that and thank John and his publication for allowing us to publish this outstanding work in installments each issue. The one in this issue is reprinted from the December 2002 and January 2003 issues of Catholic Family News.
For installments to date, see www.DailyCatholic.org/2003pro.htm Archives.