The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Divine Worship has just published the final changes to the third edition of the Roman Missal which includes the liturgical title name change for Divine Mercy Sunday. This title change, which followed the reception of the final text from the Holy See for the new Roman Missal and will be included in it, will now read as follows: “Second Sunday of Easter (or Sunday of Divine Mercy).”
At first glance, many will not notice much change, but the rearrangement of the words is very significant. The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments were receiving many petitions for a clarification of the original Latin text in the Apostolic Decree establishing the Second Sunday of Easter as the Sunday of Divine Mercy. Many mistakenly thought that there were two different types of celebrations for the same Sunday.
The CDW had originally translated the Latin text to read “Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday.” This was not correct, leading many priests to fail to properly recognize and correctly celebrate the feast and to make known the special plenary indulgence that is part of the preparation for the proper celebration as laid out in the instructions for the duties of priests.
In fact, it was the original intention of the Holy See just to add to the previous title, which was the “Second Sunday of Easter,” the words “or of Divine Mercy,” meaning that the Sunday after Easter was indeed a special Sunday where we can all receive Divine Mercy in great abundance.
The Holy See must have retained the words “the Second Sunday of Easter” in the title for us to remember where the Sunday of Divine Mercy was placed. They never meant for the clergy to consider that there were two different feasts to be celebrated.
Sunday of Divine Mercy
Those in the know understood this well, but there were many that did not comprehend, and the word ‘‘or’’ that was in the middle of the title was very perplexing to them and left many of them scratching their heads in doubt.
Adding to this confusion were the very many misled Divine Mercy devotees telling priests what they erroneously thought they must do to correctly celebrate the Feast of Mercy that Jesus requested in the diary of St. Faustina. Our Lord never asked for afternoon devotions that are very common today, but instead wanted us to focus on reaching out to what He called “fainting souls” and to bring them to the Feast of His Mercy to heal and strengthen them.
None of the Apostolic Decrees establishing the Sunday of Divine Mercy or the subsequent Plenary Indulgence for the Sunday of Divine Mercy had any mention of the prophetic revelations that were given to the Church through St. Faustina. The Church recognized the hand of God in the revelations and acted on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to establish a feast on the Sunday after Easter, but only after she had first observed that the readings for that day were already perfect.
To understand the whole concept of a great feast celebrated on the Sunday after Easter, it is necessary to understand the meaning of octaves. In the Old Testament, there were many feasts that lasted for eight days, including the Feast of Tabernacles especially noted in St. John’s Gospel (Jn 7:37-38). The last day was always considered the greatest day, or a sort of grand finale. In her early days, the Church observed many octaves (eight-day celebrations) for major feasts, but over the years the emphasis of octaves was lost. The Church now observes only two octaves, Christmas and Easter, but certainly the greater of these two feasts is Easter.
We have three great Doctors of the Church who taught that the last day of an octave celebration was not only as great as the first day, but that it actually offered something even greater. Just think of modern day festivals or carnivals that offer the grand prize on the last day. The opening day is always great, but the final day always offers something special. For the Easter feast, the grand opening is absolutely the very best, but it doesn’t end there. The eighth day, the Octave of Easter, offers the very best grand prize of all, a special plenary indulgence for those who partake in it.
We all have to get back into the “swing of things” and start celebrating Easter as it should be celebrated: for a full eight days. Easter doesn’t climax until the following Sunday evening.
There is a great need today for celebrating for a full eight days as we should be doing, and there exists a great opportunity for us to invite the Easter-only Catholics into full participation in the faith. The offer of a plenary indulgence gives us the perfect tool to get these souls to come home.
We are supposed to be celebrating all week long, inviting others to join in the celebration. By adding the Sunday of Divine Mercy to the calendar, we now have the fulfillment of a grand octave celebration, for the greatest and the most important feast of all, the feast of Easter.
This is not a new concept; the Church has always taught this. If you look at the readings for every day of the week between Easter and the Octave of Easter, you will see that the Gloria is recited, just as it is on Sundays. The Church considers every one of those eight days the greatest type of feast, a solemnity. So it is like celebrating a whole week of Sundays all together!
So why shouldn’t we be celebrating for the entire eight days with great enthusiasm, especially when that final day, the grand finale, offers to penitents the complete forgiveness of all sins and punishment? Many have wrongly commented that the celebration of Mercy Sunday was taking away from Easter, but the opposite is true: if you don’t celebrate the Octave of Easter, you are definitely missing out on the greatest Easter gift that the Lord wants to pour out on us.
Pope John Paul II indicated that he had fulfilled the will of Christ by instituting the Feast of Divine Mercy, but he never pushed for it as some might believe. He prayed and waited for the Holy Spirit to act, but never acted without His guidance. He established the Sunday of Divine Mercy because the Church was in great need of a feast that would create a renewed awakening, a renewed understanding and an appreciation of the great Octave of Easter and its great gifts.
Anyone remarking that the pope was in error by establishing this feast on the very day that Jesus requested would be in serious error themselves. By God’s providence, John Paul II died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday. By God’s providence, he will be beatified on the feast. This is most definitely a sign from God that, indeed, Pope John Paul II had fulfilled the will of Christ.
We have to get serious about saving souls. The Lord has given us this great feast of mercy to give us everything that we need to restore the Church. Just consider what would happen if all of the Easter-only Catholics came back to the practice of their faith? We would not see any church closings. Consider, also, going out and inviting all of the fallen-away Catholics to come back to the practice of their faith and telling them about the special Plenary Indulgence. TP
Mr. Allard is the director of the Apostles of Divine Mercy and DivineMercySunday.com