Happy Easter Season, friends!
As you may know, tomorrow is Divine Mercy Sunday, also known as the Feast of Mercy. This is a very blessed day, which Our Lord Himself has designated as an occasion to flood His faithful with extraordinary grace. To help you receive as much grace as you can on this day, I’ve applied myself to the task of putting together in a single source everything you need to know.
First of all, what IS Divine Mercy Sunday?
Divine Mercy Sunday is a special day — the first Sunday after Easter — which Our Lord has set apart to bestow a special outpouring of grace upon His faithful and His Church. On this day, the floodgates of mercy are opened for anyone who approaches God with a humble, repentant, trusting heart.
We owe Divine Mercy Sunday in its current form to St. Faustina Kowalska. She was a Polish nun who lived in the early 20th century. She was also what the Church calls a “mystic.” Jesus overtly manifested Himself to her through many visions and dialogues, most of which are recorded in her Diary.
Why we can assert that Sister Faustina was indeed a mystic (as opposed to merely insane but well-meaning) is a conversation we can have another day. But I’ll give you one of my favorite reasons: Although Faustina was an uneducated girl born to a family of poor peasants (and for this reason she could only take the humblest tasks at her convent), her writings on the Divine Mercy are so powerful that modern scholars view them as a source of theological research. Her Diary has been translated into more than 20 languages, and currently there’s a push to have her recognized as a Doctor of the Church. The fact that this young nun somehow managed to effect such an overwhelming global impact is, to me, solid proof that her private revelations are a work of God.
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes.” —Mt 11:25
Throughout 14 different revelations, Jesus entrusted Sr. Faustina with the mission to have the first Sunday after Easter consecrated by the Church as the Feast of Mercy.
On one occasion, I heard these words: My daughter, tell the whole world about My Inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity. The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy. —Diary, 699
Some people worry that Divine Mercy Sunday is a recent liturgical invention, birthed exclusively by the private revelations received by Sister Faustina. While I understand their desire to preserve and protect the tradition of the Church, having done my homework I can confidently say that these allegations are incorrect.
Before Jesus communicated to Faustina His desire to establish the Feast of Mercy, the first Sunday after Easter was already a day of joyful thanksgiving for the great mercy of God as manifested in the miracle of redemption and the forgiveness of sins. As the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception (key players in the dissemination of the Divne Mercy message) point out, “[t]he Second Sunday of Easter was already a solemnity as the Octave Day of Easter; nevertheless, the title ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’ does highlight and amplify the meaning of the day.” Thus, by prompting the institution of the Feast of Mercy, Jesus merely took a day that had “always been centered on the theme of Divine Mercy and forgiveness (ibid.; emphasis in source),” and heightened it to the fullness of its spiritual meaning by the additions which He demanded of His Church through His faithful modern messenger.
Sister Faustina dreaded that the Lord’s initiative would not come to fruition without great trials and apparent failures. This was indeed the case. However, ultimately Pope John Paul II had the Feast of Mercy formally established in the universal Church on the occasion of Faustina’s canonization, April 30, 2000, renaming the Second Sunday of Easter as “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
So, what are the graces Christ is offering, exactly?
I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Feast of My mercy. —Diary, 1109
Whoever approaches the Fountain of Life on this day will be granted complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. —Diary, 300
When we sin, we are heaping on our shoulders two kinds of burdens, or liabilities: the liability of guilt (in Latin, reatus culpae) and the liability of punishment (reatus poena).
The liability of guilt is our culpability before God. It is the undeniable fact that we have transgressed against His perfect law and spurned His love in favor of some lesser, temporal, apparent good.
As Christians we know that if we ask for God’s forgiveness, God will grant it. However, even though we may repent and be forgiven, a certain kind of restitution still has to happen. This is what we call the liability of punishment.
Catholic Answers’ Jimmy Akin explains it this way: If your child does something wrong and later apologizes for it, you might forgive him, but most likely you’ll still punish or discipline him in some way, allowing him to experience the consequences of his actions to make sure that he’s learned his lesson and won’t commit the same fault again.
Now let’s remember that God is the most sensible, just, and merciful parent of all. Therefore, though He may forgive our sins, there are still temporal penalties that we must go through in order to repair the harm we have done to others and ourselves.
The punishments with which we are concerned here are imposed by God’s judgment, which is just and merciful. The reasons for their imposition are that our souls need to be purified, the holiness of the moral order needs to be strengthened, and God’s glory must be restored to its full majesty. —Pope Paul VI, Indulgentariam Doctrina
After all, if I steal your car and then turn to God for forgiveness, I’m pretty sure you’ll still want me to atone for my actions by returning your car.
Some temporal punishments for sin are physical and take place during this life (I steal your car, I go to jail). If we do not atone for our wrongdoing in this life, however, we shall have to do so in the next. Christ taught about this state of postmortem atonement, purification, and reparation; it is what we Catholics refer to as Purgatory.
Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny. —Mt 5:25-26.
So this is where Divine Mercy Sunday comes in. Jesus has promised: “The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion will obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment (Diary 699).” This means that all burdens and liabilities we have incurred by our sins — both guilt and punishment — will be removed on this day, provided that we:
1) Go to Confession OR are currently in the state of grace.
2) Receive Holy Communion.
3) Trust in Jesus and His boundless mercy.
If you do this, then by the promise of Jesus your soul will be completely wiped clean of sin and all its spiritual consequences. It’ll be as if you had been born again, baptized again, 100% free to make a fresh start in life — walking hand-in-hand with Christ this time.
Glory be to the God of mercy.
Are there any other things I need to do on Divine Mercy Sunday?
To receive the extraordinary graces promised by Our Lord, all you need is to go to Confession (if you’re not already in the state of grace), receive Communion, and trust in Him.
However, Jesus also desires that you do a couple things more on Divine Mercy Sunday:
1) Venerate the Image of the Divine Mercy.
2) Engage in acts of mercy toward your fellow man.
Yes, the first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be acts of mercy, and I demand the worship of My mercy through the solemn celebration of the Feast and through the veneration of the image which is painted. By means of this image I shall grant many graces to souls. It is to be a reminder of the demands of My mercy, because even the strongest faith is of no avail without works. —Diary, 742
As for the veneration aspect, the Marian Fathers provide a great summary of what that means: “To venerate a sacred image or statue simply means to perform some act or make some gesture of deep religious respect toward it because of the person whom it represents — in this case, our Most Merciful Savior.”
And, regarding the need to practice mercy, Jesus has expressed this:
I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it.
I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first – by deed, the second – by word, the third – by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pays reverence to My mercy. —Diary, 742
Elsewhere in the Diary, He further elaborates:
Many souls … are often worried because they do not have the material means with which to carry out an act of mercy. Yet spiritual mercy, which requires neither permissions nor storehouses, is much more meritorious and is within the grasp of every soul.
If a soul does not exercise mercy somehow or other, it will not obtain My mercy on the day of judgment. Oh, if only souls knew how to gather eternal treasure for themselves, they would not be judged, for they would forestall My judgment with their mercy. —Diary, 1317
The Marians Fathers offer a very concrete list of ways to be merciful on their website, to help you respond to the Lord’s calling.
I heard you can get a Plenary Indulgence on Divine Mercy Sunday. What about that?
Making use of her binding-and-loosing, God-conferred authority, the Catholic Church has formally offered a Plenary Indulgence to whoever meets these conditions:
1) Going to Confession.
2) Receiving Communion.
3) Praying for the Pope’s intentions.
4) Going to church “in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin,” and
5a) Participating in the public celebration of the Divine Mercy Devotion, OR
5b) Reciting the Our Father, the Creed, and a prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. “Merciful Jesus, I trust in You!”) in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (exposed or reserved in the tabernacle).
You can read the original text for the indulgence right here.
Note that the Plenary Indulgence and the Lord’s Promise are not the same thing. The effect is exactly the same, but the channels of grace are different in that the Church offers the Indulgence based on her God-given authority, while Jesus offers His Promise on His own authority. Still, St. Faustina’s message is private revelation; and, on the other hand, the Indulgence rests solidly upon Catholic dogma. Therefore, the Indulgence offers a greater degree of certitude that the spiritual rewards of Divine Mercy Sunday have been obtained. EWTN provides a fuller explanation regarding this issue.
Now — if you do believe in St. Faustina’s message, and you prefer to go for the Lord’s Promise, then that’s fine. The Marian Fathers state on their website that “[t]he worthy reception of the Eucharist on Divine Mercy Sunday is sufficient to obtain the extraordinary graces promised by Jesus.”
As a final thought, though: You probably should try to get that Indulgence anyway. It would show a greater degree of spiritual disposition on your part. And this would undoubtedly be more pleasing to the Lord.
I hope your weekend has been awesome and spiritual so far. Peace be with you! And may you have a fruitful Feast of Mercy.
Resources for Further Inquiry
[VIDEO] What is a Plenary Indulgence? — Catholic Answers
Why Divine Mercy Sunday is Better Than a Plenary Indulgence — Dr. Taylor Marshall.
The Indulgence vs the Promise — EWTN.
A Primer on Indulgences — Jimmy Akin
Divine Mercy Website by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception