There has been much confusion and discussion about Divine Mercy Sunday and how it all relates to Easter, and it is about time that all of the misunderstandings get cleared up.
Although Divine Mercy Sunday started out from a revelation that was made by Jesus to St. Faustina, it is now an official feast in the Catholic Church. Divine Mercy Sunday is not to be considered part of a private devotion. There are still some things that are considered devotional that are associated with Divine Mercy, like the chaplet and the novena — but these devotionals should not be confused with what the Church has set in place for the observance of Divine Mercy Sunday.
Many have added to the confusion by suggesting that priests must provide special devotional services for Divine Mercy Sunday. This had caused many priests to shy away. Mercy Sunday is not a “party for devotees”; it is in all truthfulness an astonishing “refuge for sinners.” It is an outstanding, timely gift from God. There’s no doubt about it: The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has fulfilled every request that Jesus made, but only because it has seen the hand of God.
The Church has not added anything new by naming this new feast, but just sort of re-energized what was always celebrated as a great feast in the early Church. Over the years, the Church had lost some of the fervor for the octave of Easter. Octaves have always been associated with the celebration of great feasts. Some of the Jewish feasts in the Old Testament, such as the feast of Tabernacles, were celebrated for a full eight days, and the very last day was always the greatest one.
The Gospel of John recalls the observance of the last day of the feast of Tabernacles in the seventh chapter (John 7:37-39), and St. John calls it the greatest day: “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me; let him drink, who believes in me. Scripture has it: ‘From within him rivers of living water shall flow.’” It is important that every word in these passages is taken to heart and analyzed very thoroughly.
The first day of an octave and the last day are considered as the same day. In fact, every day in between the first and last is part of the feast. Just look at the days of the week between Easter and the octave of Easter: From Monday through Saturday, they are all called “Easter,” and each and every one of these days is the highest form of celebration called a solemnity. On each of those days, the Gloria and the creed are recited, just like on Sundays. Each is considered a Sunday. Although the Easter season extends for a full 50 days until Pentecost, the Easter feast itself is only eight days long, from the Easter Vigil until the evening of that octave, Divine Mercy Sunday. It is very important that we celebrate Easter correctly, and that includes celebrating the octave.
Don’t forget that the Gospel that has always been read on the Sunday after Easter (John 20:19-31) covers the time from the evening of the Resurrection up until the following Sunday.
The first part of that Gospel narrates Jesus bestowing on the apostles the power to forgive sins by breathing on them and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” The second part of that Gospel is what happens on the very next Sunday, the octave, when Thomas finally sees Jesus in that same Upper Room as the rest of the apostles had seen him the Sunday before.
Mercy Sunday is really designed to get souls back to the practice of their faith. That is why the Catholic Church has attached a special plenary indulgence to this Sunday and has decreed that it remain “perpetually” in place. It has also, in that decree, issued a specific directive to priests entitled “Duties of Priests: Inform Parishioners; Hear Confessions; Lead Prayers.” These duties are the guidelines for the correct celebration of the octave, and the Holy See has left no options.
The specific duties, which can be seen on the Vatican website, were originally issued in August 2002 and presented to all bishops. They are all clearly presented in the last paragraph of that special plenary indulgence and include the proclamation of that indulgence by all “priests who exercise pastoral ministry, especially parish priests.” It also asserts that they “should promptly and generously hear their confessions” and also “lead the prayers after the Masses” on that day.
It is very clear that the Church, moved by the Holy Spirit, has acted compellingly to insure that everyone has the opportunity to obtain these incredible graces that are offered on this octave. It has set in place a renewed enthusiasm for Easter. It is imperative that Easter be celebrated for a full eight days — and in a solemn way. No longer can we let the Easter-only Catholics walk out of Church on Easter Sunday without an invitation to come back and celebrate the Easter octave.
There have also been many inquiries as to using the Divine Mercy image on Mercy Sunday and its permanent installation in churches. Pope Benedict in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy wrote of the importance of having such an image to assist in every liturgy as a sign of hope to lead people to the Second Coming of Christ. He wrote of the “void” that was caused by the removal of icons and sacred art from our sanctuaries and the importance of having the images.
Correctly celebrating Easter involves correctly celebrating the octave of Easter. It is only humble obedience to the magisterium that is necessary to complete the job.
There is one more thing that is of the utmost importance, and it would be a grave injustice to the Lord not to proclaim it. Jesus said that the feast of mercy would be the last hope of salvation. These words can be found in the diary of St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, No. 965. If this be true, then everyone must be told about it, including fallen-away and lapsed Catholics. Proclaim it from the rooftops, and tell everyone about those special graces on Mercy Sunday!
Robert R. Allard is director of
the Apostles of Divine Mercy.