By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Mar 31, 2010)
A reader of this column named Aurora sent me a question that has been sent to me, in related forms, by at least a half dozen people over the past few months:
When praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet after Mass publicly some leaders pray "We offer you the Body and Blood" in place of "I offer You ..." Their reasoning is that that "we" is the correct pronoun because many are praying. Please help us pray the Chaplet correctly.
Another person sent me a copy of a parish bulletin in which the words "You died, Lord Jesus" replaced the phrase "You expired. Lord Jesus," and "immeasurable Divine Mercy" replaced "unfathomable Divine Mercy." Then there was a major addition to the prayer repeated on each of the beads of the decade: "For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, and the Sorrows of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, have mercy on us, and on the whole world."
Now, I have no doubt that the people who made these changes to the chaplet in their local area had good intentions, and none of these changes are technically in violation of the Catholic Faith. But just because it is not a sin against the virtue of faith to do this kind of "chopping and changing" of the chaplet does not mean it is not a sin against the virtues of prudence and humility.
The chaplet was dictated by the Lord Himself to St. Faustina, word for word, as recorded in the authorized edition of her Diary, entry 476. Making such changes to the wording of the chaplet assumes that we know better than our Lord how the chaplet should be said and what should be emphasized in it.
For example, "I offer You" emphasizes the dimension of personal commitment to what is being recited — perhaps our Lord wanted to emphasize that dimension of our relationship with Him in this particular prayer. Who are we to tell Him He can't!
"Unfathomable" is a stronger word than "immeasurable." It emphasizes the element of deep mystery in the "ocean" of Divine Mercy. Moreover, perhaps our Lord did not ask us to pray "for the sake of the Sorrows of the Immaculate Heart of Mary" in this prayer just because by "offering" Christ's Body and Blood to the Father we are actually doing what Mary did at the foot of the Cross. We are not focusing our gaze upon her sorrows in this prayer because we are sharing them, and with her offering Her Son to the Father, with our gaze directed at Him.
It is also rather dishonest to make your own revised version of the chaplet for public recitation, and then put the title "Divine Mercy Chaplet" above it. You cannot put a Chevrolet engine under the hood of a Ford and still call it a Ford! By the same token, the prayers recited under the title of "The Chaplet of The Divine Mercy" ought to be what was received by our Lord by St. Faustina and not the work of one's own personal piety or creativity.
It is true that sometimes a saint can use a phrase in their prayers that sounds culturally or theologically awkward to us today, and in such cases, for the sake of clarity, and to avoid misunderstanding, we are permitted to change it to a more contemporary equivalent. For example, in the Novena in Diary entry 1216 our Lord said to St. Faustina: "Today bring to Me [in prayer] the pagans and those who do not yet know Me." But most of the versions of this prayer that are printed in Stockbridge, Mass., for public recitation change that phrase to "Today bring to Me those who do not yet know Me," simply because the word "pagans" in the 21st century parlance has more negative connotations than it did back in the 1930s when our Lord used it in speaking to St. Faustina. But this alteration was made by the authorized translators of the Diary, not just by anyone in the general Catholic public, and it was made for the sake of clarity, out of a necessity of the virtue of charity, not out of a desire to theologically "improve" the chaplet.
Again, making "new and improved" versions of the chaplet is to treat the chaplet as if it belongs to us. It does not. It belongs to Christ and His Church.
A couple of years ago, in one of the first installments of this column, I related how a woman named Ms. Goryl asked if it is all right to alter the chaplet by combining the chaplet with Rosary meditations. She said this often happened in her diocese, and that her parish priest was opposed to this. I responded to her as follows:
Ms. Goryl, we in Stockbridge tend to agree with you and your parish priest on this matter: it is better, at least in public recitation of the chaplet, to stick with the form that Jesus gave to St. Faustina in the prophetic revelations recorded in her Diary (see entries 474-76). People are often tempted to try to make the chaplet more "interesting" or more "imaginative" by adding to it favorite prayers and mediations of their own choosing, such as the Rosary. To mix the chaplet with the Rosary meditations is not heretical, of course, but it does seem to me to involve a misunderstanding of the nature of the chaplet. The chaplet is not intended to be primarily a prayer of meditation on the mysteries of the faith, "sorrowful" mysteries or otherwise — in this it has a different focus than the Rosary. Rather, the chaplet was clearly meant to be primarily a prayer of intercession for an outpouring of God's mercy upon the whole world. Thus, if one is going to add to the public form of the chaplet, it would be better to start each decade of the chaplet with a prayer intention — intercessions for particular needs of the Church and the world — or to use the chaplet with St. Faustina's Novena intentions, found in her Diary, entries 1209-29. That would be more in keeping with the spirit and intention of the chaplet than mixing it with Rosary meditations. Perhaps, on a special occasion — say, on Good Friday — it might be helpful to mix the chaplet with the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary (or, even better, to use the meditations in the pamphlet Contemplate My Wounds, which is intended for use with the chaplet. It is published by the Marians). And of course, in private, now and then, it can be helpful to use meditations with the chaplet. But as the regular, public, communal manner of saying the chaplet, again, I think that is highly inadvisable, and it would show some disrespect for the form in which our Lord evidently wanted the chaplet usually to be recited. He must have known what He was doing when He gave that form to St. Faustina! On this we need to practice what it says at the bottom of the Image of The Divine Mercy: "Jesus, I Trust in You!"
Visit our Chaplet of The Divine Mercy webpage.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at email@example.com.