April 17, 2020


20th anniversary of the feast of Divine Mercy 

This Sunday will mark the 20th anniversary of the official designation of the Sunday after Easter as the feast of Divine Mercy. Many Catholics, though, seem unaware of this feast.

Unfortunately, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the observance of the feast this year will have to be muted considerably. However, our parishes are doing what they can under the circumstances. See here for a list of parishes that are livestreaming Divine Mercy services this year.

We believe that Jesus himself asked for this feast during appearances to a Polish nun, Sister Faustina Kowalska, beginning in 1931, but it wasn’t accomplished until April 30, 2000. That was the date the Second Sunday of Easter fell in 2000. On that day, St. Pope John Paul II both canonized Sister Faustina and ordered that the feast be officially included in the Church’s liturgical calendar. 

St. John Paul II continued to promote Divine Mercy Sunday the rest of his life. In 2002, he granted plenary indulgences to those who participate in prayers in honor of the Divine Mercy. 

He also died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005, was beatified on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2011, and was canonized—along with Pope John XXIII—on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2014.  

It seems that people to whom Jesus or Mary have appeared to and asked for favors always have a difficult time getting that accomplished. We think of St. Juan Diego at Guadalupe, or St. Bernadette at Lourdes, or the three children at Fatima. This was true, too, in the case of Sister Faustina.

She had her first vision of Jesus when she was 19, when she was at a dance. He instructed her to go to Warsaw, Poland, and join a convent. She tried to do that, but was continually turned down because, as she was told once, “We don’t accept maids here,” referring to her obvious poverty. But she was eventually accepted by a convent, provided that she could pay for her religious habit. 

On Feb. 22, 1931, while she was in her cell in Plock, Poland, Jesus appeared to her dressed as he is in the painting above. He instructed Faustina to paint his image as he appeared, with the message, “Jesus, I trust in you.” Then, he said, he wanted that image to be venerated throughout the world, and he promised, “The soul that will venerate this image will not perish.” 

Not knowing how to paint, it took her three years to persuade an artist to paint the image under her assistance. By that time, she was assigned to Vilnius, then in Poland but now in Lithuania. 

In Vilnius, she met Father Michael Sopocko, who became her confessor. She told him about her visions. Obviously doubtful, he insisted that she have a complete psychiatric evaluation by psychiatrist Hele Maciejewska. Sister Faustina was declared of sound mind. 

Father Sopocko then supported her efforts and secured artist Eugene Kazimierowski to paint the image of Divine Mercy. He also instructed Sister Faustina to keep a diary of the conversations she had with Jesus, which she did and which has come down to us. Devotion to Divine Mercy began to spread in Poland. 

Sister Faustina became ill in 1936, probably with tuberculosis. She died on Oct. 5, 1938, at age 33. She is now buried in Krakow’s Basilica of Divine Mercy. Now it was up to Father Sopocko to spread the devotion. 

World War II intervened and Father Sopocko went into hiding from the Nazis for two years. During that time, he wrote the constitution for a new Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Mercy. But it wasn’t until the Polish Archbishop Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II that devotion to the Divine Mercy really began to spread in the universal Church. 

We encourage our readers to learn to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which is said on a rosary. This prayer opens each decade: “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” 

Then this prayer is repeated 10 times in succession for each decade: “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” For complete instructions on how to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, go to www.thedivinemercy.org, select “The Basics” then “Divine Mercy Chaplet.”

As we mark Divine Mercy Sunday, may we all learn to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and make it a continual part of our lives of faith.

—John F. Fink

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