Is Divine Mercy Devotion Just Based on Private Revelations?
Robert Stackpole Answers Your Divine Mercy Questions
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Nov 3, 2010)
Some of our readers encounter clergy on occasion who are not "up-to-speed" with regard to the official response of the Catholic Church to the Divine Mercy message and devotion. Usually, the misunderstanding surrounds the Church's official stance toward "Divine Mercy Sunday." For example, a Mr. Siddle wrote to us asking if his bishop and clergy were right in saying that the Feast of The Divine Mercy is based merely on St. Faustina's "private revelations," and therefore priests "are under no obligation to celebrate it in their parishes."
Mr. Siddle, if you have reported to me accurately the viewpoints of your bishop and the clergy in your area, then you can confidently inform them that they are incorrect. "Divine Mercy Sunday" was officially established for the universal Church by a decree of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on May 5, 2000. The Vatican did not create a new feast day for the Church, but it gave a new name for a day that was already a "solemnity" (i.e., a feast of the highest class) in the Church's liturgical calendar: the octave day of Easter, that is, the Second Sunday of Easter. The document said that from now on this solemnity would be called "Divine Mercy Sunday."
Actually, the English translation of the document said that "in the Roman Missal, after the title 'Second Sunday of Easter' shall be added the appellation '(or Divine Mercy Sunday).'" However, to be even more precise, the official Latin version of that Vatican decree - and the Latin versions of Vatican decrees always take precedence - phrases it like this: "after the title 'Second Sunday of Easter' shall be added the appellation 'that is [seu] of the Divine Mercy.'" Thus the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday is not an optional celebration for dioceses and parishes who happen to like that sort of thing! Rather, Divine Mercy Sunday is now the official title for this solemnity in the Roman Missal.
In a similar way, the official title for the solemnity of the octave day of the Nativity was named by the Church the solemnity "of the Mother of God," hence it is now known as "the Feast of the Mother of God." In the same way, Pope John Paul II often referred to Divine Mercy Sunday in his addresses as "the Feast of the Divine Mercy." He was entirely accurate in doing so.
Again, this is not to say that the Vatican thereby created a brand-new feast day for the Church. The octave day of Easter was always a solemnity in the liturgical calendar. The pope just gave this solemnity a new name — a name which, by the way, fits beautifully with the traditional prayers, readings, and psalms appointed for that day, which were already mostly about Divine Mercy!
Also, the Vatican did not give this new name to the octave day of Easter merely as a way of commemorating St. Faustina's special revelations; in fact, the Vatican decree establishing the Feast does not mention St. Faustina at all. Rather, the decree is based on the Church's historic faith in the merciful love of God, the ancient tradition of focusing the liturgy on the theme of God's mercy on that Sunday, and the widespread desire of the People of God to celebrate liturgically, and more explicitly, God's great mercy. Thus, it is true that the celebrant is not required by the Roman Missal to use the devotional forms on that day that come to us from St. Faustina (e.g., the Image, the Chaplet). These things are indeed optional, though highly recommended, since these devotional forms amplify the meaning of that day in the Church calendar (much as the use of the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, while not required by the Missal, nevertheless reinforce the theme of the day).
Answers to many more liturgical questions surrounding Divine Mercy Sunday can be found in the document "Understanding Divine Mercy Sunday," which is posted on this website under the name of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy.
While some clergy do not seem to be aware of the official Vatican mandate for the annual, universal celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, at the same time, some zealous lay people treat St. Faustina's special revelations, as recorded in her Diary, as the equivalent of infallible Church teaching. For example, David Burke wrote to us: "Wasn't Sister Faustina's Diary eventually accredited or approved by the Roman Catholic Church? Didn't it become one of the Church's official, sacred documents?"
Well, St. Faustina's Diary did receive the official approval of the Catholic Church in the sense that it was examined by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in 1978-79 the Congregation issued statements declaring that the Divine Mercy message and devotion expressed there by Sister Faustina does not violate Catholic doctrine on matters of Faith and Morals.
The Diary has also been published with the nihil obstat (no objection) of the appropriate Church authorities (the copyright page of any authentic translation of the Diary will display this). However, it would not be quite accurate to say that the Diary is now one of the Church's "official sacred documents." It is not a proclamation of the Church's infallible teaching authority, but a fallible record of the private and prophetic revelations given to a saint, and her musings about those revelations. As such, we are encouraged by the Church to accept it and respect it with the virtue of "prudence," i.e., as on the whole trustworthy, rather than with the virtue of "divine faith," i.e., as infallibly revealed by God, and therefore necessary to be believed by all the faithful. Thus, a faithful Catholic could largely disbelieve it and not be guilty of "heresy," but one who did so would still be guilty of rashness and imprudence. It is overwhelmingly unlikely that a Diary which has been fully examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Church's highest doctrinal tribunal under the Pope) and by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, and has been praised and quoted repeatedly by popes, and whose author has been canonized as a "saint" (that is, as someone "full-to-overflowing" with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth) would contain serious and unqualified errors and illusions. The Holy Spirit does not abandon the Church when she is making such important acts of discernment (see Jn. 16:13; Acts 15:28). If He did we would be lost indeed!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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