In 2002, the Vatican published the third edition of the Roman Missal on which the forthcoming English translation is based. When the translations are published later this year, congregations in the United States will notice for the first time a significant name change which appeared in the third edition: After the words “Second Sunday of Easter,” we now read “(or Sunday of Divine Mercy).”
The rearrangement of the words is very significant. The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments received many petitions for a clarification of the original Latin text in the decree establishing the Second Sunday of Easter as the Sunday of Divine Mercy. Many mistakenly thought that there were two different types of celebrations for the same Sunday.
The words “Second Sunday of Easter” are there in the title for us to remember where the Sunday of Divine Mercy was placed, not to indicate to the clergy that there were two different feasts to be celebrated.
Adding to this confusion were many misled Divine Mercy devotees who were telling priests what they erroneously thought they must do to correctly celebrate the feast of Mercy that Jesus requested in the diary of St. Faustina. Our Lord never asked for the afternoon devotions that are very common today, but instead wanted us to focus on reaching out to what he called “fainting souls” and to bring them to the feast of his mercy to heal and strengthen them.
Neither the decree establishing the Sunday of Divine Mercy nor the subsequent plenary indulgence decree for Divine Mercy Sunday make any mention of the prophetic revelations that were given to the Church through St. Faustina. The Church recognized the hand of God in the revelations and acted on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to establish a feast on the Sunday after Easter, but only after she had first observed that the readings for that day were already perfect for the theme.
To understand the whole concept of a great feast celebrated on the Sunday after Easter, it is necessary to understand the meaning of octaves. In the Old Testament, there were many feasts that lasted for eight days, including the feast of Tabernacles which figures prominently in St. John’s Gospel (7:37-38). The last day was always considered the greatest day, a sort of grand finale. The Church had formerly observed many octaves in her earlier days for major feasts, but the emphasis on octaves faded over the years. The best-known octaves in the Church’s liturgy are currently Christmas and Easter, though an octave of Pentecost is also celebrated, and several minor feasts are timed to fall on the eighth day after a greater feast.
The Church invites us to celebrate Easter for a full eight days. Easter doesn’t climax until the following Sunday evening.
This is not a new concept; the Church has always taught this. If you look at the Mass propers between Easter and the Second Sunday of Easter, you will see that the Gloria is recited every day, just like on Sundays. The Church considers every one of those eight days the greatest type of feast, a solemnity. So it is like celebrating a whole week of Sundays all together!
So why shouldn’t we be celebrating for the entire eight days with great enthusiasm, especially when that final day, the grand finale, offers to penitents the “complete forgiveness of all sins and punishment” (according to the diary of St. Faustina)? Many have wrongly commented that the celebration of Mercy Sunday might take away from Easter, but the opposite is true: If you don’t celebrate the Octave of Easter, you are definitely missing out on a great Easter gift that the Lord wants to pour out on us.
Pope John Paul II had indicated that he fulfilled the will of Christ by instituting the feast of Divine Mercy, but he never pushed for it, as some might believe. He prayed and waited for the Holy Spirit to act, but never acted without that guidance. He established the Sunday of Divine Mercy because he believed the Church was in great need of a feast that would create a renewed awakening, a renewed understanding and an appreciation of the great Octave of Easter and its great gifts.
Robert Allard is the director of the Apostles of Divine Mercy and DivineMercySunday.com.