Sunday of Divine Mercy


The second Sunday of Easter is now officially designated also as “Sunday of Divine Mercy”.

A devotion focussed on the mercy of God arose as a result of the writings of Sister Faustina Kowalski, who lived for many years in Krakow where 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 grew in popularity throughout Poland. In 1995 Pope John Paul II 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 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 “Sunday of Divine Mercy”.

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 final day of the octave of Easter.

The secondary designation “Divine Mercy Sunday” arises from a theme in the Gospel reading from John set down for this day - the forgiveness of sins (“Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven”). But God’s mercy is not the only, or even most prominent, theme: Christ’s Resurrection is.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council stipulated that popular devotions must “…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 Divine Mercy devotion requires a novena of prayers focussed on the passion to be recited during the first week of Easter. Unfortunately this is out of kilter with the liturgy at this time which is centred on the resurrection of Christ.

Retaining the central Easter symbols and the prayers and readings of the day helps to ensure that the Divine Mercy devotion does not detract from the importance of Easter, our annual celebration of the fundamental mystery of our faith – the death and resurrection of Christ.

Elizabeth Harrington