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Divine Mercy Sunday
DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY
According to the new Roman Missal today, the second Sunday of Easter, is now also designated as ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’.
A devotion focussed on the mercy of God arose as a result of the efforts and writings of Sister Faustina Kowalski, who lived for many years in Krakow where pope John Paul II was bishop before his election as pope. The Divine Mercy devotion is associated with prayers called the ‘chaplet of mercy’ and an image of Christ with rays of light emanating from his heart and the words “Jesus, I trust in you” inscribed on the image.
After her death in 1938, the devotion to Sister Faustina and to Divine Mercy spread from Krakow where it had begun and grew in popularity throughout Poland. In 1995 the Holy Father granted the request of the bishops of Poland to observe the Sunday after Easter as ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’.
Sister Faustina was canonised in May 2000. At the same time, a decree was issued from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments announcing that the observance of Divine Mercy Sunday was extended to the entire Roman rite. The title Second Sunday of Easter was to be followed, in parentheses, by the additional designation ‘or Divine Mercy Sunday’. It is in exactly this form that it now appears in the Ordo.
The same decree also noted that the prayers and readings set down in the Sacramentary and Lectionary for the second Sunday of Easter are ‘always to be used for the liturgical celebration of this Sunday’. In other words, the Church continues to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection on this octave day of Easter. The secondary designation ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’ emphasises the theme of the Gospel reading from John for this Sunday, which is one of the forgiveness of sins – “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven”.
The balance that is evident in the Vatican decree reflects what the Second Vatican Council had to say about the place of popular devotions in relation to public worship. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy stipulated that popular devotions “…harmonise with the liturgical seasons and accord with the sacred liturgy, since the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them” (CSL 13). The overarching principle in the revision of the liturgical year was that “other celebrations, unless they be truly of overriding importance, must not have precedence over Sunday” (CSL 106).
This understanding is reiterated in the 2002 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: “The faithful should be made conscious of the pre-eminence of the liturgy …While sacramental actions are necessary to life in Christ, the various forms of popular piety are properly optional “(DPPL 11). The document goes on to say: “The formulae proper to pious exercises should not be commingled with the liturgical actions…precedence must always be given to Sunday, solemnities, and to the liturgical seasons and days” (DPPL 13).
The decree on Divine Mercy Sunday is an attempt to harmonise a devotion to Christ into the liturgical season without detracting from the importance of Easter, our annual celebration of the fundamental mystery of our faith – the death and resurrection of Christ.