This Sunday, April 8, is Divine Mercy Sunday. Let’s explore the history and theology behind this feast.
St. Faustina and the Message of Divine Mercy
St. Faustina Kowalska was a Polish nun who lived in the early 20th century. She had a series of visions of Jesus, and in these visions Jesus spoke to her especially about his mercy. One of the first things he asked Faustina to do was to paint an image of him as he appeared to her, with rays of red and white/blue coming forth from his chest. This represented the blood and water that flowed out of Jesus’ side when his side was pierced after his death. In turn, the painting represents the mercy flowing from the heart of Christ for all sinners.
Jesus Speaks to St. Faustina
Jesus told St. Faustina again and again about his great love for sinners and his desire to have mercy on them. There are many quotations from Faustina’s diary that tell of Jesus’ message of mercy. Here are just a few:
I have opened my Heart as a living fountain of mercy. Let all souls draw life from it. Let them approach this sea of mercy with great trust. Sinners will attain justification, and the just will be confirmed in good. Whoever places his trust in My mercy will be filled with My divine peace at the hour of death. (Divine Mercy in My Soul, paragraph 1520)
Jesus also spoke to Faustina about the great Sacrament of Mercy, the sacrament of Reconciliation:
Daughter, 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 ennobles it. 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. (1602)
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy
One of the important things that Jesus revealed to St. Faustina was a prayer known as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Jesus asked that the Chaplet be prayed at 3pm, in remembrance of the time of his death. He also promised that praying the Chaplet would be one way even the most sinful of souls could prepare to meet Jesus’ mercy at their hour of death:
Say unceasingly the Chaplet that I have taught you. Whoever will recite it will receive great Mercy at the hour of death. Priests will recommend it to sinners as their last hope of salvation. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this Chaplet only once, he would receive grace form My infinite Mercy. I desire that the whole world know My infinite Mercy. I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in My Mercy. (687)
Praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy can be prayed on Rosary beads.
Begin with an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a recitation of the Apostles’ Creed.
On the bead before each decade, pray: “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divintiy of your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”
On the ten beads of each decade (the ones you would use to say the Hail Mary in a Rosary), pray: “For the sake of his sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
After praying five decades, pray three times: “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
Conclude with: “O Blood and Water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you.”
Divine Mercy Sunday
Among other things, Jesus asked that a feast for his Divine Mercy be celebrated on the Sunday after Easter (technically, this is the Second Sunday of Easter, because Easter lasts for 50 days on the liturgical calendar). St. John Paul II officially established the feast in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar in the year 2000. As a result, Catholics worldwide now celebrate this Sunday as Divine Mercy Sunday. Jesus wanted to establish this feast to remind the world of his great mercy:
This Feast emerged from the very depths of My mercy, and it is confirmed in the vast depths of my tender mercies. Every soul believing and trusting in My mercy will obtain it. (420)
The Divine Mercy Sunday Indulgence
John Paul II also established a plenary indulgence (an indulgence that removes all temporal punishment for sin) for the Feast of Divine Mercy.
In order to obtain this indulgence, a person must either:
- Go to a church or chapel and take part in prayers and devotions held in honor of Divine Mercy
- In the presence of the Eucharist, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a prayer to the merciful Jesus. This prayer can be as simple as, “Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!”
In order for this to be a plenary indulgence, other conditions apply. The person obtaining the indulgence must:
- Be completely detached from all sin, including venial sin.
- Go to sacramental Confession.
- Receive the Eucharist.
- Pray for the intentions of the Pope.
It is ideal to go to Confession and receive the Eucharist on the same day the indulgence is obtained, but a person can do that within a reasonable time before or after that day (the Apostolic Penitentiary The Gift of the Indulgence specifies that it should be within about 20 days).
If someone does not meet all of these conditions, they can still obtain a partial indulgence (this removes some, but not all, of the temporal punishment for sin).
Celebrating Divine Mercy
It is always a good idea to meditate on and thank God for his divine mercy. In this time, when we celebrate the Resurrection and Jesus’ great love for sinners that brought him even to the Cross, it is especially fitting to reflect on Jesus’ mercy for us. The only appropriate response to our sin is to repent and throw ourselves onto Jesus’ Divine Mercy. Through this mercy we find salvation.