Understanding Divine Mercy Sunday
March 2008By Robert R. Allard
Robert R. Allard, who returned to the Catholic Church in 1993 after a 25-year absence, is the founding director of the Apostles of Divine Mercy (www.DivineMercySunday.com). His articles have been published in various Catholic magazines and newspapers, and he has appeared at conferences and on numerous talk shows. Mr. Allard is available for seminars to provide information to priests and seminarians. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 1-888-732-0722.
Ed. Note: The Feast of Divine Mercy falls on March 30 of this year.
It is urgent that we understand how to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. The late Pope John Paul II mustered his last bit of strength to record his message to the world that was to be read on Divine Mercy Sunday. By God's Divine Providence, that turned out to be the very next day after his death. His words were read on April 3, 2005, at St. Peter's Square, after the Mass for the repose of his soul.
John Paul's message underscored the great need to counteract evil with the gift that the risen Lord offers us on Divine Mercy Sunday. He ended with these words, speaking of the great gift that pardons and reconciles: "It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace. How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!"
John Paul recognized the need for everyone not only to understand it, but to accept it. He was well aware of those who, like the Prodigal Son's brother, have not yet accepted that mercy that can readily restore sinful souls to "royal dignity." It is sometimes difficult for priests to appreciate how Divine Mercy Sunday can be that one special day, every year, where souls can receive an entire pardon of their sins.
We have heard all the objections before: "Divine Mercy Sunday takes away from Easter," "The Pope put the Feast of Divine Mercy on the wrong day," "How can that day be different from any other day?" The people who say these things don't recognize that this Feast of Mercy is today's fulfillment of the Old Testament "Day of Atonement," the annual feast in which sins were forgiven, and the only day that the High Priests could enter the Holy of Holies. God told Moses that it was to be their Sabbath of Sabbaths.
The Octave of Easter is our Sunday of Sundays. Easter is our greatest feast; it is so grand that it is not celebrated for just one day. The Easter Feast carries on for a full eight days, or an octave of days, all the way up to and including Divine Mercy Sunday. This tradition of celebrating octaves has been around for a long time, and the Octave of Easter is the most privileged octave-day because it is the proper culmination of Easter a completely new birth through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus and merits the title "Feast of Mercy."
Even in today's world, the last day of a festival is usually considered the greatest day of the celebration, without taking anything away from the first day. It is the day of the "grand finale," when the fireworks go off, the greatest festivities and final contests are held, and the grand prizes are drawn. In the same way, on the last day of the Easter Feast, the Octave of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, is when we receive the most incredible gift of all, the total forgiveness of all our sins. Jesus made that promise several times to St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, who obediently recorded it in her diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, which was addressed to the world and is a must-read for everyone.
Pope John Paul II indicated that he had fulfilled the will of Christ by instituting the Feast of Mercy. The Pope recognized the need for every soul to know about this incredible promise, and so on June 29, 2002, he issued a special plenary indulgence specifically for Divine Mercy Sunday that is to remain in place into perpetuity. He felt such a great need that he included in it specific duties for priests to tell everyone about it.
So it is not an option, but a matter of obedience, for priests to tell everybody about the plenary indulgence. If every priest followed the instructions that are laid out in that indulgence, which includes making extra time for hearing confessions and leading the prayers after the Masses, we would see a great number of lost souls returning to the practice of the Faith and a timely restoration of the Church.
Disobedience is what has hurt the Church, and it is only through strict obedience that we will see the Church revitalized. The Church has given us this feast as the antidote to the sins that have plagued us since the social revolution of the 1960s and the ignorant and prideful misinterpretations of Vatican II.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Rom. 5:20). We are now witnessing the greatest sins the world has ever known, and as a reparation we have this wonderful Feast of Mercy, in which our Lord promises us an "outpouring of an ocean of graces." The prophetic revelations that were given to us through St. Faustina fit very neatly, and appropriately, into the restoration of the Church to her previous glory.
So perfectly do these prophetic revelations fit that even the liturgical readings that had already been in place for that octave day are most perfectly suited for a Feast of Mercy. Not only do the readings facilitate the celebration of this feast, they also provide credibility for the use of the Divine Mercy image, with its rays of blood and water that our Lord asked to be venerated and solemnly blessed on that day.
The Opening Prayer speaks of the blood and water that are represented by the red and pale rays of light in the Divine Mercy image. The rays represent the Sacraments that issued forth from the heart of Jesus when He was pierced by the soldier's lance on the cross: The red ray symbolizes Holy Communion, and the pale ray symbolizes, for this Feast of Mercy, the Sacrament of Confession, spoken of in this day's Gospel.
The Gospel reading for this particular Sunday (Jn. 20:19-23) tells of the institution of Confession. This was Jesus' first directive to His Apostles after His resurrection, by which He began His Church. This gift of the reconciliation of souls needs to be emphasized, and so we can see why Jesus asked for this particular Sunday to be made the Feast of Mercy. We must be very obedient to win souls back to Christ.
Jesus called for the veneration of the Divine Mercy image throughout the world. Every parish should have an image, not only for the celebration of the Feast of Mercy, but for every liturgy and as a permanent help in reminding people to trust in Jesus, especially as we grow ever closer to His Second Coming. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, wrote of the necessity of having such an image in every Catholic parish in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy.
It has been the improper practice of some pastors to send parishioners who want to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday to another parish that already has a celebration. This is not what pastors should be doing. Divine Mercy Sunday is not a "party for devotees," but is rather a "refuge for sinners." Too often devotees mistakenly want to have devotions solely at 3 PM, rather than getting parishes to celebrate Divine Mercy at all Masses. How do you think Jesus feels when, instead of broadcasting the news about His Feast of Mercy, there are only a few scattered devotions that only devotees attend?
We can no longer turn our backs and make excuses for not celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday. Jesus told St. Faustina that the Feast of Mercy would be the last hope of salvation. Jesus also told St. Faustina that He would be pouring out His mercy before He comes as a just Judge. It would be a tragedy of immense proportions to willingly deny souls the incredible gift available on this great feast.
We do not know the day Jesus will return, but we can surely read the "signs of the times" (Mt. 16:3). We must always be prepared, and we must tell others to be prepared, especially if we have been given the responsibility of shepherding souls. Don't let any pastor say no to celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday at every Mass, just like any other feast day.
It is time that we act like real Catholics, and it is time for all our priests to be obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and to the will of Christ. It would be a great act of mercy to tell everybody about Divine Mercy Sunday. Priests who have a great responsibility to go out and get the lost sheep will have to answer for a great many souls if they are not duly celebrating this Feast of Mercy.
Pope John Paul II most assuredly fulfilled the will of God. Let us do the same.
DOSSIER: The Latin Mass & Trad Renaissance