Why Do Some Pastors Ignore Divine Mercy Sunday?

In a recent letter, a woman named Charlotte from the Archdiocese of Chicago related to me the sad story of the opposition of her pastors to the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, and in particular to the recitation of the Divine Mercy Novena from Good Friday until Easter Saturday.

Noting that the Divine Mercy message and devotion was blessed and approved by Pope John Paul II, she asked, "Why do you think these pastors (and others) will absolutely not allow this Divine Mercy Novena to be publicly observed in their churches? What's going on?"

Well, Charlotte, first of all, some pastors are really just ignorant about St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy message and devotion. There is a great introductory booklet published by the Marians entitled The Divine Mercy Message and Devotion. It is less than 100 pages long, but it is an excellent explanation of almost every aspect of the Divine Mercy message and devotion.

Why not buy a copy for each of your pastors as a gift?

Normally, giving a book to your pastor to read is not such a good idea, because he has precious little spare time to devote to reading. In this case, however, the booklet is short, and you can give it to him with a special intent; ask him to read it and explain to you what is wrong with all this. If he says he will look it over, pray the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy for him every day. Maybe his heart will be changed by the booklet, and by your prayers. If it isn't, then jot down his remaining objections and send them to me, and I will try to answer them for both of you!

But I think the main reason that many pastors oppose the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday and the public recitation of the Novena (at that time of year) is that they were told in their seminaries never to let "devotions" and "private revelations" intrude into the Easter season and obscure the message of the liturgies for Holy Week and Easter season.

Their intention is good, but they do not have a handle on the facts in this case.

Here is what I wrote in an article that appeared in Catholic Insight (a Catholic magazine in Canada), in April of 2006. You are welcome to share this with your pastor. Maybe it will address some of his misgivings:

Why did the Pope [John Paul II] so strongly recommend that we pay heed to the Divine Mercy message and devotion - even to the Image and Chaplet - given to us through St. Faustina? Clearly, he did so because he saw in all this 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 - 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.

The liturgy for the Easter octave, therefore, and for the Octave Sunday itself, is not something that needs to be "sealed off" from the alien influence of the "private revelations" of a Polish nun. On the contrary, the celebration of Mercy Sunday should be open to all the enhancement and amplification of the message of God's merciful love which prudent use of her devotions can bring to it.

As many commentators have pointed out, the Second Sunday of Easter was already a solemnity as the Octave Day (eighth day) of Easter; nevertheless, the title "Divine Mercy Sunday" does highlight and amplify the meaning of the day. In this way it recovers an ancient liturgical tradition reflected in a teaching attributed to St. Augustine that called the Easter Octave "the days of mercy and pardon" and the Octave Day itself "the compendium of the days of mercy."

Moreover, the title "Divine Mercy Sunday" expresses the message of the prayers and readings traditionally appointed for this Octave Day. Liturgically, the day has always been centered on the theme of Divine Mercy and forgiveness. That is why, in its decree establishing Divine Mercy Sunday, the Holy See insisted that the texts already assigned for that day in the Missal and the liturgy of the hours of the Roman rite "are always to be used for the liturgical celebration of this Sunday."

Given the liturgical appropriateness of the title "Divine Mercy Sunday" for the Octave Day of Easter, therefore, the Holy See did not give this title to the Second Sunday of Easter merely as an "option" for those dioceses who happen to like that sort of thing! Rather, the decree issued on May 5, 2000, by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments clearly states: "The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II has graciously determined that in the Roman Missal, after the title Second Sunday of Easter, there shall henceforth be added the appellation 'or [in Latin, 'seu' = 'namely,' or 'that is'] Divine Mercy Sunday.' "

Divine Mercy Sunday, therefore, is the second name for this feast day. In a similar way, the Octave Day of the Nativity of Our Lord was named by the Church "The Feast of the Mother of God."

This means that preaching on God's mercy is also not just an option for the clergy on that day - it is strongly encouraged. To fail to preach on God's mercy on that day would mean largely to ignore the prayers, readings, and psalms appointed for that day, as well as the title "Divine Mercy Sunday" now given to that day in the Roman Missal.

Clearly, the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday does not compete with, nor endanger, the integrity of the Easter Season.

Sometimes the fear is expressed that the recitation of St. Faustina's Novena to The Divine Mercy, along with the Chaplet, from Good Friday until Easter Sunday, distracts us from the focus of the liturgy. But the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy is an intercessory prayer on the basis of the Passion of Christ, and the Image of The Divine Mercy (before which the Novena is usually recited) is primarily a manifestation of the Risen Christ.

The Novena of Chaplets (with the Image), therefore, focuses our minds and hearts on the Paschal mystery - the death and Resurrection of Christ. Nothing could be more appropriate at this time in the liturgical year! In a similar way, reciting on Good Friday the Stations of the Cross and doing the Tre Ore devotions (often based on the seven last words of Christ) are in no way public liturgical acts required by the Roman Missal. Nevertheless, many parishes do them because they are good liturgical customs that amplify this important time in the Church's liturgical year. They do not compete with, neither do they distract worshippers from, the official liturgy for Good Friday. ...

In short, what Pope John Paul II did by establishing Divine Mercy Sunday was not create an alternate theme or celebration for the Easter Season. All he has done is recover an ancient tradition of celebrating the Octave Day of Easter as a summary of the whole Paschal Mystery and of the merciful love of God that shines through that Mystery.

The witness of St. Faustina is an aid and not a hindrance to the People of God in their celebration of this great solemnity.

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

Got a question? E-mail me at questions@thedivinemercy.org.

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