The origin of Divine Mercy Sunday as a feast goes back even further. It is the result of the private revelations of Jesus Christ to St. Faustina Kowalska, a member of the Sisters of Divine Mercy, in the 1930’s. The message of the visions she had was that God wants us to trust in His mercy and to share that mercy with others in our prayers, words, and actions.
This mercy is represented by the way that the Lord appeared to Sr. Faustina, which He asked her to have painted. He appeared with one hand raised in blessing, and the other touching His heart, from which streamed red and white rays of light. The white rays represent the waters of Baptism which give us the forgiveness of sins; the red rays represent the Savior’s Blood, which was shed for us and is the source of our life. This hearkens back to the blood and water which flowed from Christ’s heart when the soldier pierced His side on the cross.
The choice of the second Sunday of Easter was not random. It is appropriate for several reasons. It is the last day of the major celebration of Easter; although the Easter season lasts until Pentecost, the eight days from Easter to today are celebrated with special solemnity, and all contain liturgical references to the Resurrection as happening “today”. The Resurrection is the confirmation and proof of Divine Mercy, because it shows that Christ truly died for us and conquered sin and death. He died that our sins might be forgiven, and rose that we might share His new life. With good reason Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated in conjunction with Easter.
Besides that, the readings today speak of mercy. We see this in the psalm, which is a prophecy that Christ applies to Himself and His resurrection. It describes how the Lord comes to rescue those in need, and it repeats again and again that the Lord’s “mercy endures forever”. Both the psalm and the second reading speak of the Savior’s victory, and how we participate in that victory.
In the Gospel, we see that mercy in action, directed towards St. Thomas. It’s a very familiar story. Thomas wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared to the apostles, and his faith was just too weak to believe that the Lord was truly risen. He said he would not believe unless He could see and touch the wounds in the Lord’s hand and side. After all the things he had seen and heard, he probably should have known better. He had seen the miracles, heard the prophecies, and had the witness of the other apostles and disciples who had seen Jesus alive. Did he think they were lying to him, or playing an April Fools’ Day joke on him? But Jesus doesn’t lose His patience with Thomas, or punish him. He mercifully appears to Thomas and gives him the proof he asked for, while gently rebuking him.
God also shows His merciful love in this Gospel passage by instituting a guaranteed way for us to have our sins forgiven, when He says to His apostles, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” This privilege has been handed down through history by means of the sacrament of Holy Orders, and is exercised in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
For this special day of Divine Mercy, Pope John Paul II also granted the possibility of obtaining a plenary indulgence. In other words, if we perform the prescribed works of prayer and piety with the correct dispositions, we can gain the complete remission of the punishment due for sins we have already confessed. So, if we do these things right, and then get hit by a car right when we finish, we go straight to heaven without stopping in Purgatory.
What are those things? There are the usual conditions for every plenary indulgence: sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion [preferably on the day], and prayer for the intentions of the Pope. In addition, in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, we have to take part in the prayers and devotions held in honour of Divine Mercy – or, 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!”)
At 2PM this Sunday at St. Ann’s in Gloucester, we will have a special Divine Mercy prayer service that will help fulfill these requirements, including the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and praying the Divine Mercy chaplet. The service will be followed by refreshments. Everyone is cordially invited to participate so we can reap the full benefits of God’s loving forgiveness on this special feast dedicated to His mercy.