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Celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday in your Parish, Guidebook

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Tips for Divine Mercy Sunday

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How can we as Catholics prepare for and celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday? What are the options? What approaches work best?

We put these questions to some clergy and lay leaders around the country who have had experience celebrating the feast day. Here are some starting points for you.

A diocese celebrates
Let's start with the big picture. A diocesan-wide celebration of Mercy Sunday — with all parishes celebrating the feast day — should be your ultimate goal. The Diocese of Honolulu in 2006 is a case in point (see below).

Depending on your circumstances, consider how you might help spread Divine Mercy Sunday in your diocese this year and in years to come. You could begin by praying for your bishop that he would encourage all his pastors to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday in their parishes.

If you know your bishop well, consider sharing with him this account involving the Diocese of Honolulu. If you are in charge of a particular Divine Mercy group or apostolate, that might give you the opportunity to do more to promote Mercy Sunday at the diocesan level with the backing of your bishop.

Consider the example of Rose Balayan, the Hawaii facilitator for Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM), a lay apostolate of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. For her, opportunity came knocking when her bishop decided to dedicate his diocese to The Divine Mercy on the feast day in 2006.

A lay person had suggested the dedication to Bishop Larry Silva right after he was installed in July 2005 as Bishop of the Diocese of Honolulu. "Bishop Silva gave it some good thought and prayers," said Balayan, "and by February 2006, he decided to go ahead with the dedication."

As reported in the Hawaii Catholic Herald, Bishop Silva had explained to the priests of his diocese in a Feb. 21 letter why he was making the dedication. "I want to do this with one special intention in mind," he wrote, "an increase of local vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life in Hawaii."

He urged all his pastors to have Divine Mercy Sunday celebrations in their own parishes, and he enclosed brochures on The Divine Mercy message and devotion with his letter. He asked his pastors to join him at their parish celebrations "in prayer for this special intention for an increase of local vocations."

"This was good news for us at EADM Hawaii," said Balayan, "as it meant that some pastors who had been reluctant to do anything about Divine Mercy were now being asked to celebrate the feast day."

Several pastors then contacted EADM Hawaii and asked that the Apostolate help them celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday in their parishes. EADM was already planning a weeklong Divine Mercy crusade on April 22-29 in Hawaii.

So, Fr. Peter Prusakiewicz, CSMA, of Poland — EADM Hawaii's Divine Mercy expert for the 2006 crusade — preached on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 23, in four different parishes on the Island of Oahu. He also preached at the Vigil Mass for the feast in one parish.

These crusades involve special days of celebration held in parishes throughout the diocese. They are scheduled around Divine Mercy Sunday. According to Balayan, the days include presentations by experts on Divine Mercy, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, recitation or singing of The Divine Mercy Chaplet, and veneration of The Divine Mercy image, among other things.

A special moment for EADM came at the diocesan dedication to The Divine Mercy, which Bishop Silva celebrated on the feast day at Star of the Sea Church in Honolulu. "Father Peter was one of the concelebrants at the Mass with the Bishop," explained Balayan, "and it was providential that Fr. Peter took the opportunity before Mass to ask the Bishop if the first-class relic of St. Faustina that he had could be venerated after Mass. The Bishop allowed it and had it placed next to The Divine Mercy image."

Balayan said of Divine Mercy Sunday 2006 in Hawaii, "It really makes a difference if the bishop encourages the entire diocese to turn to God's mercy and, in this case, encourages all parishes to celebrate the feast day."

She said that EADM Hawaii is now planning a crusade around Divine Mercy Sunday 2007. Balayan hopes it will involve more of the neighboring islands of Hawaii, especially in the more remote and secluded areas. "Residents on the neighboring islands often complain to us that they feel neglected," she said. "They say that nobody visits them because they're in small parishes and away from the capital of Hawaii."

Parishes prepare
• A committed group in the parish can spearhead preparations for the feast. In the case of a parish in Maryland, members of a prayer group organize the Mercy Sunday celebration. Rosalie St. George, who helped organize Mercy Sunday celebrations for 10 years at St. Raphael's in Rockville, MD, says that parishioners involved in an intercessory prayer group volunteer each year to help the parish prepare for the feast. These volunteers are committed to praying the Rosary and The Divine Mercy Chaplet around the clock for the sick and dying, so they already have some basic understanding of The Divine Mercy message and devotion.

• Such parish groups should be well formed in The Divine Mercy message and devotion. Jim Miller — who is Divine Mercy Coordinator for Michigan Catholic Radio WCAR 1090AM — gives this advice when he addresses parish groups on Divine Mercy. With the approval of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Miller leads Divine Mercy workshops in parishes throughout southeastern Michigan. He says that one of his main goals when he gives a parish workshop is to help the parish form a steering committee for Divine Mercy Sunday and related initiatives. In his workshops, Miller particularly emphasizes Divine Mercy in Scripture and the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, as well as getting parishioners to perform deeds of mercy.

• Materials for formation. At his workshops, Miller recommends that parishes consider using the following Marian Press materials to form members of their Divine Mercy steering committees:

— Most importantly, The Divine Mercy Message and Devotion booklet (M17)
Why Mercy Sunday? booklet (WMS)
Tell My Priests book (DML9)
Come to My Mercy booklet (DML12)
— "How to Prepare for Mercy Sunday" pamphlet (MSF)
— "The Chaplet of The Divine Mercy" pamphlet (CDML)
— "Divine Mercy Novena and Chaplet" pamphlet (LFMCN)
— "The Image of The Divine Mercy" pamphlet (MPI)
— "Vatican Grants Plenary Indulgence for Divine Mercy Sunday" pamphlet (PIDM)
— "The Hour of Great Mercy" pamphlet (PATL)
To order call 1-800-462-7426 or go to our online gift shop.

• Offer Divine Mercy materials to your parishioners at large. Consider how you can introduce Divine Mercy in general and Divine Mercy Sunday in particular to more of your fellow parishioners, especially during Lent. Choose basic, introductory materials for this purpose. Longtime Divine Mercy promoters Carl and Helen Fahrner of St. Mary's in Rockville, MD, have found it fruitful — with the permission of their pastor — to place Divine Mercy pamphlets in the rack of the vestibule of their church. Rosalie St. George of St. Raphael's in Rockville, MD, says that she has gotten permission from the Marians to photocopy and distribute helpful articles from Marian Helper magazine in her parish.

• Publicize your parish Mercy Sunday celebration in various ways. Plan to do your publicity weeks in advance. Consider announcements in your parish bulletin, reminders from the pulpit, and an ad in your diocesan newspaper. Patrick Degens of St. Joseph's in downtown Detroit, MI, which has celebrated the feast since 1983, says that his parish advertises its celebration in the weekly Catholic newspaper. Parish organizers also prepare a program for the day and distribute it to parishioners in advance, so everyone knows what to expect on the day.

• Pastors should encourage their parishioners to go to confession before Divine Mercy, preferably during Lent. Rosalie St. George says that in St. Raphael's publicity for Mercy Sunday, they stress the importance of making a good confession, ideally during Lent itself. "It's hard to find priests to come to hear confessions on the day itself," she says of the pastoral situation. "It's the week after Easter, and the priests are exhausted." Even so, she says that many parishioners still want to go on the day itself, so the pastor of St. Raphael's does line up priests to help. In the case of St. Joseph's in downtown Detroit, associate pastor Fr. Paul Ward says that the church is "packed for Mercy Sunday" with many wanting to go to confession on the day. So, he and the pastor enlist the assistance of around five priests to help with confessions the afternoon of Mercy Sunday. The bottom line seems to be: Encourage confession during Lent but be well prepared on the day itself, given your pastoral situation. A couple of parish organizers in urban areas with various ethnic groups stressed how valuable it is to recruit bilingual and even multilingual confessors for the feast day.

• Spend more time in prayer and perform works of mercy. Jim Miller of Michigan Catholic Radio in his Divine Mercy workshops for parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit recommends a two-pronged approach to spiritual preparation for the feast. (The advice fits wonderfully with our call as Catholics during Lent.) First, encourage your parish leaders and parishioners to take more time for daily prayer, especially holy hours before the Blessed Sacrament. Second, encourage them to perform works of mercy. In the case of Divine Mercy groups in parishes, Miller further suggests encouraging members to discuss their works of mercy with fellow members and the group leader.

• Pray The Divine Mercy Novena, starting on Good Friday. Every parish leader interviewed said that their parish prays The Divine Mercy Novena in preparation for the feast. Some parishes start it after they celebrate the solemn liturgical service for Good Friday in the evening. Others begin the novena after praying the Stations of the Cross at 3 p.m., the Hour of Great Mercy. Most continue to pray the novena in the parish after daily Mass through the Saturday before the feast. Carl and Helen Fahrner of St. Mary's said that at their church, parishioners who can't make it to daily Mass are encouraged to follow the novena at home.

Parishes celebrate
• The focus is always on celebrating Holy Mass and, when needed pastorally, having priests on hand to hear confessions. All parish leaders emphasized this sacramental focus, with the devotional practices — praying at 3 p.m., praying The Divine Mercy Chaplet, and venerating The Divine Mercy image — flowing from the Sacraments. (See comments about confession above.)

• Some parishes have a tradition of a special celebration throughout the afternoon. This is the case for Catherine Lanni at St. Barnabas Parish in Clinton Township, MI, where she has helped organize Mercy Sunday celebrations for 14 years. She is also Director of the nearby Divine Mercy Center, a lay apostolate of the Archdiocese of Detroit. "We usually start our celebration at St. Barnabas around 1 p.m. with confessions," she says. "Then at 3 p.m., we have The Divine Mercy Chaplet and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The celebration culminates with Mass at 4 p.m." But the celebration doesn't end with Mass. "We have refreshments afterwards," explained Lanni, " to give people time to absorb it all by talking with others. We used to have dinner. Now we simply offer all kinds of refreshments." For St. Joseph's in downtown Detroit, the afternoon celebration starts after the noon Mass with the praying of all 20 mysteries of the Rosary, followed by The Divine Mercy Chaplet. It all climaxes with a special orchestral Mass at 3 p.m. "We probably have around five orchestral Masses a year, and our pastor has decided we should have one of them on Divine Mercy Sunday," says Patrick Degens.

• Venerate the image of The Divine Mercy. With the approval of your pastor, see if you can display and venerate the image on the day, preferably in a prominent place in the sanctuary of your church. Let the image serve as a reminder to trust in the Lord Jesus and to perform works of mercy on the day itself. Invite your parishioners to take some quiet moments of prayer during the day before the image. Consider the example of St. Raphael's. "We put up The Divine Mercy image in the sanctuary of our church on Saturday," says Rosalie St. George, "and it stays there until Monday morning." St. George adds that at the beginning of each Mass on the feast day, the priest censes both the altar and the image.

However you and your parish celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, take time to reflect on God's unfathomable mercy — the graces that He is pouring out upon us all — in giving us the feast day in the Church. As St. George puts it, "The biggest thing to me and my husband was the great graces that one can receive on Divine Mercy Sunday. God does a marvelous work on Divine Mercy Sunday. There's no gift like it, and God gives the gift."

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