The Pope and St. Faustina's Prophetic Revelations for our Time

Perhaps the most surprising act of Pope John Paul II in promoting the Divine Mercy message was his proclamation at the canonization of Sr. Faustina in St. Peter's Square in 2000: "From now on, throughout the Church [this Sunday] will be called Divine Mercy Sunday." Many of the Church's pastors and liturgists were stunned by this announcement. Some wondered: "Why is the Holy Father doing this? Is he simply creating a new feast because of his personal devotion to the private revelations of a Polish mystic?"

Pope John Paul II was well aware that the visions of Christ received by St. Faustina, and the messages and devotions flowing from them, remain in the official category of "private revelations." The Church's doctrine of Divine Mercy and her liturgical practices are not based on any such revelations; they are based on Holy Scripture, the faith handed down from the apostles, and on the liturgical traditions rooted in the worship life of the ancient, apostolic communities. St. Faustina's revelations can add nothing new to the deposit of Faith, nor anything novel to the official liturgy of the Church. Moreover, it is also true that the Holy Father did not establish Divine Mercy Sunday to commemorate St. Faustina's mystical experiences. Thus, it remains true to this day that no one is required by the Holy See, on Mercy Sunday, to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, or venerate the Image of The Divine Mercy, or do anything else that springs from St. Faustina's revelations. No priest could be called a "heretic," or in any way disobedient to liturgical law, for ignoring these things entirely.

Nevertheless, what makes St. Faustina's revelations striking is the way that they so powerfully express the central truths that lay at the heart of the Gospel: the merciful love of God, manifest especially in the Passion and Resurrection of His Son. Indeed, some of the devotional forms that come from her "private revelations" (such as the Chaplet, and the veneration of the Image) are especially vivid ways of contemplating and celebrating the Paschal Mystery: the Mystery that lies at the very heart of the "public revelation" passed down to us from the apostles, as well as at the very heart of the ancient liturgical traditions for the eight days of the Easter Octave.

In short, what is not strictly required - i.e., what is not a matter of law or precept - can still be a matter of good counsel. Given the fact that the chief pastor and shepherd of the Church strongly encouraged Catholics to pay heed to the messages and revelations given to St. Faustina as a special call to our time to turn back to the God of merciful love. And given that the Pope also established Divine Mercy Sunday and recommended the Image and the Chaplet as helpful means to that end, it would be rash and imprudent to ignore those exhortations from the Vicar of Christ.

In his homily on Mercy Sunday, 2001, Pope John Paul II again stressed the importance of Christ's call to the world through St. Faustina:

"We are celebrating the Second Sunday of Easter, which, since last year - the year of the Great Jubilee - is also called 'Divine Mercy Sunday.' It is a great joy for me to be able to join all of you, dear pilgrims and faithful who have come here from various nations to commemorate, after one year, the canonization of Sr. Faustina Kowalska, witness and messenger of the Lord's merciful love. The elevation to the honors of the altar of this humble religious is not only a gift for Poland, but for all humanity. Indeed, the message she brought is the appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies. Jesus said to Sr. Faustina: 'Humanity will not have peace until it turns with trust to My Mercy' (Diary, 300). Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium....

"Today the Lord also shows His glorious wounds and His heart, an inexhaustible source of truth, of love and forgiveness.... St. Faustina saw coming from this Heart that was overflowing with generous love, two rays of light that illuminated the world. 'The two rays,' according to what Jesus Himself told her, 'represent the blood and the water' (Diary, 299). The blood recalls the sacrifice of Golgotha, and the mystery of the Eucharist; the water, according to the rich symbolism of the Evangelist St. John, makes us think of Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 3:5; 4:14).

"Through the mystery of this wounded Heart, the restorative tide of God's merciful love continues to spread over the men and women of our time. Here alone can those who long for true and lasting happiness find its secret."

Why did Pope John Paul II so strongly recommend that we pay heed to the Divine Mercy message and devotion - even the Image and the Chaplet - given to the world through St. Faustina? Clearly, he did so because he saw all this as more than just a collection of "private revelations"; rather, he saw them as prophetic revelations. In other words revelations given to us by God to proclaim the heart of the Gospel - that is, the merciful love of God, shining through the death and resurrection of his Son - in a way especially suited to meet the needs of our era.

(This series continues next week on the Mercy legacy of Pope John Paul II).

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