The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him (Psalm 103:17), and we are all living witnesses to this endless mercy of God. Today, the Holy Mother Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday. The Feast of Divine Mercy points to the merciful love of God for Humanity, which lies behind the whole paschal mystery of Christ, and is made present for us in the Eucharist. It focuses the Church’s attention to the pardon won by Christ and the forgiveness of sins from his open heart, the source of mercy. It is celebrated on the second Sunday of Easter. As we celebrate this Year’s Feast of Mercy, we give thanks to God for His abiding mercy upon us His beloved children. In the face of the challenges of life, particularly, the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives, our hearts are full of gratitude to the Heart of Jesus, the fount of love and mercy for the singular opportunity to celebrate this year’s Feast of Mercy.
The Feast of Divine Mercy has its origin in the devotion to the Divine Mercy, and is associated with special promises from Jesus and indulgences issued by the Church. This Feast was first recorded in the Diary of St. Faustina. St. Faustina was a Polish nun born in Poland in 1905. She received series of apparitions and visions of Jesus. On February 22, 1931, St. Faustina had a vision of the image of the Merciful Jesus revealed to her in her convent cell, in which our Lord said to her “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You” (Diary, 47). Hence, the institution of the Feast of Divine Mercy was requested by the Lord Jesus while He was communicating His will to St. Faustina regarding the painting of the image: “I desire that there be a Feast of Mercy. I want this image, which you will paint with a brush, to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy”. The Feast of Divine Mercy was inaugurated in the year 2000 by Pope St. John Paul II on the occasion of the canonization of Faustina Kowalska, and was celebrated for the first time in the year 2001 on the, Second Sunday of Easter.
The Feast Day
The choice of the first Sunday after Easter for the Feast of Mercy has a very deep theological significance, and points to the close relationship between the paschal mystery of the redemption and the mystery of Divine Mercy, since it is precisely in Christ’s paschal mystery (His passion, death and resurrection) that God’s love for humankind was most explicitly revealed. This integral relationship between the Paschal mystery and the mystery of Divine Mercy is further emphasized by the Novena of Chaplets to The Divine Mercy which begins on Good Friday as a preparation for the Feast. According to Archbishop Michael Neary, “It is hugely significant that the Feast of Mercy is preceded with a Novena to the Divine Mercy beginning on Good Friday with the forgiveness of Jesus on the cross of Calvary and ends on this Sunday with the Gospel where Jesus creates a forgiving people ‘those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.’” Today being the second Sunday of Easter, we read from the Gospel according to St. John about the risen Christ appearing in the upper room and about the institution of the Sacrament of Penance: (John 20:19-29). Here, we see the image of the merciful Saviour whose rising from the dead brings peace to the people by means of the forgiveness of sins at the price of His passion and death on the cross.
Significance, deeds of mercy
The Feast of Divine Mercy is of great importance in the life of the Church as our Lord attached extraordinary promises to it: He said, “… whoever approaches the Fount of life on this day will be granted complete remission of sins and punishment. Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust in My mercy” (Diary, 300), and also, “On this day the very depths of my tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My Mercy. The soul that will go to confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment… let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it through all eternity” (Diary, 699). However, to benefit from those great gifts, the Lord demands of us deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Him. We must also fulfill the conditions of Divine Mercy Devotion, that is, to trust in God’s goodness and active love toward neighbour, to be in a state of sanctifying grace- having gone to Holy confession, and worthily receive Holy Communion. Jesus explained: “No soul will be justified until it turns with confidence to My Mercy; and this is why the first Sunday after Easter is to be the Feast of Mercy, and on that day, priests are to tell everyone about My great and unfathomable Mercy” (Diary, 570). Indulgences In June 2002, Pope St. John Paul II granted indulgences to Catholics who recite specific prayers on the Feast of Divine Mercy.
An indulgence according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church is “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of satisfactions of Christ and all of the saints. (CCC no.1471). A plenary indulgence is obtained through participation in prayers and devotions in honour of the Divine Mercy or the recitation of the Our Father and the Creed in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, adding the prayer, “Merciful Jesus, I trust in You.”, through Sacramental Confession, worthy reception of Holy Communion and praying for the intentions of the Pope. For the faithful who for a just reason beyond their control, are unable to go to Church or Chapel, they may obtain an indulgence with the recitation of the Our Father and Creed before an image of Jesus, adding the prayer “Merciful Jesus, I trust in you”, with the conditions of detachment from sin, and intention to fulfill the dispositions above as soon as possible. Part of the celebration of this day is the procession with the Divine mercy image and the placement of the image in the Church so that it can be venerated by those who attend Mass. As we celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy, let us draw ourselves closer to Christ, the Fount of love and mercy and let us reciprocate the mercy received to our brothers and sister.
• Rev. Fr. Stephen Adedeji, OSJ, is the Chaplain of Divine Mercy Society, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Isolo, Lagos.