Photo: Felix Carroll
Pilgrims who come to Divine Mercy Sunday at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy are encouraged to go to confession before the feast day itself.
Extraordinary Graces: What are the 'Requirements'?
Dr. Robert Stackpole Answers Your Questions On Divine Mercy
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Dec 18, 2007)
A fellow named Bob Greenwood recently sent me a question about Divine Mercy Sunday. Perhaps it is one that has been in the back of the mind of other readers of this column as well, so I will reprint his entire question, and respond to it point by point:
What are the exact requirements for complete forgiveness of all sins, including guilt and penalty, on the Feast of Mercy (Low Sunday)? Statements from a pope are always the best source. Otherwise, please refer to paragraphs in the Diary in your answers, if possible....
This is what I find in the Diary (English translation):
Paragraph 1109: [Jesus says] "I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Feast of My Mercy."
It appears that both sacraments must be received on Mercy Sunday, doesn't it? Apart from communal Penance services, there are not enough priests available to hear all the Confessions that day. However, the text is ambiguous enough that a different interpretation for the Penance date is possible. Would some number of days before or after Mercy Sunday suffice for the Penance requirement? If so, how many? Would the Vigil Mass suffice for the Communion requirement?
Paragraph 742: [Jesus says] "I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: ... deed, word, prayer ... Yes, the First Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be acts of mercy..."
It does not explicitly state that this is a requirement for complete forgiveness, but implies it. Does it? My technical mind likes quantification: How many acts of mercy and of which kinds? How often? How close to Mercy Sunday? Or is it instead intended to be as vague as it is?...
Paragraph 1059: [Jesus says] "I desire trust from My creatures."
It does not explicitly state that this is a requirement for complete forgiveness, but it appears reasonable. Is it?
Paragraph 1109 appears to be the complete requirement, but it does not address the content of Paragraphs 742 and 1059. Should they be included? If included, are there still more requirements?
I may sound legalistic, but understanding the meaning of statements and learning their sources is not trifling. It seems that our Lord must have said something about these topics. I wish to know what He said to Sr. Faustina or what His Vicar said, distinct from what some pious person might have said.
In His Love,
I will have to answer your questions from the Diary, Bob, not from papal pronouncements, because the popes have not made any direct and authoritative statements about the extraordinary graces for the reception of Holy Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday promised by our Lord through St. Faustina. The fact that the Holy See canonized Sr. Faustina, of course, clearly implies that there is nothing heterodox about those special promises. It is the Church's nihil obstat in that respect, but not necessarily a complete or definitive endorsement of those promises. That may or may not be forthcoming in the future.
As for paragraph 1109 and the seeming necessity to make one's Confession, as well as to receive Holy Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday, we know that that was not how St. Faustina understood our Lord's promise here. Saint Faustina actually made her confession on the Saturday before Divine Mercy Sunday (as evidenced by Diary entry 1072). Jesus was speaking in Polish to St. Faustina, and the Poles have always understood Him to mean that confession was not necessarily required on the day itself (apparently, the Polish grammar here is just as ambiguous as the English and could, from the text alone, be interpreted either way).
We have to trust both St. Faustina and her confessor, Fr. Michael Sopocko, that they understood Jesus correctly on this (otherwise, Jesus would have scolded St. Faustina for disobeying Him when she made her confession the day before).
Paragraph 742 is tougher: Jesus is not explicit about a specific number of acts of mercy, and therefore He seems to be implying that we need to be living mercifully in the run-up to Divine Mercy Sunday. To the extent that we are not, we have material for our preparatory confession! His goal is not to quantify it, but to shake-up those who think they can seek out God's special graces of mercy when they are treating others mercilessly at the same time — much the same point as the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in the gospels, I think (see Mt 18:23-35).
On paragraph 1059: Yes, trust in Divine Mercy is an essential requirement. As Jesus said to Faustina in entry 1578: "The graces of My mercy are drawn by the means of ONE VESSEL ONLY, AND THAT IS TRUST. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive." It is trust that "opens the door" of our hearts, so to speak, to all that the merciful Jesus wants to do in us and through us, so He can flood our lives with His merciful love. Just as acts of mercy cannot be quantified (we do them as Divine Providence enables us, and as the opportunity arises), so trust cannot be quantified.
Jesus said other things to St. Faustina about Divine Mercy Sunday (e.g., venerate the Image of The Divine Mercy on that day) but those (above) I believe are the only ones that really count as "requirements" for receiving the extraordinary graces from the Holy Communion on that day: "the complete remission of sins and punishment" (entry 699).
They are not so many "hoops" we have to jump through, but guidelines for attaining the right "heart-condition." Jesus wants to do "open heart surgery" on us on Divine Mercy Sunday, you might say, but our hearts have to be open and ready! A heart that is merciless is too full of itself, its own anger and its own bitterness, to be able to receive all the graces that Jesus wants to give us on that wonderful day. A heart that lacks trust has the door shut fast — and Jesus will not kick down the door of our hearts. Rather, He "stands at the door and knocks" (Rev 3:20). Trust is what we do to open the door and let Him in!
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of The Divine Mercy. Got a question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.