The Second Sunday of Easter was designated “Divine Mercy Sunday” by St. John Paul II on April 30, 2000. On that day he canonized the Polish nun Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska, who had received from Christ the amazing revelations of the Divine Mercy in the early years of the 20th century. During the ceremony, the pope fulfilled one of the requests that Christ had made through those revelations: that the entire Church reserve the Second Sunday of the Easter season to honor and commemorate God’s infinite mercy.
The origin of this day began in 1931, when St. Faustina saw a vision of the Risen Jesus with rays of Mercy streaming from the area of His heart. He told her to have an image painted to represent this vision and to sign it, “Jesus, I trust in You.” Over the years, the Divine Mercy image has grown to be one of my favorite representations of the Risen Christ, in addition to those of his Sacred Heart and of Jesus knocking at the door. In my own ministry, I find it is one I turn to again and again to keep in true focus.
Our fears, our anxiety, frustration, and stress can all be traced back to doubts: doubts of our own worthiness or doubts about the power and goodness of God, about his desire or ability to forgive us, to fix our mistakes, to bring victory out of failure and good out of evil and life out of death. This upcoming Sunday, you and I are being invited to doubt no longer, but to believe — even in the midst of a pandemic and our mixed-up world — to believe in God’s mercy available to us, especially through His Church and its Sacraments!
Our greatest treasure as Catholics is the revelation of the Risen Christ through His Church founded on Word and Sacrament. Sacraments that he instituted to share his grace and mercy with those who would follow in His Way. An ever-present revelation of God’s boundless mercy, the only force strong enough to penetrate the walls of pain, anger, fear, and resentment that have been built around our hearts.
Brothers and sisters, we know now, without any doubt, that we are worthy, because it is the Risen Christ himself who has made us worthy, has forgiven us, and who will always be willing to forgive us — that is why our churches contain altar tables, crucifixes, and reconciliation rooms/confessionals. All must always be permanent parts of church architecture and not an optional add-on, as they are visible signs of Divine Mercy.
This Divine Mercy Sunday, God reminds us of his mercy, and with that he says to each of us, just as he said to his Apostles 20 centuries ago, those confused, frightened, anxious, and doubting Apostles, “Peace be with you … doubt no longer, but believe!” In her own Diary, St. Faustina records closer to our own day Jesus saying these things to his present disciples:
“Daughter, when you go to confession, to this fountain of my mercy, the blood and water which came forth from My heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it. For every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in my mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour out the bounty of my grace upon your soul.
“When you approach the confessional, know this, that I myself am waiting for you there. I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets God solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to my generosity.”
The celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday is a good time for us as Catholics to be reminded about our “Easter Duty.” The term Easter Duty was introduced in earlier codes of Canon Law because of widespread neglect of the Sacrament of Penance and the reception of Holy Communion in the Middle Ages. Therefore, various church councils from the 6th century onward enacted disciplinary laws obliging the faithful to receive the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist at least once a year.
The present-day teachings of the Catholic Church regarding the Easter Duty are reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. Both texts indicate that there is an obligation to receive the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist at least once a year (usually during the Easter season for the Holy Eucharist) unless there is a “just reason” that requires its fulfillment at another time of the year. Certainly, the coronavirus pandemic would be considered a just reason to delay the fulfillment of this duty; and thus, the obligation is moved to a time in the future when these sacraments are available again, particularly for those with underlying health issues.
The two specific canons which require the annual reception of these sacraments are canon 920 and canon 989. These canons state: Can. 920 §1. After being initiated into the Most Holy Eucharist, each of the faithful is obliged to receive holy communion at least once a year. §2. This precept must be fulfilled during the Easter season unless it is fulfilled for a just cause at another time during the year. Can. 989 After having reached the age of discretion, each member of the faithful is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave sins at least once a year (cf. CCC 1457).
In the United States, the faithful may fulfill their Easter Duty concerning the reception of Holy Communion at least once a year between the First Sunday of Lent (February 21, 2021) and Trinity Sunday (May 30, 2021). In many instances, for those who participate in regular Confession and reception of Holy Communion, the Easter Duty is easily fulfilled.
You and I might wish that Jesus would come to us like St. Faustina (or maybe not?!). Yet, in reality, He does so every time you and I approach him in the Sacraments. The Risen Jesus, acting through the Church’s minister, comes to you and me and He points to His heart. The rays of love flow from His heart depicting, in two different colors, the waters of baptism and the blood of Jesus Christ. These symbols represent the Eucharist and Baptism; the covenant, and the celebration of the covenant, that each one of us has entered into with our God.
The 50 days of the Easter season is an appropriate time for you and me to examine our consciences and ask if we have responded to His Easter invitation to meet up with Him. In His post-Easter appearances, we come to know that Jesus Christ is willing to meet us where we are at. I guess the ball is then in our court and we have to ask ourselves, “How important is it for me to connect with Him?” Isn’t that what Eucharist and Penance are really about — making the connection?
Continued best wishes and prayers for a blessed Easter season!