Thursday, 10 November 2016

Devotion to The Sacred Heart, Its Theology, History and Philosophy part 67.

By  Rev. Joseph J. C. Petrovits, J.C.B., S.T.L.

Another indirect proof corroborating our position in this inquiry may be drawn from the following circumstance. On January 22, 1687, Blessed Margaret Mary wrote a letter to her sick brother, who was a parish priest. This letter was written about sixteen months prior to the date of the epistle containing the revelation of the Great Promise. Having at heart her brother's restoration to health, she sent him a remedy by means of which she hoped to accomplish it. In a letter dispatched simultaneously she instructed him to take this restorative for nine days while fasting, also to say or have said nine Masses for nine Saturdays in honor of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and nine Masses of the Passion for nine Fridays in honor of the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This same letter may be found in the authentic edition of her works by Archbishop Gauthey. The number under which it is printed in this work is LIX. Its autograph is not extant. The collection of manuscript letters from which it was reprinted is designated by number 8, and in this our letter is found on page 165.

From this letter it is manifest that, for reasons known only to herself, and not explained in her writings, she attached a special significance to the number which so frequently occurs in it, viz., the number nine. Nor would it suffice to dismiss this evidence by pointing out the fact that the novena is an old institution in the history of mankind. It is true that a trace of it can be found even among the Romans in their festivities called parentalia no-vendialia. It must also be admitted that in the Christian mortuary celebrations the ninth day is accepted by the Constitutiones Apostolicae* and placed in the same rank with the third and the seventh day. In France, Belgium, and on the Lower Rhine, the custom arose of making a novena to a certain saint in order to recover one's health. This would only explain why Blessed Margaret Mary suggested a novena to her sick brother.

But, up to the time of the Beata, as far as we can ascertain, a novena implied a devotional exercise to be performed on nine consecutive days. Such was its import even among the pagans. Therefore, this practice in itself would fail to explain sufficiently why Blessed Margaret Mary specified nine successive Fridays for her brother, and not nine consecutive days.

Be that as it may, the significance she attached to this number is quite manifest It is likewise clear that the novena, as it was interpreted in the time of Blessed Margaret Mary, does not satisfactorily explain her mind in this particular case. It is the fact that she connected this number with nine consecutive Fridays which must be emphasized.

Friday is a day appropriated for the Passion of Christ. It was the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi that Christ designated as the proper time to solemnize the Feast of the Sacred Heart. It was on the last Friday of each month that He asked her to make amends and reparation in honor of the suffering Heart, and to induce others to do so. All these considerations are calculated to shed some rays of light on the question why she would specify nine Fridays for the Great Promise, instead of other days. They may also be adduced as an indirect proof in favor of the assumption that she actually may have written a letter similar to the one attributed to her, in which she attached so special an importance to nine First Friday Communions.

Whether she was really favored with a revelation to this effect, is a question which no man can answer with certainty. If, however, one would admit that she wrote such a letter, it is to be presumed that, owing to the holy life she led, she must have been in good faith, to say the least, when she laid claim to so unparalleled a communication.

Whether such a letter was written by her or not, is a question which cannot be solved at present. Judging from all the indications, we may believe, she would likely do so, but even then a doubt remains as to the original wording. Since, however, there is a document for which some claim an undoubted historicity, it is necessary to submit it to examination.

We fail to agree with Father Bachelet's assertion that the account of Bishop Languet is in no way dubitative.  On the contrary, it would seem that the clause of reserve which his account of the Twelfth Promise contains, is more striking even than that of the other versions. It must be admitted that the words: If she is not mistaken (Si elle ne se trompe), characteristic of all the other formulas, are omitted from it, but they are supplanted by the terms: En lui faisant esperer (He led her to hope). Furthermore, we contend that these words which precede Bishop Languet's rendition of the Twelfth Promise ought to be used as explanatory of the words preceding the promise as given in all other versions, viz., Si elle ne se trompe. After due consideration given to this matter there is good ground to suppose that the clause of reserve in connection with this promise was not used in submission to Mother Greyfier's injunction, but is actually expressive of a hesitancy as to whether Blessed Margaret Mary interpreted the revelation correctly or not. The fact that she failed to attach any special significance to this incident of her life, that the supposed letter was written three years after the revelation (for no records can be found which would lead us to believe that she made mention of it in any other writings or viva voce), goes to corroborate this conclusion. The attitude she displayed towards this revelation is so different from what one would ordinarily expect of her, that nothing but a doubt as to its full comprehension can explain it. Had she been absolutely certain of the assurance of such extraordinary graces, she would not have failed to stimulate the devotees of the Sacred Heart to avail themselves of a devotion blessed with such far-reaching spiritual consequences. Nor is there any reason why her attitude towards this particular revelation should assume so striking a contrast to her general disposition of mind.

The account of Bishop Languet's version of the Great Promise can be rendered into English as follows. In another letter she prescribed a practice for honoring the Heart of Jesus Christ, a practice which to her was familiar, and which was suggested to her by Our Lord, in leading her to hope for the grace of final repentance, and for that of receiving the Sacraments of the Church before dying, for all those who would make use of it. It was that of making a novena of Communions for that intention, and for honoring the heart of Jesus Christ; in placing each of these Communions on every First Friday of the month for nine consecutive months.

From this it is manifest that Bishop Languet's version contains all the essential characteristics of the Great Promise. The practice suggested by Our Lord was that of going to Holy Communion on the first Friday of each month for nine consecutive months. The intention one is to form when engaging in this devotion is to honor the Heart of Christ, and to hope to receive the grace of final repentance and the Sacraments of the Church before dying. In our opinion a great stress must be laid on the introductory words of the Great Promise, viz., En lui faisant espirer. These are to be taken as the determinants of its general efficacy as a whole, as modifying, to some extent, all the rewards promised by it. They clearly indicate the idea of hope, not of absolute infallible assurance; of humble expectation, and not of unfailing irrevocable guarantee, as the advocates of the third mode of interpretation are in the habit of asserting. The spiritual benefit that may accrue to the recipient of the nine Holy Communions is not the grace of perseverance in good during the period intervening between the completion of the devotion and the hour of death, but only the grace of final repentance. This expectation, the verification of which, with humble Confidence may be piously hoped for, in no way nullifies the efficacy of the Great Promise, nor would this revelation be rendered worthless on account of it. Christ, by extending the prospect of greater good, obliged Himself, so to speak, to be more generous than He would have been had He not imparted such a supernatural manifestation.

This interpretation may be considered as a compromise between the two contending factions, one of which invests the Great Promise with an absolutely infallible efficacy while the other rejects it entirely by denying its authenticity. Our presentation of it does not destroy the sanguine expectations of the advocates of the third mode of interpretation, for all the effects might follow just as unfailingly. However, it would be more compatible with out state as sinful creatures, only to hope for such a remuneration rather than feel that through any action of ours we have acquired an inalienable right to its infallible fulfilment. The propagation of the Great Promise in this sense may be made without any fear of being misunderstood. It is calculated to produce as much spiritual good as the other form, which is not credited by many because, as a well-known and highly respected ecclesiastic puts it, " it is so incredibly unreal."

There are some devotional writers who in their fervor maintain that by means of the Devotion of the Nine Fridays one acquires a right de condigno to a reward, which consists in the grace of final perseverance. It is hard to see where they can find a theological justification for a belief advocating such an infallible granting of that grace. Is it likely that such a reward would be given by God in exchange for the performance of so few spiritual acts occupying so small a portion of a man's life? Again, the life of those who have made the Nine Fridays, even apparently with the best of intentions, as far as human judgment can penetrate, are far from being free from future acts that jeopardize their salvation. It is true that even some of those writers who invest the Great Promise with an absolute efficacy discountenance the assertion that such a reward is the result of merit on our part. Furthermore, they are loath to admit that one has a strict right to so signal a remuneration. Some of them refer us to the infinite mercy of the Sacred Heart as the exclusive fountain-head from which this magnanimous spiritual recompense flows freely without any merit on our part.