The first time I heard the Chaplet of Divine Mercy recited, I thought it was the poor man's rosary. The devotion uses rosary beads, yet takes only a third of the time to recite, I thought. Taking more of a worldly than a spiritual perspective, I feared that the chaplet would wean people away from the rosary because it seemed so much easier to say.

That was more than 10 years ago. Today, I rejoice in the recent announcement that Pope John Paul II has attached a plenary indulgence to the Divine Mercy devotion on the Sunday after Easter, which he designated a few years ago as Divine Mercy Sunday. In so doing, the Pope simply formalized what the devotion declares – Jesus offers each one of us an ocean of mercy to wash away our sins and any temporal punishment due to our sins. He is all mercy.

What changed my mind about this popular devotion? God's mercy.

When I first heard the chaplet, the person leading the recitation said the words in rapid-fire fashion with apparently little thought to the profound meaning of the f e w simple words. It took me a while before I could understand what was being said. “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

A short time later, I heard the chaplet recited in song and was captivated. The words were melodic and meditative. “Eternal Father, we offer thee the body and blood, soul and divinity, of thy dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and the sins of the whole world.” I realized that just as the rosary can be done poorly, so can this devotion. But God calls us to do it prayerfully and thoughtfully. I learned later that even when simply recited, the chaplet is beautiful and true.

The Spiritual Life

After the sung chaplet, the leader gave me a booklet on the writings of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun who received private revelations from Jesus and instructions for the Divine Mercy image of Our Lord with rays of mercy beaming from his heart. As I read the booklet, I encountered another crisis. “Mercy, mercy, mercy,” I thought. “Isn't this watering down Jesus as judge at the end of time?” I had a lesson to learn.

Some time later I attended a conference on Divine Mercy. Although I had been reciting the chaplet on occasion, I still had nagging doubts about “mercy, mercy, mercy.” While praying the chaplet at the conference, I became acutely aware of my need for mercy. I broke down before God and said, “I have nothing to give you but my ‘yes.’” Then I thought: That is all Mary had at the Annunciation. Suddenly, the message of the rosary and the message of the chaplet merged in my mind. Mary's “fiat” contains the whole message of the chaplet. “Let it be done to me according to Thy Word” ... “I offer Thee the body and blood, soul and divinity of Thy dearly beloved Son, my Lord Jesus Christ.” In atonement for the sins of the whole world.

The rosary and the chaplet come from the same Word of God, who is mercy. I will humbly take part in the Divine Mercy devotions on the Sunday after Easter, seeking God's indulgence.

Brian Caulfield writes from West Haven, Connecticut.