In the ancient Church, the Sunday after Easter was called Dominica in Albis, (Sunday in White), because the catechumens newly received into the Church during the Easter Vigil would show up in church dressed in the white baptismal robe of restored innocence and full communion. In a later era, this Sunday which concludes the Octave of Easter was referred to as Low Sunday, perhaps in contrast to the splendid rituals of Easter. Also, oddly enough, this Second Sunday of Easter was labeled Quasimodo Sunday. The reference was not to the famed hunchback of Notre Dame but rather to the Entrance Hymn (Introit) for the day: “Quasi modo infanti geniti….” These Latin words again appropriately refer to the newly converted and are taken from the second letter of St. Peter: “Like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk so that through it you may grow into salvation.”
But renaming the Second Sunday of Easter has not ended. The Roman Missal now reads “Dominica II Paschae seu de divina misericordia,” that is, “Sunday Two of Easter or concerning Divine Mercy.” Divine Mercy Sunday is the completion of the novena to the Divine Mercy of Jesus which begins on Good Friday and continues for nine days. This devotion was revealed to St. Faustina Kowalska and is based upon an entry in her lengthy diary. St. Faustina records Christ’s words to her: “I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day, the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain the complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.”
Greatly promoted by Pope St. John Paul II (who died on the Vigil of Mercy Sunday 2005) Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated locally in several parish churches of the Providence diocese as well as at the cathedral. Devotion to the Divine Mercy is also fostered by pious works throughout the year as well. The chaplet to the Divine Mercy is prayed daily at 3 p.m. by many and a portrayal of Jesus as the Divine Mercy, streams of light emanating from his hands, is found in many churches — as near to the tabernacle as possible according to St. Faustina’s directive.
The annual devotion to the Divine Mercy, especially since it begins at the end Holy Week and continues during the octave of Easter, almost opposes a pious devotion against liturgical observance. Private prayer and public worship almost seem to be at odds or at least in competition. Yet the promotion of mercy has lately been elevated from the level of private revelation to the rank of Papal teaching. Pope St. John Paul II issued Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy) in 1980 in which he wrote, “The genuine face of mercy has to be ever revealed anew. In spite of many prejudices, mercy seems particularly necessary for our times.” Pope Francis has exuberantly renewed this call for mercy by instituting a Jubilee Year for Mercy: “...In this Jubilee Year, may the Church echo the word of God that resounds strong and clear as a message and a sign of pardon, strength, aid, and love. May she never tire of extending mercy, and be ever patient in offering compassion and comfort. May the Church become the voice of every man and woman, and repeat confidently without end: ‘Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.’
Divine Mercy can never be simply a matter of private or pious devotion. Mercy is always outwardly beneficial. Pope St. John Paul II has written very forcefully, “Conversion is the most concrete expression of the working of love and of the presence of mercy in the human world. Mercy is manifested in its true and proper aspect when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man. Mercy constitutes the fundamental content of the messianic message of Christ and the constitutive power of His mission.” True mercy is constructive; it is restorative; it gets results. As St. John Paul wrote, mercy leads to conversion – conversion of our self and conversion of our neighbor. Authentic mercy transforms evil into good. Mercy is more than piety; mercy is practical good works.