The Second Sunday of Easter marks the last day of the Easter Octave, and is also a designated Sunday, that has been set apart to celebrate the Graces and the Mercy of God our Father.
As the Closing Prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy states, “Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself. Amen.”
There is no sin that the mercy of God cannot forgive, or ransom. Our sins are not bigger than God. Romans 5: 8 attests, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us,” and Romans 5: 20 affirms, “The law entered in so that transgression might increase but, where sin abounded, grace overflowed all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through justification for eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Grace is always greater than sin, and there is nothing we do that will embarrass God our Father, because He already knows us thoroughly. As Pope Francis emphasised in his 2013 Angelus Address, “The Lord never tires of forgiving. It is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.” (2013)
Mercy seems like an intangible thing. It is something difficult to grasp fully. The beatitude says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) However, what exactly is mercy? A main reason for this confusion is because we have mangled up the definition of mercy, to make it something wishy washy. In today’s context, the term has been obfuscated – according to the world, mercy justifies the act of euthanasia – because it would be more “merciful” to let a person die, rather than let this person suffer through a prolong agony in a vegetative state; it is more “merciful” to abort a child, because the child has been diagnosed with special needs, or a congenital disease, so to prevent the future cruelty of taunts and insults, it would be more “merciful” to kill off the child. What foolishness!
Fulton J. Sheen (1949) speaks strongly about how the world has used the term mercy as an euphemism to make excuses for and to justify behaviour and outcomes that go against the Divine Law and the Natural Law. Such “mercy” is a cop-out that sugar-coats and avoids the voice of conscience, advocating for murder, rather than life. While disguised as love, is actually a terrible loathing and disgust. An attempt to wash our hands of things that prick the heart, a feeble venture to avoid speaking the truth, and a tendency to sweep things under the carpet. What Pontius Pilate did at the trial of Jesus is a clear example of this euphemistic type of willy-nilly mercy.
Sheen (1949), goes on to elaborate that mercy is in fact the perfection of justice, not the omission of justice. Justice has to be foremost and come first, before mercy can have the power to work. Sheen does not mince his words, but goes on to say that mercy without justice is sentimentality, and justice without mercy is severity.
The book of Wisdom 11: 21-23 explains that God our Father who made all things, could certainly obliterate all things in his wrath: “For great strength is always present with you; who can resist the might of your arm? Indeed, before you the whole universe is like a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance.” The Power and Justice of God comes into perfection through love and mercy, and He has mercy on us, not on any merit and part of our own, but because He loves us dearly, and gives us a chance to come to repentance. As the psalmist calls out in Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me O God, in accordance to your merciful love, in accordance to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions, and cleanse me from my sin.”
Bearing this in mind, it is most fitting that we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday on the culmination of the Easter Octave celebrations. Previously, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, the name “Divine Mercy” was added at the canonisation of St. Faustina Kowalska by Pope St. John Paul II in the year 2000 (Wells, 2018).
To allow the faithful to understand that the Divine Mercy is able to pardon even the most grievous of sins in the exact manner as described as the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke chapter 15, where the father stands waiting at the gate for the son to returns home, and who takes the first step in running out to embrace the wayward child, a papal decree was issued by Pope St. John Paul II to exhort the faithful to remember the deep and never ending mercy of God our Father on Divine Mercy Sunday.
To ensure that this day be spent with a special devotion, Pope St. John Paul II instituted that a plenary indulgence be attached to the observance of this Feast (Apostolic Penitentiary, 2002).
An indulgence is defined in the Code of Canon Law (Can. 992) and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC. 471) as: “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints”.
According to the norms set forth by the Apostolic Penitentiary, there are certain conditions that are needed to obtain an indulgence:
- In general, the gaining of indulgences requires certain prescribed conditions (see points 3 and 4), and the performance of certain prescribed works.
- To gain indulgences, whether plenary or partial, it is necessary that the faithful be in the state of grace at least at the time the indulgenced work is completed. [i.e. one must be a Catholic, not excommunicated or in schism.]
- A plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day. In order to obtain it, the faithful must, in addition to being in the state of grace:
- have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin;
- have sacramentally confessed their sins;
- receive the Holy Eucharist (it is certainly better to receive it while participating in Holy Mass, but for the indulgence only Holy Communion is required);
- pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.
- It is appropriate, but not necessary, that the sacramental Confession and especially Holy Communion and the prayer for the Pope’s intentions take place on the same day that the indulgenced work is performed; but it is sufficient that these sacred rites and prayers be carried out within several days (about 20) before or after the indulgenced act. Prayer for the Pope’s intentions is left to the choice of the faithful, but an “Our Father” and a “Hail Mary” are suggested. One sacramental Confession suffices for several plenary indulgences, but a separate Holy Communion and a separate prayer for the Holy Father’s intentions are required for each plenary indulgence.
- For the sake of those legitimately impeded, confessors can commute both the work prescribed and the conditions required (except, obviously, detachment from even venial sin).
- Indulgences can always be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on earth. (Apostolic Penitentiary, n.d.)
A plenary indulgence removes in totality, the temporal punishment that results from sin, while a partial indulgence removes in part the temporal punishment that comes as a consequence of sin.
To obtain a plenary indulgence on Divine Mercy Sunday, the following 3 conditions need to be fulfilled:
“Three conditions for the plenary indulgence
And so the Supreme Pontiff, motivated by an ardent desire to foster in Christians this devotion to Divine Mercy as much as possible in the hope of offering great spiritual fruit to the faithful, in the Audience granted on 13 June 2002, to those Responsible for the Apostolic Penitentiary, granted the following Indulgences:
a plenary indulgence, granted under the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the intentions of Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday, in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, take part in the prayers and devotions held in honour of Divine Mercy, or who, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!”);
A partial indulgence, granted to the faithful who, at least with a contrite heart, pray to the merciful Lord Jesus a legitimately approved invocation.
For those who cannot go to church or the seriously ill
In addition, sailors working on the vast expanse of the sea; the countless brothers and sisters, whom the disasters of war, political events, local violence and other such causes have been driven out of their homeland; the sick and those who nurse them, and all who for a just cause cannot leave their homes or who carry out an activity for the community which cannot be postponed, may obtain a plenary indulgence on Divine Mercy Sunday, if totally detesting any sin, as has been said before, and with the intention of fulfilling as soon as possible the three usual conditions, will recite the Our Father and the Creed before a devout image of Our Merciful Lord Jesus and, in addition, pray a devout invocation to the Merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you).
If it is impossible that people do even this, on the same day they may obtain the Plenary Indulgence if with a spiritual intention they are united with those carrying out the prescribed practice for obtaining the Indulgence in the usual way and offer to the Merciful Lord a prayer and the sufferings of their illness and the difficulties of their lives, with the resolution to accomplish as soon as possible the three conditions prescribed to obtain the plenary indulgence.
Duty of priests: inform parishioners, hear confessions, lead prayers
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 honour of Divine Mercy, with the dignity that is in accord with the rite, they should lead the recitation of the prayers that have been given above. Finally, since “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5,7), when they instruct their people, priests should gently encourage the faithful to practise works of charity or mercy as often as they can, following the example of, and in obeying the commandment of Jesus Christ, as is listed for the second general concession of indulgence in the “Enchiridion Indulgentiarum“.
This Decree has perpetual force, any provision to the contrary notwithstanding.” (Apostolic Penitentiary, 2002)
In addition, Jesus also revealed in a revelation to St. Faustina:
“My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable 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 opened all the divine floodgates through which graces flow. 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 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.” (St. Faustina, 1981, 699)
This is further repeated in entry 300: “Whoever approaches the Fountain of Life on this day will be granted complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.” (St. Faustina, 1981)
And emphasised in entry 1109: “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.”
So with Divine Mercy Sunday, there is a double grace – a gratuitous and unmerited grace promised by Jesus – that if a person goes for the sacrament of reconciliation on that day, and receives Holy Communion, this person is promised by Jesus to receive complete forgiveness of sins and punishment, and the grace provided by the Church in the form of indulgences.
Let us come boldly to the throne of grace where as the prophet Isaiah says, “Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool.” (Isaiah 1: 18)
By the Grace of God,
Brian Bartholomew Tan
Apostolic Penitentiary. (n.d.). The Gift of the Indulgence. Apostolic Penitentiary. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/tribunals/apost_penit/documents/rc_trib_appen_pro_20000129_indulgence_en.html
Apostolic Penitentiary. (2002). Decree on Indulgences attached to devotions in honour of Divine Mercy. Apostolic Penitentiary. [Decree] Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/tribunals/apost_penit/documents/rc_trib_appen_doc_20020629_decree-ii_en.html
Catechism of the Catholic Church. (n.d.). Indulgences. Catechism of the Catholic Church. United Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved from https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/372/
Code of Canon Law. (n.d.) Indulgences. Title IV. The Sacrament of Penance. (Cann. 959 – 997). Code of Canon Law. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/archive/cod-iuris-canonici/eng/documents/cic_lib4-cann959-997_en.html
Pope Francis. (2013). Angelus Address. Aleteia. Retrieved April 13, 2023 from https://aleteia.org/2017/03/15/god-never-tires-of-forgiving/
Sheen, F. J. (1949). Way to Happiness. Garden city Books.
St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. (1981). Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Marian Press.
Wells, C. (2018). Divine Mercy Sunday – God’s Love encounters our Misery. Vatican News. Retrieved April 14, 2023 from https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2018-04/divine-mercy-sunday—god-s-love-encounters-our-misery.html