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Unfathomable Mercy: The Beauty of the Feast of the Divine Mercy

Happy Feast of the Divine Mercy Eve!!! The average Catholic probably knows Sunday, April 7, 2024 is the Feast of the Divine Mercy. What the average Catholic may not know is much about the feast (unless your priest preached about it), its origin, and purpose. Quick rundown on this feast.

This feast (and its sister devotions The Divine Mercy Chaplet /The Divine Mercy Novena/The Hour of Mercy (3 o'clock)) derives from the mystical visions of St. Faustina Kowalska, in the 1930s , of Jesus himself. Jesus revealed to St. Faustina the depths of his mercy– divine mercy. Now, the overall, Divine Mercy devotion is most notably known–probably– through the image of the Divine Mercy which also derives its origin from St. Faustina's visions. Bit about Faustina. Faustina's birth name was Helen and her full religious name is Sr. Maria Faustina. She experienced a close interior relationship to God from an early age and received her call to the convent at the age of 7. Her difficulties in entering the convent caused her to run from this call until she had a vision of the Lord at a dance. Even during her formation in the convent, she experienced the voice of Jesus interiorly. Her visions which prompted all the aspects of the Divine Mercy devotion began on February 22, 1931 with the vision of Christ as he is presented in the image of the Divine Mercy. They lasted for years. St. Faustina battled tuberculosis throughout her short life and eventually died of it on October 5, 1938.

With that it's time to get in to the nitty gritty of the devotion.

As I said in Faustina's biography, on February 22, 1931, St. Faustina began to receive the messages of the Divine Mercy. St. Faustina was in a cloistered convent, so she spent very little time outside the convent walls. So, what exactly happened to in this first vision which became the spark of the Divine Mercy devotion? For the entry on this particular day St. Faustina writes:

"In the evening I was in my cell, I saw the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand [was] raised in the gesture of blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From beneath the garment, slightly drawn aside at the breast, there were emanating two large rays, one red, the other pale. In silence, I I kept my gaze fixed on the Lord, my soul was struck with awe, but also with great Joy. After a while, Jesus said to me, Paint this image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You. I desire that this image be venerated first in your chapel, and [then] throughout the world" (24).


Divine Mercy Image as on display in Poland

Let's look more closely at this vision and message. The specificity of what Jesus looks like seems pertinent. St. Faustina delineates the exact hand [the right] which is raised and in what way ["in a gesture of blessing"]. What purpose must the gesture indicate? Quite obviously, it means Jesus is blessing someone or something, that someone or something, is us. Why would his garment be drawn aside at the breast? Perhaps to indicate that where the rays are coming from his heart (this will be confirmed in a moment). The colors of the rays contain so much depth. Now, a brief aside. Some who doubt the authenticity of this devotion will point out that the colors of the rays in the image, red and white are the colors match those of the Polish flag, which as has been established was the country form which St. Faustina was from. This does not seem like a reach, but if the symbolism of the rays comes under consideration it falls apart. To dispel questions of St. Faustina's spiritual director, Blessed Michal Sopoćko about the rays in the image, upon seeing the painting of it by Eugene Kazimierowski. St. Faustina writes that Jesus told her:

"The two rays denote blood and water. The pale one stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls... Two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross" (139).

From Christ's words, clarity descends. Blood, exposed to oxygen, takes on a red color which explains that ray simply. But why is the pale ray white, and not blue, which is the color most commonly associated with water? This questions does not have clear answer. However, when water has waves, possibly most commonly seen with the ocean, a white foam appears, so that color could easily represent water. With this out of the way, it is time to look a Jesus' words.

Christ commands St. Faustina to "paint this image according to the pattern you see" (24). Now, St. Faustina did make an image after this vision, but the one which is in the Shrine in Poland was painted by Eugene Kazimierowski, as mentioned before. Now, the signature to be on the image is "Jesus, I trust in You". This is a beautiful aspiration as it signifies the humility of all, and an acknowledgment of our insufficiency to live life on our own.

"Paint this image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You. I desire that this image be venerated first in your chapel, and [then] throughout the world" (24).

Now, the last part of Jesus reveals an important request the veneration of the image which would be painted. He says that it would "be first venerated first in [Sr. Faustina's] chapel, and [then] throughout the world". How would it be venerated throughout the world? The Feast of the Divine Mercy.

Soon after the revelation of the image of the Divine Mercy, St. Faustina receives the message that Jesus wants a feast dedicated to his Mercy. Just as with the image, Jesus gives explicit directions as to when this Feast of Mercy should be celebrated. This occurs as St. Faustina leaves a meeting with her confessor (at this time not Bl. Michal Sopoćko), Jesus tells St. Faustina: "I desire that there be a Feast of Mercy. I want this image, which you will paint with a brush, to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy" (24). I do not believe that it is a coincidence that the timing of this Feast happens around Easter. St. Faustina writes that Jesus told her: "I am the King of Mercy...I desire that this image be displayed in public on the first Sunday after Easter. That Sunday is the Feast of Mercy. Through the Word Incarnate, I make known the bottomless depth of My mercy (44)." How did Jesus reveal "the bottomless depth of [God's] mercy"? His crucifixion, of course. Any Christian sees this act of Jesus' crucifixion as the greatest act of love in history. So then the conclusion which is drawn is that mercy and love are inseparably connected. St. Faustina confirms this when she speaks of the attributes of God. She writes: "The third attribute [of God] is love and mercy. And I understand that the greatest attribute is love and mercy. It unites the creature to the Creator (100)." For God created us out of love, or a desire to share his love rather, even though he had no need of us as he has everything he needs in his existence. But he also creates of mercy. Jesus told St. Faustina, and she records in her diary that she was told: "Write down at once what you hear: I am the Lord in My essence and am immune to orders or needs. If I call creatures into being–that is the abyss of My mercy" (42-3). If God created out of mercy, then it makes sense then for humanity, as a thanksgiving to honor his mercy. Which then if makes sense that Jesus tells St. Faustina: "These words are for you. Do all you possibly can for this work My mercy. I desire that My mercy be worshipped, and I am giving mankind, the last hope of salvation; that is, recourse to My mercy. My Heart rejoices in this feast" (281). If Jesus' heart rejoices in the Feast of Mercy, then so should those who follow him. The celebration of this feast humbles each person for it reminds us that God's greatest attribute is love and mercy for in the love of giving up his son he extended the mercy of the reopening the gates of heaven, with the understanding that one follows the example of Jesus.

How should we understand Jesus' mercy? St. Faustina gives us the answer. She writes: "Mercy is the flower of love. God is love, and Mercy is his deed. In love it is conceived; in mercy it is revealed" (271). So then love begets mercy just as the Father begets the Son. This makes sense. Think of someone you consider a loved one, while it may not be easy, is it not much easier to extend mercy, oftentimes through forgiveness, than to someone whom you do not love? God loves us , of course this often is a platitude, but it is also the truth. As said before, his greatest mercy was the death of Jesus on the cross (this was also the greatest mercy of Jesus himself), reuniting us with himself, by giving us a way to heaven, where we can spend eternity in his presence. Now, if Jesus shows great mercy, and he commands his followers to imitate him, then they should also show great mercy.

Jesus desires that his followers are merciful to others. St. Faustina confirms this, at the very least in reference to herself. She writes Jesus said to her: "My daughter, I desire that you heart be formed after the model of My Merciful Heart. You must be completely imbued with My mercy (94). What does it mean to "be formed after the model of [Jesus'] Merciful Heart" and to be "completely imbued by [His] mercy"? I think, in part it includes practicing his command in Mathew 18 to forgive "seventy times seven" (Mt. 18:22). At least for Catholics, it should be realized that Jesus does this each time someone visits the confessional, and takes advantage of the Sacrament of Confession. Yet, mercy also happens when one confronts the reality of suffering. What is suffering?

"I am the King of Mercy...I desire that this image be displayed in public on the first Sunday after Easter. That Sunday is the Feast of Mercy. Through the Word Incarnate, I make known the bottomless depth of My mercy (44)."

Suffering often gets the evil eye in modern culture; it seems like instead of embracing suffering as redemptive, modern culture sees suffering as the ultimate evil in life. St. Faustina, however, gives a different perspective on suffering. She writes: "Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior; in suffering love becomes crystallized; the greater the suffering, the purer the love"(29). It is easy to see how as soul could become like Jesus, the savior through suffering. Jesus suffered greatly in the Passion and Crucifixion. This is the most clear sign that suffering can be redemptive. This kind of suffering was even true in reference to this devotion. St. Faustina writes: "Once, as I was talking to my spiritual director [Bl. Michal Sopoćko], I had an interior vision — quicker than lightening— of his soul in great suffering, in such agony that God touches very few souls with such fire. This suffering arises from this work [The work of spreading devotion to The Divine Mercy]. There will become a time when this work, which God is demanding so very much, will be as though utterly undone. And then God will act with great power, which will give evidence to its authenticity. It will be a new splendor for the Church, although it has been dormant in it form long ago" (171). What time is she speaking of in reference to the spreading of the Divine Mercy? It's suppression.

While the visions began in 1931, it took time to make it all the way to Rome. When investigations into the authenticity of these visions first began, Cardinal Ottaviani, the head of the Holy Office (Now the Dicastry of the Doctrine of the Faith), first tried to get Pope Pius XII to sign a letter condemning it, but this Pope refused. Then, in both 1958 and 1959, based on a faulty Italian translation of the Diary of St. Faustina, Pope John XXIII (the same Pope who would open the Second Vatican Council just a few short years later) first placed the Diary on the Index of Forbidden Books (which was abrogated in 1966 by Pope Paul VI) and through the Holy Office prohibiting of the spreading of the image and devotions connected to it. This suppression would last for 20 years until 1978. What would occur in 1978? So about ten years after its initial suppression, Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope John Paul II) advocated for an investigation into St. Faustina's life virtues (check out this article for more: https://www.thedivinemercy.org/articles/mercy-devotion-spreads-banned-and-spreads-again) Through this investigation, the devotion was reintroduced into the life of the Church. The Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (now the Dicastry of the Doctrine of the Faith) through the Prefect Franjo Cardinal Seper and Titular Archbishop and Lorium Secretary Jérôme Hamer, O.P. stated "Having examined many original documents unknown in 1959, considering the circumstances that have profoundly changed, and having taken into account of many Polish Ordinaries, the Sacred Congregation declares the prohibitions contained in the cited "Notification" are no longer binding". This opened the door for an act (well a few acts) which Cardinal Wojtyla took once becoming Pope John Paul II.

Once Karol Wojtyla was Pope, he would canonize Faustina Kowalska. In his homily on her Canonization day, April 30, 2000 (which happened to be the Sunday after Easter that year), he called the now St. Faustina's Divine Mercy message: "a gift of special enlightenment that helps us to relive the Gospel of Easter more intensely, to offer it as a ray of light to the men and women of our time" and then continues: "But the light of divine mercy, which the Lord in a way wished to return to the world through Sr Faustina's charism, will illumine the way for the men and women of the third millennium." So he believes that "the light of divine mercy...will illumine the way of men and women of the third millennium". But how is this possible? St. Pope John Paul II gives the answer a few paragraphs later. He states: "It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called "Divine Mercy Sunday". In the various readings, the liturgy seems to indicate the path of mercy which, while re-establishing the relationship of each person with God, also creates new relations of fraternal solidarity among human beings". This officially established the Feast of Divine Mercy in perpetuity. So, by this decree St. Pope John Paul II fulfilled the request of Jesus from St. Faustina's visions: "I desire that there be a Feast of Mercy. I want this image, which you will paint with a brush, to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy" (24). So, let's give thanks to God for his mercy, St. Faustina, the Apostle of his Mercy, and St. Pope John Paul II, the liberator of the devotion and institutor of this Feast on the Church Calendar.

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