By Rev. Joseph J. C. Petrovits, J.C.B., S.T.L.
INTERPRETATION OF THE TEXT OF THE GREAT PROMISE
The Great Promise, as has been pointed out, is couched in different forms. Since the purpose of this chapter is to submit it to interpretation, we shall be obliged to select one of its versions.
1. The formula of Bishop Languet, not being a quotation, has never been taken as a model for such. The other three renditions of the Twelfth Promise have equal value. For the time being we shall give preference to the text which is found in the second volume of the Vie et Oeuvres de la Bienheureuse Marguerite-Marie published by the Visitandines of Paray in 1876, p. 196. It runs thus: "One day on a Friday, during Holy Communion He said these words to His unworthy slave (servant), if she is not mistaken: I promise thee, in the excessive mercy of my Heart, that its all powerful love will give the grace of final repentance to all those who communicate nine successive First Fridays of the month; they will not die in its displeasure, nor without receiving their Sacraments, My divine Heart rendering itself their assured refuge in that last moment" The first difficulty presenting itself is the expression of doubt: Si elle ne se trompe (If she is not mistaken). A passage found in the Memoir of Mother Greyffie sheds a sufficient light on this point to explain it satisfactorily. This Superior advises the Beata that in connection with her supernatural visions, for the sake of humility, she should make frequent use of terms expressive of doubt as, e. g., It seems to me, or if I am not mistaken. It can be presumed that Blessed Margaret Mary in this particular instance acted in conformity with the above suggestion. She was, furthermore, instructed even to disclaim the revelation in case her Superiors, or those who have the right to investigate it, pronounced against it. A perusal of her writings will disclose that she used the above quoted expression with frequency. In this connection it will be well to note a very appropriate remark of Father Thurston: " We do not invariably find this note of doubt in the saint's description of her supernatural experiences, especially when we are dealing with her autograph." Moreover, the advice of Mother Greyffie also complicates matters to some extent. It is conceded that the saints did not always comprehend all their supernatural visions with clarity. Hence, in case they wished to commit them to writing, unless convinced of their real signification, they couched them in words expressing an ambiguity. But as it is, we are at a loss to determine now whether Blessed Margaret Mary premises the dubitative terms in obedience to Mother Greyffie's counsel, or because she failed to have a clear comprehension of the full meaning and scope of the revelation.
2. It is clear that, in order to gain the reward of the Great Promise, Holy Communion must be received on the First Friday of every month, for a period of nine consecutive months. No warrant can be found in the writing of the Beata justifying the supposition of some spiritual writers that in case one of the Fridays happens to be Good Friday it will suffice to prolong the devotion by one month. This is a modern, private conjectural interpretation on which the Church, up to the present, has failed to take a definite official stand. Therefore, the devotional manuals are to be reprehended when, without an adequate warrant, they state with certainty that the intervening Good Friday does not break the chain of the requisite nine First Friday Communions. 4 Until an official pronouncement shall be made on this matter we cannot urge strongly enough the acceptance of the interpretation that in case the succession of the First Fridays has been interrupted, even by circumstances over which the communicant had no control, the devotion must be re-commenced.
3. There are two things to be noted in connection with the reward which is to accrue to the communicant from the reception of the nine Holy Communions, viz., (1) the grace of final repentance (la grace de la penitence finale) ; (2) the Sacraments (les Sacraments). In one version we read la grace finale de la penitence, and in another la grace de la penitence finale. Since it is evident that these two references to this particular grace intend to convey the same meaning it may justly be concluded that all the forms of the Great Promise concur in assuring the grace of final repentance. To the word penitence the meaning of repentance was attached in the time of Blessed Margaret Mary. The qualifying adjective finale specifies the time at which this special grace is to be expected. The death-bed repentance in French is la pinitence au lit de la mort. Father de la Colombiere in his sermon entitled Sur la penitence differee & la mort gives an excellent example of the use of the French word penitence. The interpreters lay great stress on this part of the reward, the sacraments not being absolutely necessary, since Christ, if He so desires, can render a soul with such a special grace a pleasing object in His sight, irrespective of whether it had previously received the last sacraments or not. Therefore, since the grace of final repentance irrevocably decides the fate of the soul which hie et nunc is on the verge of embarking for eternity, the signification of the promise will resolve itself principally into the interpretation attributed to the first reward.
Ecclesiastics, conversant with the various phases of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, suggest three leading interpretations to be attributed to this grace. We shall present a brief treatment of each opinion individually.
(A) Father Ramiere, for a long time the official head of the League of the Sacred Heart, represents no small circle of followers. In his estimation Christ promises a guarantee of only a little more than the ordinary help at the hour of death to the compliant with the prescribed conditions. He affords us reasonable grounds of expectation that He will be with the dying in a special manner at that momentous hour upon which eternity depends. He extends the hope of a particular grace, but gives no assurance concerning the co-operation with it. He promises also to give a special opportunity of receiving the sacraments one may stand in need of. Summarizing all the foregoing interpretations we may say: " He holds out the certainty of extraordinary favors at the hour of death, but gives no certainty of final repentance."