Why Do We Celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday?
The final day in the Octave of Easter is known in the Church as the Second Sunday of Easter, or Sunday of Divine Mercy. This has not always been the case—the observance of this day as Divine Mercy Sunday was not proclaimed until 2000. The proclamation at that time was a rare and special event for the Church.
Most of the time, the liturgy does not reflect personal revelation, even when the Church approves a devotion based on personal revelation. But in rare instances, personal revelation will receive a high recommendation through the proclamation of a feast, particularly if the Scriptures can back up that revelation. This was the case with the revelations of the Divine Mercy to St. Faustina Kowalska.
In 1931, Jesus appeared to a young Polish nun, Sister Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. During this vision and in subsequent visions, Jesus gave Sr. Faustina the mission to spread the message of the Divine Mercy throughout the whole world. This led to the powerful prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which is based on Sr. Faustina’s diary. Jesus asked for the feast of the Divine Mercy to be celebrated on the Second Sunday of Easter. This fits beautifully with the readings already established for the Second Sunday of Easter: in the Gospel, Jesus shows mercy after the apostle Thomas doubts, and then He gives the disciples the power to forgive sins.
The message of Divine Mercy makes sense not only on its designated liturgical day, but also in the entirety of the Easter season. The Passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of God’s mercy. The necessity for the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection came from our own sin. We caused our own destruction, and it was God, in His great mercy, who chose to save the very sons and daughters who turned their backs on Him. We cannot even fathom the extent of this gratuitous mercy.
On April 30, 2000, Pope St. John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina, the “secretary of God’s mercy.” In his homily at the canonization Mass, Pope St. John Paul II declared that the Second Sunday of Easter would be officially recognized as Sunday of Divine Mercy, confirming that God truly wants to show us His Divine Mercy, as He revealed to the new saint. The message was not new. We have always been recipients of God’s mercy. But, through St. Faustina, He reminded us of this great mercy and called us back to Himself, right when we most needed it. We continue to need mercy, and it is through God’s providence that we have been able to celebrate this feast of mercy in the new millennium.