National Catholic Register


Defending the Image of Mercy

I have seen parishes transformed after beginning to venerate the Divine Mercy image on Mercy Sunday.

BY Robert R. Allard

April 15-21, 2007 Issue | Posted 4/10/07 at 10:00 AM


I have seen parishes transformed after beginning to venerate the Divine Mercy image on Mercy Sunday. We have found that once a pastor introduces the image, devotion to Christ takes off. People start learning about the Divine Mercy devotion (see Culture of Life, page B1 and Travel, page B3) and soon the pastor is hearing confessions from people who have been away from the confessional for years — or decades.

We let the pastor pick out the image. There are several versions of the image, and the pastor is the best suited to select which one fits his parish.

But, sadly, I have also often heard from people who call me and e-mail me and say, “My pastor doesn’t want that image in the church.” They say it isn’t appropriate, or that those who aren’t devotees won’t understand it.

But Divine Mercy Sunday isn’t for devotees. Jesus is looking for sinners. The Church gives us this special feast so that as many people as possible can be touched by the beauty and joy of reconciliation with God — and displaying the image is key to the day’s effectiveness.

What to tell pastors who are unsure about the image?

The image of the Divine Mercy is the icon of the risen Lord. The image is like the depiction of Jesus appearing in the upper room to the apostles and bestowing on them the power to forgive sins. It is also an image of hope that gives us the assurance that Christ will be there for us as we draw ever closer in great anticipation and wonder of his final coming.

The image of the Divine Mercy portrays, with its two rays of red and pale light, the re-presentation of the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation and the Eucharist.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, just prior to becoming Pope Benedict XVI, in his popular book The Spirit of The Liturgy, dedicated a chapter on “Art and Liturgy.” His words are clearly applicable to the Divine Mercy Image.

“On liturgical feasts the deeds of God in the past are made present,” he said. “The feasts are a participation in God’s action in time, and the images themselves, as remembrance in visible form, are involved in the liturgical re-presentation.”

One thinks of the Divine Mercy image and its closeness to the Gospel of the day.

Cardinal Ratzinger said that All sacred images are, without exception, in a certain sense images of the Resurrection, and for that very reason they are images of hope, giving us the assurance of the world to come, of the final coming of Christ. It is seen as a path of hope, into which the images draw us.”

The rays of light form a literal path of hope — one that leads to Christ’s heart!

He added that “The icon is intended to draw us onto an inner path, toward the Christ who is to return. Its dynamism is identical with the dynamism of the liturgy as a whole. We see Christ rightly only when we say with Thomas: ‘My Lord and my God!’ The light of the first day and the light of the eighth day meet in the icon. The light that enables us to see the splendor of God.”

Those words of Thomas the Apostle, of course, are precisely from the Gospel of Mercy Sunday.

Cardinal Ratzinger continued: “The image points to the sacraments, above all, to baptism and the Eucharist, and, in pointing to the sacraments, they are, in a way, contained within them.”

The image of Divine Mercy is nothing more than a depiction of how the sacraments pour forth from Christ himself.

Cardinal Ratzinger even spoke about the emptiness of a church where no such image is present. He wrote about “a new iconoclasm, which has frequently been regarded as virtually mandated by the Second Vatican Council. The destruction of images ... left behind a void, the wretchedness of which we are now experiencing in a truly acute way.”

And yet, he wrote, “the complete absence of images is incompatible with faith in the incarnation of God. God has acted in history and entered into our sensible world, so that it may become transparent to him. Images of beauty, in which the mystery of the invisible God becomes visible, are an essential part of Christian worship.”

Mercy Sunday is part of a devotion that is built around an image. Isn’t it right that on this day, we should place before the faithful the image that started it all?

Parishes that have permanently installed Divine Mercy images are noticing that many parishioners are finding great consolation and are entrusting themselves to God’s divine mercy and are urging their family and friends to do likewise.

They are repeating in their hearts what the picture tells them: “Jesus, I trust in you!”

Robert R. Allard is director of the Apostles of Divine Mercy.