“For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the Sunday after Easter Sunday, the Octave of Easter. It is based on the devotion to the Divine Mercy that Saint Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) reported as part of her encounter with Jesus, and is associated with special promises from Jesus and indulgences issued by the Church. It was so designated by Pope John Paul II on April 30, 2000, the same date that St. Faustina was canonized.
The normal schedule for this devotion at St. Therese Church is as follows:
3:00 to 4:00 p.m.: Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, followed by a Holy Hour (including recitation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet)
3:00 to 5:00 p.m.: Confessions
4:45 p.m.: Benediction
5:00 p.m. Holy Mass
Following the Mass, a relic of St. Faustina will be available to be touched and venerated by everyone present.
PLENARY INDULGENCE: Our Lord promised that all who attend Mass, make their Confession, pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, and receive Holy Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday would obtain "complete forgiveness of sins and their punishment." The Vatican has extended our Lord's promise so that, if necessary, Confession can be made up to 20 days before or after Divine Mercy Sunday. Indulgences can be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased (but not to another living person).
BACKGROUND OF THE DIVINE MERCY DEVOTION
In 1933, God appeared to St. Faustina (then Sister Faustina Kowalska, a young, uneducated Polish nun of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow) and gave her a striking vision of His Mercy. In obedience to her spiritual director, she wrote about these revelations in a diary of about 600 pages. In it St. Faustina tells us: "I saw a great light, with God the Father in the midst of it. Between this light and the earth I saw Jesus nailed to the Cross in such a way that God, wanting to look upon the earth, had to look through Our Lord's wounds, and I understood that God blessed the earth for the sake of Jesus."
Of another vision on Sept. 13, 1935, she writes: "I saw an Angel, the executor of God's wrath... about to strike the earth... I began to beg God earnestly for the world with words which I heard interiorly. As I prayed in this way, I saw the Angel's helplessness, and he could not carry out the just punishment..."
THE FEAST OF DIVINE MERCY: Jesus said “…tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon the souls who approach the Fount of My Mercy. On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.... Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy” (Diary 699).
Devotion to The Divine Mercy involves a total commitment to God as Mercy. It is a decision to trust completely in Him, to accept His mercy with thanksgiving, and to be merciful as He is merciful. The devotional practices proposed in the diary of Saint Faustina are completely in accordance with the teachings of the Church and are firmly rooted in the Gospel message of our Merciful Savior. Properly understood and implemented, they will help us grow as genuine followers of Christ. There are two scriptural verses that we should keep in mind as we involve ourselves in these devotional practices: 1. "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Is 29:13); 2. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Mt 5:7).
THE DIVINE MERCY PROMISE: Jesus promised that, “I will grant complete pardon from sin and its punishment to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Feast of My Mercy” (Diary 1109). Our Lord also said “When you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul…” and “Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy (1602). Make your confession before Me. The person of the priest is… only a screen. Never analyze what sort of a priest that I am making use of; open your soul in confession to Me, and I will fill it with My light” (1725).
THE CHAPLET OF DIVINE MERCY: An inner voice taught St. Faustina what is now known as The Chaplet of Divine Mercy (see box). Jesus said later to Sister Faustina: "Say unceasingly this chaplet that I have taught you. Anyone who says it will receive great Mercy at the hour of death. Priests will recommend it to sinners as the last hope. Even the most hardened sinner, if he recites this Chaplet even once, will receive grace from My Infinite Mercy. I want the whole world to know My Infinite Mercy. I want to give unimaginable graces to those who trust in My Mercy..." "...When they say this Chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person not as the just judge but as the Merciful Savior".
THE DIVINE MERCY IMAGE: The earliest element of the Devotion to the Divine Mercy which was revealed to St. Faustina was the Image. On February 22, 1931, Jesus appeared to her with rays radiating from His heart and said, “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: ‘Jesus I trust in You.’ I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, then throughout the world” (Diary 47). He added, “I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over its enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I myself will defend it as My own glory (Diary 48). I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy” (Diary 327).
“The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water, which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood, which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. These rays shield souls from the wrath of My Father. Happy is the one who dwells in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him" (Diary 299).
In these texts the Church's doctrine on images, justification and grace are explained. First, by itself an image is merely a painting, no matter how beautiful and expressive. Yet, it can point us to the mysteries of faith and dispose us to grasp and receive what it represents, in this case the Divine Mercy. It is thus a vessel, not the source, a reminder, not the reality. The reality is the merciful fountain of grace flowing from the pierced Heart of Christ on the Cross, and flowing out visibly to represent the visible; that is, the sacramental signs of grace, Baptism and Eucharist, standing for all the Sacraments of the Church.
The image also reminds us that salvation is not just by faith, but by works of charity also. It takes faith to see and believe in what the Image signifies, Divine Mercy poured out from Christ upon the Cross; but it takes mercy, love going beyond the strict requirements of justice, in order to draw down mercy on oneself. The Image of the pierced side of Christ pouring out blood and water reminds us that the Cross, love in action, is the price of mercy. "As I have loved you so also should you love one another" (Jn 13:34).
NOVENA BEFORE THE FEAST: In preparation for the Feast of The Divine Mercy, the Lord asked St. Faustina to make a novena of prayer from Good Friday to the following Saturday. These nine days of prayer before the Feast of Mercy are like the nine days of prayer in the upper room before the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14). For each of the nine days, Our Lord gave St. Faustina a different intention: 1) all mankind, especially sinners; 2) the souls of priests and religious; 3) all devout and faithful souls; 4) those who do not believe in Him and those who do not yet know Him; 5) the souls of the separated brethren; 6) the meek and humble souls and the souls of little children; 7) the souls who especially venerate and glorify His mercy; 8) the souls detained in Purgatory; and 9) the souls who have become lukewarm. "I desire that during these nine days you bring souls to the fount of my mercy, that they may draw therefrom strength and refreshment and whatever grace they have need of in the hardships of life, and especially at the hour of death" (Diary 1209). You can make a novena of prayer for these intentions by praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
THE THREE O'CLOCK HOUR: In His revelations to St. Faustina, Jesus asked for special, daily remembrance at 3:00 o'clock, the very hour He died for us on the Cross: "At three o'clock, implore my mercy, especially for sinners; and, if only for a brief moment, immerse yourself in my Passion, particularly in my abandonment at the moment of agony. This is the hour of great mercy for the whole world. I will allow you to enter into my mortal sorrow. In this hour, I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of me in virtue of my Passion" (Diary 1320). At 3:00 o'clock, we can pray: "You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty yourself out upon us. (Diary 1319). O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountof mercy and grace, I trust in you " (Diary 84).
SPREAD OF THE DEVOTION: Jesus told St. Faustina that this Feast of Mercy would be a very special day when “all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened” (Diary 699). Even before her death in 1938, the devotion to The Divine Mercy had began to spread. The message of mercy is that God loves us no matter how great our sins. He wants us to call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. The message is nothing new, but it is a reminder of what the Church has always taught through Scripture and Tradition: that God is merciful and forgiving and that we, too, must show mercy and forgiveness. But in the Divine Mercy Devotion, the message takes on a powerful new focus, calling people to a deeper understanding that God’s love is unlimited and available to everyone—especially the greatest of sinners. Thus, all will come to share His joy.
LIVING THE MESSAGE OF DIVINE MERCY: The Divine Mercy message is one we can call to mind simply by remembering A.B.C.:
A — Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon the whole world.
B — Be merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does to us.
C — Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive.
When we look at the image of the Merciful Savior, or pause for prayer at three o'clock, or pray the Chaplet, are we drawing closer to the real sacramental life of the Church and allowing Jesus to transform our hearts? Or have they just become religious habits? In our daily lives are we growing more and more as people of mercy? Or are we just giving "lip service" to God's mercy? The devotional practices revealed through St. Faustina were given to us as "vessels of mercy" through which God's love can be poured out upon the world, but they are not sufficient unto themselves. It's not enough for us to hang The Divine Mercy image in our homes, pray the Chaplet every day at three o'clock, and receive Holy Communion on the first Sunday after Easter. We also have to show mercy to our neighbors. Putting mercy into action is not an option of the Divine Mercy Devotion; it's a requirement!
Our Lord strongly speaks about this to St. Faustina: 'I demand from you deeds of mercy which are to arise out of love for me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse yourself from it" (Diary, 742).
Like the Gospel command, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful," this demand that we show mercy to our neighbors "always and everywhere" seems impossible to fulfill. But the Lord assures us that it is possible. "When a soul approaches Me with trust," He explains, "I fill it with such an abundance of graces that it cannot contain them within itself, but radiates them to other souls" (Diary, 1074).
How do we "radiate" God's mercy to others? By our actions, our words, and our prayers. "In these three degrees," Jesus tells Sister Faustina, "is contained the fullness of mercy" (Diary 742). We have all been called to this threefold practice of mercy, but we are not all called in the same way. We need to ask the Lord, who understands our individual personalities and situations, to help us recognize the various ways we can each show His mercy in our daily lives. By asking for the Lord's mercy, trusting in His mercy, and sincerely trying to live His mercy in our lives, we can be assured that we will never hear Him say of us, "Their hearts are far from Me," but rather that wonderful promise, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
THEOLOGY OF THE FEAST OF THE DIVINE MERCY
The establishment of the Feast of The Divine Mercy on the octave day of Easter fulfilled the purpose of the restoration of the liturgical year, allowing "the faithful through their faith, hope and love to share more deeply in the whole mystery of Christ as it unfolds throughout the year" (Moto Proprio of Pope Paul VI, 1969, on the Liturgical Year and Roman Calendar, quoting Vatican II on the Liturgy, 102). It ensures even greater prominence to the Paschal Mystery of Christ, so that the faithful more effectively "lays hold of the mysteries of Christ and are filled with His saving grace" (Ibid).
How does it achieve these purposes? In a number of ways: The Feast of Mercy has its roots deeply planted in the Old and New Testament and in the early Church Tradition. It is a feast with three distinct dimensions, each emphasizing an aspect of the Paschal Mystery that needs to be brought out more clearly and appropriated by the faithful: merciful love, atonement, and covenant.
The Feast of Mercy is a Celebration and a Summation of God's Merciful Love
The Triduum of Holy Week, along with the entire Easter season, focuses on various aspects of the Paschal Mystery. Holy Thursday celebrates the Mass of the Chrism and the evening Mass of the Mandatum--the washing of the feet of the disciples, ordination to the priesthood, the institution of the Eucharist, and the last discourse of Our Lord promising the sending of the Holy Spirit. Good Friday commemorates the Passion and Death, and celebrates the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Redeemer who is our light and salvation, bringing us new life by water and the Holy Spirit. The Easter season continues this celebration, leading to the Ascension of the Lord and to Pentecost--the fulfillment of the promise to send the Holy Spirit.
The Feast of Mercy focuses on God's mercy as an event! It focuses on God's continuing action of mercy throughout salvation history as we see it recorded in the letter to the Romans (Chapters 9, 10, 11), culminating in His loving plan to have mercy on all! (Rom 11:32.) This Feast is a summation of the event to His mercy active in our lives now. It is because of His mercy that we have forgiveness of sin and new life as children of God. This needs to be celebrated!
The Feast of Mercy is a Day of Atonement
The Feast of Mercy is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Day of Atonement (Lev. 16, Lev. 23:26-32 and Sir. 50). It is a day of forgiveness of sins for those who approach the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is an annual celebration like the Day of Atonement--all sins and punishment are washed away in His infinite mercy. The focus of this Paschal event is on God's mercy for us sinners and His free gift to those who turn to Him with trust.
Interestingly enough, the texts of the liturgy for that Sunday (Second Sunday of Easter) already focus on the forgiveness of sins and mercy. The Gospel is of Jesus appearing in the upper room and bestowing the authority to forgive sins (Jn 20:19-5), and the other readings are about the Blood and Water and the proclamation of mercy (there was no need to change the texts for Divine Mercy Sunday!).
Our Easter liturgy had fulfilled the major feasts of the Old Testament--Passover and Pentecost--and was missing only the Day of Atonement. This Feast of Mercy now completes the needed fulfillment of Old Testament feasts.
The Feast of Mercy is the Covenant of Mercy
The Octave day has its roots in the Old Testament and New Testament as the Day of Covenant. On the eighth day after His birth, a male child was circumcised as a sign of the covenant and given His name (Gen. 17:12-14; Lk. 2:21). In the early Church the newly baptized, newly born in Christ, wore white robes until the Sunday in White (Dominica in Albis), the Octave day of Easter, symbolizing their innocence. The Feast of Mercy once again celebrates the white innocence we receive by the Covenant of Mercy.
St. Augustine calls these days "days of mercy and pardon" (No. 156, Dominica in Albis) and the Sunday "the compendium of the days of mercy." And then, referring to the setting aside of the white robes, he warns, "Let not our interior purity be lessened as we set aside its exterior symbols." (No.156, Dominica in Albis).
Like the covenant of Sinai we, too, prepare for the Feast by purification from our sins and by the sprinkling of blood and proclaiming of the law (Ex 19:14-15; Ex 24:6-8), but this time we are cleansed by the Precious Blood of the Lord and the Proclamation of His mercy. On the Octave day of Easter we, too, ratify the Covenant of Mercy, reaffirming not only our Baptism, already renewed at the Easter vigil, but also the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Confirmation and Eucharist. Interestingly enough, all the elements of creation are structured in units of eight (as seen in the periodic table), and musical chords resonate with the octave.
The Feast of Mercy is the Octave day of the Resurrection, which strikes the resonant chord of Easter, developing the meaning and richness of the Paschal Mystery and applying it in a new and deeper way. It resonates with all of nature, sounding anew the grace of the resurrection, alleluia!
The Feast of Mercy: The Desire of the Lord
As we have seen, the reasons for establishing the Feast of Mercy are strong and clear in themselves. The Feast is rooted in the Old Testament, and an earlier form of the Feast was celebrated from the fourth century as Dominica in Albis. But, in our times, there is an additional reason that makes the need for the Feast of Mercy even more urgent, and that strengthens the meaning and effectiveness of such a feast for the faithful. In His revelations to St. Faustina, Our Lord specifically and repeatedly asked that the Feast of Mercy be established on the Octave day of Easter.
One day, as St. Faustina was offering all her prayers and sufferings so that this feast would be established, she said to Jesus: "They tell me that there is already such a feast and so why should I talk about it?" Jesus answered: "And who knows anything about this feast? No one! Even those who should be proclaiming My mercy and teaching people about it often do not know about it themselves. That is why I want the image to be solemnly blessed on the First Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly so that every soul may know about it." (Diary 341)
The idea of this special celebration of God's mercy on the Sunday after Easter is not a new or radical idea stemming simply from private revelation. Our Lord, through St. Faustina, is simply reemphasizing what was strongly urged by St. Thomas the Apostle in the earliest liturgical document in existence, the "Apostolic Constitutions." There we read: "After eight days (following the feast of Easter) let there be another feast observed with honor, the eighth day itself on which He gave me, Thomas, who was hard of belief, full assurance, by showing me the print of the nails, and the wound made in His side by the spear." This feast had been celebrated in the early Church.
One of the greatest Doctors of the Church, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, also supports this Feast, declaring that the Octave day of Easter is an even greater Feast than Easter, though it takes nothing whatever away from the greatness of the Day of the Resurrection itself. Easter Sunday is the boundary between death and life (a creation). But its eighth day, the Octave, is the fulfillment of what Easter is all about--perfect life in eternity (a second creation, more admirable and more sublime than the first).
Easter Sunday represents our creation in the life of Grace through faith in the Risen Savior. The Octave Sunday of Easter represents the fulfillment of that "creation in grace." Thus it is, as St. Augustine says, "The most privileged Octave-day" and certainly merits the title "Feast of The Divine Mercy."
The "most privileged Octave-day" did not even appear under that title in the revised Roman Missal. It was called that only in the "Ordo"--the book that regulates the celebration of the liturgy. Our Lord surely knew what He was saying to St. Faustina: "And who knows anything about this feast? No one! Even those who should he proclaiming My mercy and teaching people about it often do not know about it themselves" (Diary 341).
We now have the key to understanding the Image of The Divine Mercy with its rays signifying the Blood and Water that flowed from Christ's pierced side with the inscription, "Jesus, I Trust In You," and to Our Lord's insistence that this image be specially venerated on the first Sunday after Easter, which is to be celebrated as the FEAST OF MERCY (Divine Mercy Sunday).
We can also see these rays as simultaneously symbolizing the Holy Spirit, whom Christ breathed into the Disciples during the same Octave-day appearance. On the strength of that Holy Breath, all sins are forgiven and "at-ONE-ment" with the Father is accomplished. Here, God in Christ is reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:18). And here the Church, the newly-born Body of Christ, is commissioned to be the instrument of reconciliation down through the ages.
This is Christ's GREAT PROMISE of complete pardon of sin and punishment on the Feast of Mercy through the reception of the Sacraments (which is a participation of Christ's death to sin and rising to divine life). All the elements of the message and devotion to The Divine Mercy focus on the Feast of Mercy.
The day of the Feast is celebrated by using the normal liturgy for that day (Second Sunday of Easter), as per the Decree dated May 5, 2000, for Divine Mercy Sunday, which are all focused on mercy, and a homily on God's mercy. Our Lord asked for a Feast of His Mercy to bring attention to the outpouring of the ocean of graces, and to His promise of the complete forgiveness of sins and punishment to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion.
The desired fulfillment: a deeper sharing
Those who have been celebrating the Octave of Easter in this way, as the Feast of Mercy, have experienced the desired effect of the Second Vatican Council for the liturgical year renewal--a deeper share in the mystery of Christ.