If Jesus' revelations to St. Faustina Kowalska are to be believed, this Sunday would really have to be considered the apex of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.
Catholics are not obliged to believe "private revelations," even approved ones, with the faithful assent we give to the "definitive public Revelation" of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Rather we evaluate private revelations on whether they are probable, credible and prudent.
The Church teaches that private revelations -- like the appearances of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary or of the Blessed Virgin in Guadalupe, Lourdes or Fatima -- help us to live Christ's definitive Revelation in Scripture and Tradition "more fully in a certain period of history" (Catechism 67): to interpret the signs of the times, understand the fuller significance of the Gospel and live it with greater faith, hope and love at a particular time. They are meant prophetically to make more explicit, actualize and lead us back to the definitive Revelation.
When the Church approves a private revelation as worthy of belief, it does so acknowledging that it is a help offered, and while one is not obliged to follow it, one should also not totally disregard it either. After all, if Jesus Christ has appeared with a message for us on how to live with greater faith, hope, and love, or if the Blessed Mother has been allowed to come as a missionary calling us to conversion, prayer and charity, or even to build a place of worship where God will pour out his graces, we should not easily dismiss the summons, because in doing so, we might really be turning a deaf ear to God.
That provides context to what is happening this weekend. If Jesus' revelations to St. Faustina Kowalska are to be believed, this Sunday would really have to be considered the apex of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. St. Faustina, a Polish nun in Krakow, says that Jesus appeared regularly to her in the 1930s asking her to become his "secretary" and write down the revelations of his Divine Mercy. The Church has evaluated these revelations and found them worthy of belief.
The basis of the Divine Mercy devotion is Jesus' own guidance as to how to live by the three essential truths about his mercy he revealed in Sacred Scripture: that we're sinners in need of his forgiveness; that we must trust in, ask for and come to receive his mercy; and that we must share his mercy, forgiving others as God has forgiven us.
The five ways that Jesus indicated to St. Faustina we can grow in living out the Gospel of Mercy today is through stopping everything at 3 pm each day for a moment to unite ourselves to his saving death and offer to him our prayers for mercy; praying a Chaplet of Divine Mercy in which we unite ourselves to him and offer what he did on Holy Thursday and Good Friday -- his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity -- to the Father in atonement for ours and others' sins; venerating him in an image he asked St. Faustina to have painted in which he blesses us with his mercy flowing from his wounded side; praying a novena starting Good Friday, asking his mercy to be poured out on nine specific groups of people ever in need of forgiveness; and finally celebrating his mercy on the Sunday after Easter as the exclamation point of everything the Church celebrates during the Easter Octave.
About Divine Mercy Sunday, Jesus revealed to St. Faustina, "I want... the first Sunday after Easter ... to be the Feast of Mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and a 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 are open all the divine floodgates through which graces flow."
St. John Paul II acted on this message during St. Faustina's canonization Mass in 2000, when he announced in his homily, "It is important that we accept in its entirety the message that comes to us from God's Word on this second Sunday of Easter. From now on, throughout the whole Church, this day will take the name of 'Divine Mercy Sunday.'"
Through St. Faustina, Jesus made a particular appeal to priests. "My daughter," he said, "speak to priests about this inconceivable mercy of mine" because "I desire that priests proclaim this great mercy of mine towards souls of sinners." He added, "No soul will be justified until it turns with confidence to my mercy, and this is why the first Sunday after Easter is to be the Feast of Mercy. On that day, priests are to tell everyone about my great and unfathomable mercy." And he promised extraordinary fruits if they heeded his appeal, a promise I have seen repeatedly validated: "Tell my priests that hardened sinners will repent on hearing their words when they speak about my unfathomable mercy, about the compassion I have for them in my heart. To priests who will proclaim and extol my mercy, I will give wondrous power; I will anoint their words and touch the hearts of those to whom they will speak."
In an instruction on the indulgences associated with Divine Mercy Sunday, the Church has said to priests, "Priests who exercise pastoral ministry, especially parish priests, should inform the faithful in the most suitable way of the Church's salutary provision. They should promptly and generously be willing to hear their confessions. On Divine Mercy Sunday, after celebrating Mass or Vespers, or during devotions in honor of Divine Mercy, ... they should lead the recitation of the prayers [of Divine Mercy] ... [and] should gently encourage the faithful to practice works of charity or mercy as often as they can."
Thankfully there are many priests, faithful and parishes who have acted on the Church's clear indications and the strong encouragement of the Divine Mercy devotion and Divine Mercy Sunday by St. John Paul, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.
Sadly and strangely, however, as various articles and internet surveys have demonstrated, the majority of parishes not only do not yet observe Divine Mercy Sunday, but most often have annual homilies and bulletin meditations on doubting Thomas, even though the Gospel likewise focuses on Jesus' establishment of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation on Easter Sunday evening.
Wouldn't it be great, as a particular fruit of this extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, if every parish, priest and faithful did something special this Divine Mercy Sunday to celebrate the gift of God's merciful love?
Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.
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