The Difference is in the Emphasis

[EDITOR'S NOTE: June is dedicated to The Sacred Heart of Jesus. This series by Robert Stackpole, STD, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, explores the relationship between The Sacred Heart and The Divine Mercy. Catch up on the series by reading Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.]

To avoid any possible misunderstandings, we need to make clear that by arguing that the Sacred Heart and the Divine Mercy devotions are theologically inseparable and complementary, we are not arguing that they are identical. That these two devotions are not simply identical was ably demonstrated by Fr. Ignacy Rozycki many years ago. Sister Elzbieta Siepack summarized his perspective as follows (see She Made an Ordinary Life Extraordinary. Dublin: Divine Mercy Publications, 1996, p. 66-67):

1. Essential (Proper) Subject
- in the devotion to The Divine Mercy - the Mercy of God in the Holy Trinity;
- in the devotion to the Sacred Heart - the Son of God, Divine Person Incarnate

2. Material Subject
- in the devotion to The Divine Mercy - the image of the Merciful Jesus corresponding in terms of subject and content to the vision of 22nd of February, 1931;
- in the devotion to the Sacred Heart - the physical, human heart of Jesus

3. Essential Nature of the Devotion
- in the devotion to The Divine Mercy - a spirit of trust;
- in the devotion to the Sacred Heart - reparation

4. Privileged Time
- in devotion to The Divine Mercy - 3 o'clock in the afternoon every day and the Feast of The Divine Mercy;
- in the devotion to the Sacred Heart - the first Friday in every month, and the Feast of the Sacred Heart

Granted the truth of Fr. Rozycki's perspective, it is also true to say that these two devotions, while certainly not identical, are nevertheless closely related. Our argument has been that the mercy devotion, to a great extent, is a further development, a further unfolding, of that tradition of Heart-Spirituality that comes to us from St. John Eudes and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart may be defined as the worship and service of the Second Person incarnate of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, because of His love for us, symbolized by His pierced and wounded Heart of flesh. Devotion to The Divine Mercy, on the other hand, may be defined as the worship and service of the Triune God, because of His merciful love for us, poured out through the Merciful Heart of Jesus, and symbolized by the rays that stream from His breast in the Mercy Image. The centrality of the Heart of Jesus in both devotions is clearly evident.

Moreover, Fr. Rozycki's list of the differences between the two devotions should not be exaggerated. For example, with regard to the "Essential Subject" of these devotions, while it is accurate to point to the more Trinitarian focus of the mercy devotion, we must also remember that even in the devotion to The Divine Mercy, the emphasis lies heavily on the Second Person of the Trinity, the divine Son incarnate, Jesus Christ, as the fount of Mercy for the world. As Sr. Siepack put it (p. 61-62):

Although Divine Mercy is the mercy of God One in the Holy Trinity, the Person preferred in this devotion is Jesus Christ, for it is to Him that all the new forms of cult of the Divine Mercy refer.... Hence, the devotion to the Divine Mercy has quite aptly been called the devotion to the merciful Jesus.

Similarly, one should not exaggerate the differences in "Material Subject." After all, the Image of Mercy itself emphasizes our Savior's Heart as the source of the rays and graces of His mercy. This was also clearly understood by St. Faustina (see Diary, entry nos. 72, 177, 305, 367, 1183, 1485, 1520, and 1553), and it is summarized in her prayer (entry no. 84):

O Blood and Water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You.

Even with regard to the "Essential Nature" of these two devotions, the differences between them should not be overstated. While the mercy devotion calls for a response of "trust" in God above all, the fostering of confidence in God's merciful love is also one of the ends of the Sacred Heart devotion, albeit a secondary end (see Verheylezoon, Devotion to the Sacred Heart, p. 95-103). Furthermore, while "reparation" is more central to the Sacred Heart tradition, it is also present, as a secondary theme, in St. Faustina's devotion to the Merciful Jesus (e.g., entry nos. 57, 80, 481, 505, 804, 1210-1229, and 1385). Indeed, sometimes St. Faustina's revelations breathe the very spirit of those given to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (entry no. 367):

My Heart overflows with great mercy for souls, and especially for poor sinners. If only they could understand that I am the best of Fathers to them and that it is for them that the Blood and Water flowed from My Heart as from a fount overflowing with mercy. For them I dwell in the tabernacle as King of Mercy. I desire to bestow My graces upon souls, but they do not want to accept them. You at least, come to Me as often as possible and take those graces they do not want to accept. In this way you will console My Heart. Oh, how indifferent are souls to so much goodness, to so many proofs of love! My heart drinks only of the ingratitude and forgetfulness of souls living in the world. They have time for everything, but they have no time to come to Me for graces.

In short, the differences between these two devotions are best described as differences of emphasis, for both spring from a common source: devotion to the same Heart of Jesus, overflowing with merciful love for us.

Robert Stackpole, STD, is the director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy.

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