By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Sep 7, 2011)
If you live long enough, I guess, you will eventually find every form of lunacy somewhere in print. I recently celebrated my 50th birthday (personally, I like to think of it as "my first half century"), and around the same time, several of the readers of this column brought to my attention some websites claiming to represent "Traditional Catholicism." I saw articles attacking St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy devotion as "heresy."
For years I have been responding to complaints from more "liberal" clergy that devotion to The Divine Mercy is too "traditional" and "pre-Vatican II," and now some people are actually complaining that it is too modern and a deviation from the traditional faith of the Church! I think G.K. Chesterton put forward the best response to this kind of thing in his book Orthodoxy:
Suppose we heard an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One ex0planation ... would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape. Outrageously tall men might feel him to be short. Very short men might feel him to be tall. Old bucks who are growing stout might consider him insufficiently filled out, old beaux who were growing thin might feel that he expanded beyond the narrow lines of elegance. ... Perhaps, after all, it is Christianity that is sane and all its critics are mad — in various ways.
I think the same holds true here. Isn't it likely that it is the overly "traditionalist" minded Catholics that find St. Faustina too contemporary and the excessively "liberal" and "modernist" ones that find her too traditional?
If you'll pardon me, in honor of my birthday I am going to spend the rest of this column answering some of the silly charges made against St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy devotion from the ultra-traditionalists — those who evidently think they are more Catholic than the Pope.
First, they claim (on some of their lamentable websites) that St. Faustina's Diary "was concocted by her sisters after her death. Because of the incongruities in the diary (different handwriting, different use of terms), the devotion was suppressed, and the book ... was placed on the ... Index of Forbidden Books."
This is not even half-true. The Diary was certainly not concocted by her sisters after her death, many of whom originally thought that she was a "fantasist" and not a true visionary. There is no evidence of tampering with the original text. (I have seen the original autograph myself.) Furthermore, anyone who reads the Diary in the Polish original or in English can clearly tell that the text was written by a single author.
In any case, it was not banned for any of these reasons. Rather, because it was very hard to bring religious books out from behind the Iron Curtain in those days, the only text of the Diary that the Vatican had in its possession at the time was a faulty Italian translation of the book. It was due to mistakes in that translation (not alleged tampering with the original text, which Vatican officials had never seen) that led to the banning of St. Faustina's mercy devotion. For example, when Jesus said to Sister Faustina, "I am Love and Mercy itself" (Diary, 1074), the Italian translation made it seem as if Sister Faustina was saying that about herself! Finally, Bl. Pope John XXIII quite deliberately did not ban the devotion for all time, but only pending further investigation. Is the Church not allowed to change its mind on its evaluation of extraordinary private/prophetic revelations in the light of new and better evidence?
Secondly, it is said that the Feast of The Divine Mercy violates ancient liturgical tradition and longstanding liturgical law by pushing aside and replacing the solemnity of the Octave Day of Easter. This is nonsense. According to ancient Church Fathers St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Augustine as well as the Apostolic Constitutions, the Octave Day of Easter was always a day that celebrated the Mercy of God in a special way. In North Africa it was called "the Sunday in White" because the catechumens who had been baptized on Easter Sunday were allowed to wear their white baptismal robes up through that Sunday. So deep and longstanding is the tradition to highlight the Mercy of God on that octave day that when Pope John Paul II named that day in the liturgical calendar "Mercy Sunday," the Vatican also ordered that the traditional readings and collects for that Sunday were always to be retained because they were already about Divine Mercy anyway! (By the way: you can read more about the liturgical issues surrounding Divine Mercy Sunday by going to the homepage of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy and downloading the document "Understanding Divine Mercy Sunday.")
Third, these websites claim that the Divine Mercy message and devotion competes with and tries to supplant the traditional and honored devotion to the Sacred Heart. That is not true either. I wrote a whole chapter about this matter in my first book: Jesus, Mercy Incarnate (Marian Press, 2000). You can order a copy of that little book (which, to be honest, is my favorite of the books I have written!) by calling the Marian Helper's Center customer service at 1-800-462-7426 or online. By the way, if this devotion did compete with and necessarily supplant devotion to the Heart of Jesus, you can be sure that I would have nothing to do with it: my doctoral thesis for the Angelicum in Rome was on the theology of devotion to the Sacred Heart. You can get a small sample of how these two devotions fit together by reading the ninth part of the "Parish Renewal Program" ("His Sacred Heart: Is This What Makes You Tick?") on this website.
Finally, some people are concerned that the devotion to The Divine Mercy is pushing aside the practice of praying the Rosary and devotion to Mary. One reader named Frank (not an arch-traditionalist, but just a concerned inquirer) wrote these words to me:
I have always struggled with the idea that the Rosary seems to be usurped by the Divine Chaplet. The result will no doubt be less Rosaries said (Divine Chaplet is easier and faster). Then I noticed in the Divine Mercy booklet that the Memorarium for Mary has been altered to be for St. Joseph not Mary. It just seems that the Divine Mercy movement is one not just for Jesus but one that takes away from Mary. It takes her Rosary away, it takes memorarium away, and other things. So why do you support this? Granted it may be a great idea on its own but it seems to feed on Mary which is a little scary and makes me wonder if it really is of God. I could say much more but I'm sure you have been asked this many times before and have a pat answer so I will stop here and wait for the pat answer. Thanks and God Bless.
Well, Frank, I will try to give you more than a "pat answer"!
First, with regard to the Memorare of St. Joseph: the booklet in which you found that prayer also explains that it was not an invention of St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy movement, rather, it was a traditional Polish prayer that St. Faustina's religious community recited every day. To recite a prayer to St. Joseph does not mean that one cannot recite the Memorare to Our Lady as well — as I am sure the Sisters of our Lady of Mercy have always done. Moreover, that same booklet (on the facing page!) includes several of St. Faustina's prayers "To the Mother of God," including her own prayer of consecration to Our Lady from the Diary (entry 79) in which she offers her "my soul, my body, my life, my death, and everything that will come after it" and she says, "I place everything in your hands, O my Mother." All of this hardly "feeds on" or subtracts from devotion to Mary!
As for the Chaplet competing with the Rosary: I guess the simple answer is that it doesn't, if the prayers are used according to their primary intentions. Again, I wrote about this in Jesus, Mercy Incarnate (p. 124):
The evening is the traditional (and usually most practical) time for praying the Rosary together as a family. Devotees of the Divine Mercy need to remember that the Rosary is not in competition with the Chaplet, even though they are recited on the same beads. First of all, the Rosary is primarily a prayer of meditation. It calls us to meditate with Mary on all the mysteries of our redemption, helping us to do what St. Luke tells us the Mother of God herself did: she "kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart" (2:19, 51). The Chaplet, on the other hand, is primarily a prayer of intercession: a plea to the Lord for "mercy upon us, and upon the whole world." Moreover, it is important to note that our Lord never asked for the Chaplet to be recited daily. One may recite the Chaplet daily, of course, and that is certainly a commendable practice, but it is not a pattern that either Jesus or St. Faustina specifically requested. In fact, our Lord's instructions to St. Faustina were both more flexible and more demanding. She was encouraged to say the Chaplet "without ceasing" (Diary, 687), in other words, not once per day, but — precisely because it is an intercessory prayer — whenever and wherever intercession was needed. Our Lady of Fatima, however, specifically asked the faithful to try to recite at least part of the Rosary each day:
I am the Lady of the Rosary. I have come to warn the faithful to amend their lives and to ask pardon for their sins... People must say the Rosary. Let them continue saying it every day.
Whatever prayers and devotions one may choose in order to sanctify each day, the important thing to remember is that the Lord regards not the number or magnitude of the devotions that we practice, but the faith and love with which we offer them. This alone is what brings delight to the Merciful Heart of Jesus from acts of piety.
Well, that's all on this topic. I doubt that many people will be swayed by the doubts being sown about St. Faustina and devotion to The Divine Mercy by arch-traditionalist websites. So I am not going to let it spoil my left-over birthday cake. As soon as I am done writing this column here, I am headed for the refrigerator for precisely that culinary intention!
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.