Photo: Felix Carroll
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Apr 13, 2009)
As we draw nearer to Divine Mercy Sunday on April 19, we often receive questions in Stockbridge, Mass., about the proper way to celebrate the feast day.
This is something that St. Faustina does not reflect upon in much detail in her Diary, and local customs have been established that people sometimes confuse with the liturgical requirements of the day.
For example, a woman named Julie recently wrote to us with the following question: "On Divine Mercy Sunday, does the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy and the Mass have to be celebrated at 3 p.m.? ... Our first graders will be making their First Holy Communion at that time. Would it be OK to ask our priest to dedicate one of the morning Masses or the 5:30 p.m. Mass [to The Divine Mercy] and then pray the Chaplet before or after the Mass?"
Actually, Julie, there is no stipulation in St. Faustina's Diary, or in the liturgical directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or in the directives of the Holy See, that on Divine Mercy Sunday a special Mass for Divine Mercy must be offered at 3 p.m. This is simply a custom that some parishes have adopted that have a special devotion to The Divine Mercy.
The custom came into prominence long before the Church established the Feast of Divine Mercy (a title first given to that solemnity in the Church's liturgical calendar only in the year 2000). Now that the day does bear this official title in the Roman Missal, however, there seems to be no good reason to have a special Divine Mercy Sunday Mass in the afternoon distinct from the regular Masses on Sunday morning: Every Mass on that day is to be a special celebration of God's great mercy!
Of course, if your parish can manage to have special devotions in the afternoon to The Divine Mercy, that would be great, too! Even better if they can start at 3 p.m. on that day: the Hour of Great Mercy. But they need not start at that time, if there are good pastoral reasons for having them at another hour.
My recommendation would be to ask your pastor if your parish can incorporate some special acts of devotion to The Divine Mercy into the regular Sunday morning Masses. It does not have to be the Chaplet (which is quite long for use at every Sunday morning Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday).
Why not ask if your parish can expose and venerate the Image of The Divine Mercy on that day? Jesus' words to St. Faustina imply that the Image should be venerated on Divine Mercy Sunday: "I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and then throughout the world," Jesus told St. Faustina (Diary, 47). He also said: "Yes, the first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be acts of mercy, and I demand the worship of my mercy through the solemn celebration of the Feast and through the veneration of the image which is painted. By means of this image I will grant many graces to souls" (Diary, 742).
If your parish does not have its own large Image of The Divine Mercy, you and your local group of Divine Mercy devotees might consider offering to buy (or lend) one for the parish that can be used on that day. Check out the framed images available from the Marians' selection of Divine Mercy products at their Gift Shop. In any case, offering to help — rather than just asking your priest to do extra things on his own — is often the best approach.
We received another, more elaborate, liturgical question from a reader by the name of Mr. Jack Boos. He asked: "Our parish is blessed to receive a first degree relic of St. Faustina. On Divine Mercy Sunday this year, we would like to include both veneration of the Image of The Divine Mercy and the relic of St. Faustina. ... What is the proper way [to do this]? We were thinking of having both the Image and the relic venerated at the same time, having people venerate the Image first, then proceed to the relic before returning to their pews. Also, our pastor would like to have Divine Mercy Sunday ceremonies without including Mass. ... Is there a recommended format to follow?"
Well, John, when it comes to the Image of The Divine Mercy, this is what our Lord instructed: "I want the Image to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly so that every soul may know about it" (Diary of St. Faustina, 341).
I think — depending on the size of your parish — the most practical way to venerate the Image on Divine Mercy Sunday is in a communal way by putting flowers and candles in front of it and incensing it during the Mass and/or during a special service of Mercy devotions. Kneeling in front of the Image during the recitation of the Chaplet — at least by the priest-celebrant — is also appropriate, because the Chaplet focuses on the Cross ("For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world") while the Image focuses on the mystery of the Resurrection. The two together beautifully proclaim the central act of God's merciful love for us: the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Another option is for people to personally venerate the image after Mass by kissing or touching it. This is similar to the liturgical action in the Eastern Rite where the Blessing Cross is venerated at the end of the liturgy and an icon of the feast may also be venerated.
In any case, the communal veneration of sacred images really should be a part of the worship life of every Catholic parish (and not just on Good Friday, with the veneration of the Cross). To venerate a sacred image means no more than to make some act or gesture of deep religious respect toward it because of the person whom it represents — in this case, our Merciful Savior! Other than devotion to the Blessed Sacrament itself, there is no better way to vividly manifest the presence of Christ and to intimately express our love for Him than to venerate His sacred images.
As for your question regarding the relic of St. Faustina, without laying down any hard-and-fast rules here, I think the veneration of a relic is best done at the end of Mass, and after the final blessing. Before giving the final blessing, the priest can announce that congregants can come forward after the final hymn to venerate the relic. It, thereby, becomes a non-mandatory, final act of devotion for the day that does not intrude upon the flow of the Mass itself, much as some people often go to pray at a statue of Our Lady or of a specially beloved saint after Mass.
As for the issue of the Mass itself, again, if at all possible, ask your pastor to include at least the veneration of the Image in every Sunday Mass on that day. The celebration of God's mercy on Divine Mercy Sunday is not supposed to be relegated to special afternoon services for those who happen to like that sort of thing. Rather, all the Masses on that day are meant to be celebrations of our Savior's merciful love for us!
The veneration of the Image is the least we can do, and it requires no special devotion to St. Faustina to appreciate the meaning of such veneration, because the Image beautifully expresses the merciful love of Jesus flowing from His Heart.
In this case, the old saying certainly rings true: "A picture is worth a thousand words."
Learn more about Divine Mercy Sunday.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.