Divine Mercy Sunday

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Divine Mercy Sunday


Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q: Would you please clarify what is "special" about Divine Mercy Sunday, and what the faithful and priests have to do in order to obtain the special grace associated with this day? According to the priests that I have spoken to, the same graces can be obtained at reception of holy Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday as on any other day when Communion is received by a communicant in a state of grace, i.e., a plenary indulgence. So what is different about Divine Mercy Sunday and how should the liturgy be properly celebrated so that the faithful may receive the special graces associated with it? — J.C., Ballina, Ireland

A: The devotion to the Divine Mercy stems from the revelations made to the Polish nun St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) over a number of years and at several convents, including the one in Krakow where she is buried.

There are several elements involved in this devotion. One is the image of the merciful Jesus based on a vision of February 1931. In it Our Lord is pictured in the act of blessing, with two rays, one red and the other pallid (representing blood and water), shining from his heart. The words "Jesus, I trust in thee" are placed at his feet.

Copies of this image are today found in many churches all over the world — a sign of the rapid extension of this devotion.

Other elements are the hour of mercy, at 3 in the afternoon, in which the Passion is meditated upon and certain prayers recommended by the revelations are recited. As well as this, there is the chaplet of Divine Mercy with its attendant litany. It is recited using rosary beads but substituting other prayers such as "Through your sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the entire world" on the beads of the Hail Mary.

A special request of these visions was that the first Sunday after Easter should be the feast of Divine Mercy and that on this day the Divine Mercy should be proclaimed in a special way.

The spirituality of Pope John Paul II was deeply influenced by the devotion to the Divine Mercy, and he dedicated his second encyclical, "Dives in Misericordia," to this theme. As archbishop of Krakow he promoted the beatification of Sister Faustina and on the occasion of her canonization in April 2000 announced that henceforth the second Sunday of Easter would be the feast of Divine Mercy.

This announcement was followed by two juridical acts by Vatican offices.

With the decree "Misericors et Miserator" (May 5, 2000) the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments stated: "And so with provident pastoral sensitivity and in order to impress deeply on the souls of the faithful these precepts and teachings of the Christian faith, the Supreme Pontiff, John Paul II, moved by the consideration of the Father of Mercy, has willed that the Second Sunday of Easter be dedicated to recalling with special devotion these gifts of grace and gave this Sunday the name, 'Divine Mercy Sunday.'"

The congregation explained that the change consisted in the additional name for this day. The liturgy would suffer no change whatsoever. All the texts and readings would remain those of the Second Sunday of Easter.

The second decree was published two years later by the Apostolic Penitentiary. This Vatican tribunal, among other tasks, oversees the granting of indulgences. This decree granted new perpetual indulgences attached to devotions in honor of Divine Mercy.
Among other considerations, this text states:

"The faithful with deep spiritual affection are drawn to commemorate the mysteries of divine pardon and to celebrate them devoutly. They clearly understand the supreme benefit, indeed the duty, that the People of God have to praise Divine Mercy with special prayers and, at the same time, they realize that by gratefully performing the works required and satisfying the necessary conditions, they can obtain spiritual benefits that derive from the Treasury of the Church. 'The paschal mystery is the culmination of this revealing and effecting of mercy, which is able to justify man, to restore justice in the sense of that salvific order which God willed from the beginning in man, and through man, in the world' (Encyclical Letter 'Dives in Misericordia,' n. 7).…

"Indeed, Divine Mercy knows how to pardon even the most serious sins, and in doing so it moves the faithful to perceive a supernatural, not merely psychological, sorrow for their sins so that, ever with the help of divine grace, they may make a firm resolution not to sin any more. Such spiritual dispositions undeniably follow upon the forgiveness of mortal sin when the faithful fruitfully receive the sacrament of Penance or repent of their sin with an act of perfect charity and perfect contrition, with the resolution to receive the Sacrament of Penance as soon as they can. Indeed, Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us in the parable of the Prodigal Son that the sinner must confess his misery to God saying: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son' (Lk 15,18-19), realizing that this is a work of God, "for [he] was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found" (Lk 15,32).…

"The Gospel of the Second Sunday of Easter narrates the wonderful things Christ the Lord accomplished on the day of the Resurrection during his first public appearance: 'On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad to see the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And then he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained"' (Jn 20,19-23)….

"To ensure that the faithful would observe this day with intense devotion, the Supreme Pontiff himself established that this Sunday be enriched by a plenary indulgence, as will be explained below, so that the faithful might receive in great abundance the gift of the consolation of the Holy Spirit. In this way, they can foster a growing love for God and for their neighbor, and after they have obtained God's pardon, they in turn might be persuaded to show a prompt pardon to their brothers and sisters….

"Thus the faithful will more closely conform to the spirit of the Gospel, receiving in their hearts the renewal that the Second Vatican Council explained and introduced: 'Mindful of the words of the Lord: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13,35), Christians can yearn for nothing more ardently than to serve the men of this age with an ever growing generosity and success. ... It is the Father's will that we should recognize Christ our brother in the persons of all men and love them with an effective love, in word and in deed' (Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et spes, n. 93)….

"Three conditions for the plenary indulgence

"And so the Supreme Pontiff, motivated by an ardent desire to foster in Christians this devotion to Divine Mercy as much as possible in the hope of offering great spiritual fruit to the faithful, in the Audience granted on 13 June 2002, to those Responsible for the Apostolic Penitentiary, granted the following Indulgences:

"a plenary indulgence, granted under the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the intentions of Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday, in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, take part in the prayers and devotions held in honor of Divine Mercy, or who, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!");

"A partial indulgence, granted to the faithful who, at least with a contrite heart, pray to the merciful Lord Jesus a legitimately approved invocation.

"For those who cannot go to church or the seriously ill

"In addition, sailors working on the vast expanse of the sea; the countless brothers and sisters, whom the disasters of war, political events, local violence and other such causes have been driven out of their homeland; the sick and those who nurse them, and all who for a just cause cannot leave their homes or who carry out an activity for the community which cannot be postponed, may obtain a plenary indulgence on Divine Mercy Sunday, if totally detesting any sin, as has been said before, and with the intention of fulfilling as soon as possible the three usual conditions, will recite the Our Father and the Creed before a devout image of Our Merciful Lord Jesus and, in addition, pray a devout invocation to the Merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you).

"If it is impossible that people do even this, on the same day they may obtain the Plenary Indulgence if with a spiritual intention they are united with those carrying out the prescribed practice for obtaining the Indulgence in the usual way and offer to the Merciful Lord a prayer and the sufferings of their illness and the difficulties of their lives, with the resolution to accomplish as soon as possible the three conditions prescribed to obtain the plenary indulgence.

"Duty of priests: inform parishioners, hear confessions, lead prayers

"Priests who exercise pastoral ministry, especially parish priests, should inform the faithful in the most suitable way of the Church's salutary provision. They should promptly and generously be willing to hear their confessions. On Divine Mercy Sunday, after celebrating Mass or Vespers, or during devotions in honor of Divine Mercy, with the dignity that is in accord with the rite, they should lead the recitation of the prayers that have been given above. Finally, since 'Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy' (Mt 5,7), when they instruct their people, priests should gently encourage the faithful to practice works of charity or mercy as often as they can, following the example of, and in obeying the commandment of Jesus Christ, as is listed for the second general concession of indulgence in the 'Enchiridion Indulgentiarum.'

"This Decree has perpetual force, any provision to the contrary notwithstanding."

In conclusion, it must be mentioned that our correspondent was misinformed when she was told that Communion on this or any other Sunday granted a plenary indulgence. This is not the case. For more on indulgences in general, see our columns of Feb. 15 and March 1, 2005.

Finally, because of the special liturgical nature of this Sunday, all devotions must be made outside of Mass and no change may be made in the liturgical texts or readings. Mention of the theme of Divine Mercy may be made, however, during the homily, commentaries and during the general intercessions. ZE07041729

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Follow-up: Divine Mercy Sunday [5-8-2007]

After our piece on Divine Mercy Sunday (April 17), a reader said: "I'm still confused … we can all gain a plenary indulgence every day if we fulfill certain requirements. If that is so, I don't see anything special about the Divine Mercy Sunday."

Effectively, there is no difference between the plenary indulgence granted on Divine Mercy Sunday than any other act to which a plenary indulgence is attached. The Church has simply added this grant to the list as another means of obtaining the grace of an indulgence.

After all, no plenary indulgence can be more plenary than others.

A plenary indulgence is itself special and even though it may be obtained every day, the indulgenced acts always require some degree of spiritual exertion beyond normal Christian devotion.

Another reader asked: "Can the image of Divine Mercy be hung behind the altar? Is it against liturgical rules? Or is this an individual decision made by the parish priest?"

Depending on the design of the Church, the image of Divine Mercy may be hung in an alcove, behind a side altar or in some other suitable place.

While it is not forbidden to display an image of Christ, Mary or a saint behind the main altar, in modern churches this is usually reserved for the church's patron. At the same time, the apse may be decorated with murals and mosaics figuring several personages.

Therefore, I would say that the image of Divine Mercy would not normally be set up behind the main altar unless the church was dedicated to this devotion. It could be so set up on a temporary basis on Divine Mercy Sunday or during devotions to the Divine Mercy.

Finally, the image may never substitute or block the image of Christ crucified required for the celebration of Mass. ZE07050829

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Follow-up: Divine Mercy Sunday [5-22-2007]

Another reader asked for further clarification regarding the indulgence for Divine Mercy Sunday (see April 17): "I heard on a recent EWTN program that there is a difference, namely, that one of the conditions for gaining a plenary indulgence is not required, namely, the need for total detachment to venial sins. Elsewhere I have read that such detachment may be so difficult to attain as to make the gaining of a plenary indulgence a rare exception. Clearly, if this is all true, then the Divine Mercy plenary indulgence — wouldn't this be a more generous grant by the Church?"

The decree instituting the indulgence stated that it was granted subject to the usual conditions, which includes detachment to any sin, even venial sin. This is a sine qua non condition and no indulgence may be obtained without it.

It is not, however, an impossible condition to meet, as we explained in our columns on this topic on Feb. 15 and and March 1, 2005.

A reader from Sydney, Australia, sent a note (adapted here) which might clarify the issue:

"I suspect your reader inquiry regarding Divine Mercy is confused because most likely he is referring to the special grace Jesus speaks of that is offered for Divine Mercy Sunday (see St. Faustina's Diary No. 699) — which, although similar, is not exactly the same as a plenary indulgence. Moreover, the Holy See offered a plenary indulgence on Divine Mercy Sunday as well. So the special grace in question is similar to a plenary indulgence; however, from how I interpret it, this grace is not dependent upon the individual 'having the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin.' Rather, the following conditions must be met and, unlike a plenary indulgence, this grace is only available on Divine Mercy Sunday itself:

— celebrate the feast on the Sunday after Easter;
— sincerely repent of all our sins;
— place complete trust in Jesus;
— go to confession — preferably before that Sunday;
— receive holy Communion on the day of the feast
— venerate the image of the Divine Mercy (that is, some gesture of deep religious respect);
— be merciful to others through our actions, words and prayers on their behalf."

The special graces mentioned in this clarification are not a question of liturgy but of particular devotion due to a private revelation.

Our Lord is free to dispense his graces as he sees fit. But the Church does not normally give official sanction to every aspect of a private revelation, even though it may grant them some measure of approval by instituting liturgical feasts and attaching indulgences to recommended practices. ZE07052229

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