Divine Mercy Sunday: What's This Feast All About, Anyway?

By Robert Stackpole, STD

To put on a great banquet for one's friends, the first step is to send out proper invitations. The invitations must say WHY the banquet is being held, WHEN it will take place, WHO is invited, and WHAT TO EXPECT (such as cocktails on the lawn, followed by a buffet meal).

In fact, the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska is filled with invitations from our Lord Jesus Christ to celebrate with Him the great Feast of the Divine Mercy. This year, we celebrate this Feast on Sunday, April 11. In numerous passages, Jesus spelled out for her "why," "when," "who," and "what to expect" at this special banquet.

First, why did Jesus ask the Church, through St. Faustina, to institute the Feast of Mercy? As recorded in Diary entry 965, Jesus said to Faustina:

Souls perish in spite of My bitter Passion. I am giving them ... the Feast of My mercy. If they will not adore My mercy, they will perish for all eternity. Secretary of My mercy, write, tell souls about this great mercy of Mine, because the awful day, the day of My justice is near.

In short, the main reason that Jesus wanted this feast to be established is that He wanted to "throw a lifeline," so to speak, to souls who are perishing, souls who are drowning in sin and despair. That lifeline is this Feast, with all the tremendous promises of graces and benefits which Jesus attached to it. As He said to St. Faustina, He wanted to make this Feast day a special "refuge and shelter" for the "consolation" of souls. In Diary entry 1517, Jesus said: "the Feast of My Mercy has issued forth from My very depths for the consolation of the whole world." In short, Jesus gave us this Feast as both a comfort and a lifeline for souls.

Second, "when" is this Feast to be celebrated? The answer was given directly to St. Faustina on numerous occasions. For example, in Diary entry 299, Jesus said to her: "I desire that the First Sunday after Easter be the Feast of Mercy." Today that Sunday is called in the Roman Missal "The Second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday."

Third, in order to discover "who" is invited to this great Feast, and what kind of spiritual "banquet" our Lord wants to spread for us on that day, we need to consult Diary entry 699, in which Jesus spells out in detail the meaning of this feast day, and the comforting promises He attached to it. Jesus said to St. Faustina:

My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity. The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the First Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy.

From these words of our Lord, it should be clear who is invited to the Feast of Mercy. He states clearly: "I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls" - that is, for all penitent souls without exception - but "especially" for "poor sinners." So the special guests at the Feast of Mercy - the guests who will receive the most attention - are poor sinners, those who are most in need of His mercy.

This means, of course, that this banquet is spread especially for poor sinners who know in truth that they are poor sinners. It is only repentant sinners who will be able to receive all the graces offered by Jesus on this special day. That is why Jesus asks us to prepare for this feast day by making a good confession. Just as in Christ's parable of the Pharisee and the Publican it was the publican who went away from his prayers "justified," for he had come before the Lord with nothing but a simple cry from his heart for mercy: "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!" (Lk 18:9-14).

The Feast of Mercy is especially for souls like that, souls open to receive Christ's forgiveness and grace because they know that they need it so badly. This Feast is for the lost, that they might be found, and for those struggling to grow in faith, hope, and love, that they might be refreshed and strengthened. On the other hand, those who believe that they have no need of divine mercy will not be able to receive mercy on that day. They are like the Pharisee in the parable: God cannot fill them with His grace, because they are already full of themselves!

Then what are the graces and benefits that our Lord wants to spread out before us on Mercy Sunday? Again, Jesus said to St. Faustina (Diary, 699):

On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day are open all the divine floodgates through which graces flow.

What Jesus is offering to us here is a complete renewal of baptismal grace, a complete cleansing of the soul and washing it clean, renewing within us all the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit that we received at our baptism.

Of course, it is certainly true that whenever we make a good Confession out of perfect contrition for sin and pure love for God, we can receive the same complete renewal of baptismal grace, the same complete cleansing of our souls that Jesus promised we could receive from Holy Communion on the Feast of Mercy.

The problem is: How many of us make our Confessions as an act of perfect contrition and pure love of God? Unless we are well on the road to sanctity, it is very rare that we are able to do this. Nevertheless, Jesus is so generous and merciful toward us that on Mercy Sunday, He has given us another way to attain the complete refreshment of our souls in grace. If only we make a sincere confession in preparation for the Feast, and then receive Holy Communion on that day with trust in His divine mercy, we can receive the same complete spiritual renewal.

He does not ask of us an act of perfect love of God, or perfect contrition on that day in order that we may receive such a gift. All He asks is that we come to Him with trust (Diary entry 1578): "The graces of My mercy are drawn by the means of one vessel only, and that is - trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive."

Trust is a combination of "faith" (the acceptance of all that God has revealed through Christ and His Church), "hope" (confidence in His promises of forgiveness, the help of His grace, and eternal life), "humility" (relying on God rather than ourselves for strength, guidance, and salvation) and merely imperfect "love" (clinging to Christ because of His promised benefits).

The renewal of baptismal grace that we receive from the Holy Communion on Mercy Sunday serves to strengthen us in all these virtues, but especially in our love for Jesus Christ, so that we begin to love Him for His own sake - for the glory of His name, the spread of His kingdom, and for the consolation of His Heart - and not just for ourselves, for our own benefit. In short, by trust we open the door to Christ so that He can pour out upon us a whole ocean of graces on Mercy Sunday!

Jesus left several instructions with St. Faustina concerning how this Feast of Mercy should be observed. As we have already seen, Jesus asked that the Feast be observed on the Sunday after Easter; He asked us to come to Him in Holy Communion on that day with complete trust in His mercy; He said that we should make a good Confession in preparation for this Feast (St. Faustina made her confession on the day before Mercy Sunday - see Diary entry 1072). Finally, we are to receive Holy Communion on the Feast day itself in order to receive the complete renewal of baptismal grace that He wants to pour into our hearts.

Jesus also left three more instructions for St. Faustina that must not be forgotten.

First, He wanted priests to proclaim clearly the message of Divine Mercy on Mercy Sunday. Diary entry 570: "On that day, priests are to tell everyone about My great and unfathomable mercy." Diary entry 1521: "... Hardened sinners will repent on hearing their words when they speak about My unfathomable mercy, about the compassion I have for them in My Heart."

By His providential design, our Lord has already given a helping hand to priests to carry out His plan for Mercy Sunday. The fact is that the traditional texts of the Missal for that Sunday already proclaim His Mercy loud and clear. For example, there is the gospel reading about Jesus appearing in the upper room on Easter Sunday night, bestowing a blessing of peace on His apostles, and giving them authority to forgive sins in His name. The epistle is taken from the first chapter of I Peter: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in His great mercy has given us a new birth as His sons, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead." Even the opening prayer for the Mass begins with the words "God of mercy. ..."

Second, Jesus asked that the Image of The Divine Mercy be publicly venerated on this Feast day. In Diary entry 341, for example, Jesus said to St. Faustina: "... 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."

To "venerate" a sacred image or statue simply means to perform some act, or make some gesture of deep religious respect toward it because of the person whom it represents: in this case, our most merciful Savior. A parish might venerate the image by having prayers to the merciful Jesus said before it, and/or placing flowers before it and putting it on view in a position of prominence in the sanctuary, and/or by censing the image (i.e., using incense), honoring the image along with the altar and sacred vessels during the liturgy.

It should come as no surprise that Jesus wanted this image to be venerated on Divine Mercy Sunday. After all, the Image of The Divine Mercy sums up the whole devotion to God's mercy in one picture. It depicts His merciful love for us both in His Passion (in the Blood and Water flowing from His breast, as it did on Calvary) and in the Resurrection - the whole Paschal mystery. Also, in the inscription at the bottom of the image, we find a summary of the basic response that Jesus asks of each of us to His merciful love: "Jesus, I trust in You."

In short, our Lord not only wants His priests to proclaim the message of Divine Mercy in words on that day; He also wants the message to be proclaimed through a sacred image - a visual aid, so to speak - because He knows well the truth of what we commonly say: "A picture is worth a thousand words."

Finally, Jesus made it very clear to St. Faustina that in preparation for the Feast of Mercy we need to be merciful to others, through our actions, words, and prayers. If we are not practicing the works of mercy in our lives, then our celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday would be a kind of blasphemy, rather than an offering pleasing to the Lord (Mic 6:6-8):

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old...? He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

This requirement is simple enough to understand. Jesus Himself repeated it to His disciples (Lk 6:36): "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." He taught St. Faustina much the same thing, in connection with the Feast of Mercy (Diary, 742):

Yes, the first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be acts of mercy. ... I demand from you deeds of mercy which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it.

Not only are the works of mercy a good preparation for this feast day, they are also the fruit that the Lord intends to grow as a result of the graces poured out on this day. The mercy we receive in our hearts on Divine Mercy Sunday is meant to be shared with others. The graces poured into our hearts by our merciful Lord are meant to flow through our hearts to our neighbors in need.

In this way, Divine Mercy Sunday even enables us to show a kind of "mercy" to Jesus Himself: "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me ... truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25: 35-40).

Whether we are showing mercy to the materially poor, or to the spiritually poor, we are sharing divine mercy with those whose plight is ever close to the compassionate Heart of our Savior. What better way to complete our celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday than to share it with the poor - and thereby return it to Him?

Thanks be to God for inviting us to this great banquet of mercy on Divine Mercy Sunday!

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.


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