Divine Mercy negotiations UPDATED 5/18

This morning a letter from the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was released. It was addressed to the Polish Episcopal Conference to mark the 100th anniversary of John Paul II’s birth. It should be no surprise that it mentioned John Paul II’s love of the Divine Mercy devotion.

This devotion was popularized by St. Faustina Kowalska, the Polish mystic and visionary whose diary relates visions where Jesus asks for a special feast of mercy to be held on the Sunday after Easter Sunday.

The July/August 1995 edition of the USCCB’s Committee on the Liturgy Newsletter considered a request to adopt the feast in the U.S.  But they “felt that [it] was not the appropriate time to request such a celebration for the United States.”

On April 22, 2001, the day of the canonization of Faustina Kowalska, John Paul II added the line “or of Divine Mercy” to the title of the Second of Easter (Dominica II Paschae seu de divina misericordia). The following June he added attached indulgences to devotions in honour of Divine Mercy.

From today’s letter, it appears that John Paul II had initially wished to make more profound changes to the Missal, but that Cardinal Ratzinger, the then head of the CDF, blocked the proposal. John Paul II made a counter-proposal of just changing the title of the Sunday, to which Cardinal Ratzinger agreed.  Here is the relevant section of the letter:

From the very beginning, John Paul II was deeply touched by the message of Faustina Kowalska, a nun from Kraków, who emphasized Divine Mercy as an essential center of the Christian faith. She had hoped for the establishment of such a feast day. After consultation, the Pope chose the Second Sunday of Easter. However, before the final decision was made, he asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to express its view on the appropriateness of this date. We responded negatively because such an ancient, traditional and meaningful date like the Sunday “in Albis” concluding the Octave of Easter should not be burdened with modern ideas. It was certainly not easy for the Holy Father to accept our reply. Yet, he did so with great humility and accepted our negative response a second time. Finally, he formulated a proposal that left the Second Sunday of Easter in its historical form but included Divine Mercy in its original message.

UPDATE 5/18

Today the Congregation for Divine Worship published a Decree where they add an optional memorial for Saint Faustina Kowalska, virgin, to the General Roman Calendar, that may be observed on October 5. The Latin of the texts for the Missal and the Liturgy of the Hours are at the end of the linked webpage.

20 comments

  1. Over the years, I’ve come to a sense of resignation, then of peace on this designation. The novena is awkward at best, coming during a time of intense liturgical activity. There are a lot of sacramental observances we don’t or can’t do during the Triduum and the Easter Octave. A more intense focus on the Paschal Mystery would be welcome.

    That said, there’s no denying a great need for mercy in the Church and the world today. Cd Ratzinger’s CDF was notable for a lack of mercy in dealing with objectionable bishops, theologians, and others. The treatment of the opposite side in much of the Church over the past seventy, eighty years is also a contrary witness to mercy. If the quality of mercy were to take deeper root in the Church, I’d say an Easter Sunday is a worthy trade I’d make.

    1. Because liberal bishops treatment of the other side has been a shining example of mercy? Idk why Ratzinger gets such a bad wrap for dialogue. He generally welcomed dialogue, you may not like the decisions he made after that dialogue. But to call him unwilling to hear the other side out is a slander.

      1. No, hardly a slander. In truth, not every liberal or conservative has been lacking in mercy. But many are shining examples of the quality. If I’m looking for shining examples, I look to saints. But that’s not to say I haven’t experienced it across the spectrum in this life, even from unexpected quarters.

  2. It is remarkable how the original vision of the revised calendar has rapidly diminished under the devotional tendencies of successive Popes (John Paul II and Francis) – a process not unlike that which befell Pius V’s calendar! One can argue that the 60s reform perhaps took an overly jaundiced view of popular piety and did not adequately account for it in the revision of the calendar – but some of the Papal interventions seem to jettison the broader vision and ancient character of the calendar in favour of modern devotional trends. One can see these competing visions in the documents produced by the CDW and its actual praxis at times with regard to proper calendars.

    1. Good insights – a good friend used to remind me in watching various piety practices in parishes that they, in a way, only confirmed the VII “lex orandi, lex credendi.” Altho VII emphasized *returning to the sources* of liturgy, reality has a way of intruding and folks latch onto pietistic practices more easily than returning to the sources of liturgy. Liturgy is hard work – popular piety often takes a different route. Not sure one can reconcile the push and pull easily.

  3. Is it coincidental or providential that the collect for the Second Sunday of Easter in the Missal of Pope St. Paul VI opens with “God of everlasting mercy”?

    1. Three comments. First, the roots of this devotion seem to go back to the late mediaeval devotion to the Five Wounds, which later reappeared as the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and now appears in this form. Using such images as a focus for prayer is part of our tradition, but keeping it integrated into the liturgical context can be a challenge.
      Second, the epistle for the 2nd Sunday of Easter before the postconciliar reforms was from 1 John 5 about the Spirit, the water, and the blood all bearing the same witness. The Divine Mercy image draws upon that scriptural basis but otherwise seems to have no liturgical focus.
      Third, the problem with the feast is that it falls into the category of an “idea” feast which Vatican II, if I remember correctly, said should be eliminated. Christian liturgy is the anamnesis of events in persons’ lives, not the proclamation of concepts. Yet in the last thirty years the feasts of the Holy Name of Jesus and of Mary have reappeared–and now Divine Mercy gets added to the list. A week after the celebration of events of Triduum, what does this idea feast add?
      Frankly, I was disappointed that both Trinity Sunday and Corpus (Sanguisque) Christi did not go too. The readings try hard to situate the celebrations within salvation history, but the prayer texts tend towards the metaphysical.

      1. Third, the problem with the feast is that it falls into the category of an “idea” feast which Vatican II, if I remember correctly, said should be eliminated.

        For the record, nowhere is this said in the Council’s constitution on the liturgy.

    2. Here is my theory of the case,

      Once upon a time, long enough ago that I am probably among the few w a living memory of this, the Sundays/weeks of the Easter season counted the Sundays *after* Easter.

      One of the Vat II changes in the calendar was the shift to counting the Sundays/weeks *of* Easter, no doubt to emphasize the seasonal force of Easter. Hence, the Sunday after Easter is now the Second Sunday *of* Easter, rather than the (First) Sunday *after* Easter.

      Moreover, I am given to understand that there were changes in the Roman lectionary that brought it into better harmony with the Universal Lectionary. One of those changes was moving the Introit of the 2nd Sunday after/3rd Sunday of Easter to the following week.

      The Introit was the one that began “Misericordia Domini” — and since Sundays were often named for the first word of the Introit proper to that Sunday.

      (Now I feel silly, as I am sure all of that is already known to everyone here.) I have no idea how St Faustina phrased her request in Polish, but I have wondered if perhaps she was thinking of this “2nd Sunday,” i.e. the 2nd Sunday AFTER Easter — Misericordia Sunday — which was (mis)understood as the 2nd Sunday OF Easter.

      The Church already had a “Divine Mercy” Sunday. Moving the devotions to that Sunday, now the 4th Sunday OF Easter, would move the Novena away from the Triduum.

      Of course, if they even started talking about that, the Divine Mercy folk would howl in protest.

  4. I never understood what is meant by “For the sake of your sorrowful passion.” We currently are asking others to practice social distancing “for the sake” of others, which mean so that others will benefit. How does Jesus having mercy on us benefit his “sorrowful passion”? Or am I misunderstanding what “for the sake of” means? Is the original Polish text clearer?

    1. “for the sake of his . . . ” in English may be better understood to be “out of regard for/of”. So: (Father), have mercy on us out of regard for Christ’s suffering for us . . . .

  5. The private devotions of one man should remain just that, and not be imposed on the universal church nor interfere with the great Pascual feast.

    1. I agree with Brian.
      My problem extends to the novena, which takes place straight through the Triduum. I am sorry, but praying a divine mercy novena is not what we should be doing during the Triduum. It’s a devotion superimposed on the high point of the liturgical year, when our attention should be on celebrating the Paschal feasts. I remember reading something a number of years ago from the priest who was defending the cause for St. Faustina’s canonization that actually argued that Divine Mercy Sunday was the high point of the year, more important than Easter. It was crazy, but it gave me an insight into the real enthusiasts for this. They are just not concerned about interrupting the calendar, because they think this is more important.

      1. I can confirm there was more than a whiff of that at that time and its immediate wake, and a confusion that the plenary indulgence associated with the devotion was in a class of its own (no, it’s not: there is only one such indulgence, and that is the one granted to the faithful at the moment of death/in articulo mortis).

  6. My first response to the addition of “Divine Mercy Sunday” was, “What? EASTER isn’t enough? Forty days of Lent, the Triduum, then the Easter season, somehow must be enhanced by a separate novena and an Easter Sunday? For what purpose? To prove God really is merciful?”

    I have never resented a feast or devotional practice so thoroughly.

  7. I certainly get the pushback on the novena. And while I have arrived at a sense of peace on the Sunday observance, I think it would go down more easily if mercy were more evident in believers. Mercy is something to be imitated and lived, not adored. JP2 was devoted to mercy: there is no doubt on that. His second encyclical on it was a good document. Too bad more of his lieutenants and fanboys and girls did not shoulder the example.

    Additionally, it’s not like Easter Octave liturgical practices have really taken root since the Council: First Sunday Vespers and the heightened observances of the weekday Masses, all with music, the Gloria, and the like. If we liturgy folk have been too “tired” after the last Easter morning Mass, why should we fuss when parishioners gather at 3pm through the following week?

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