by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker
The Catholic Church has always taught that one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity is his mercy.
For if God merely doled out justice without tempering it with mercy, none of us would be saved.
While this teaching has come down to us from Old Testament times, it took on special significance for the modern world in the form of the chaplet of Divine Mercy and Divine Mercy Sunday, which is celebrated each year on the Sunday after Easter.
The devotion developed in the late 1930s as a result of the inspiration of a Polish nun, St. Faustina Kowalska. St. Faustina received a vision of Jesus, instructing her to pray for God’s mercy and to teach others to do so as well.
The basis of the devotion lies in the understanding that God’s mercy comes to each of us through the heart of Jesus. To that end, Sister Faustina was directed to have a painting made of her vision of Jesus, which shows the red and white rays of Divine Mercy radiating from Jesus’ heart, denoting blood and water and symbolically representing his death on the cross, and the Eucharist, inscribed with the words, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
The devotion gradually spread, but was especially promoted by Blessed John Paul II, who established the feast day on April 30, 2000. In a homily, he explained that “Jesus said to Sister Faustina one day: ‘Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to divine mercy.’ Divine mercy! This is the Easter gift that the church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.”
The devotion has grown in recent years in the archdiocese and is particularly popular in Topeka, thanks to Kathy and Bob Dorst, members of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish.
The Dorsts, who have promoted the enthronement of Divine Mercy images in all Topeka parishes, took up the devotion after a 1998 Divine Mercy conference in Overland Park. They also help enthrone Divine Mercy images in homes.
“It has become our life,” said Kathy Dorst. “When we pray, or when we even say, ‘Jesus, I trust in you,’ we are surrendering our lives and selves to Jesus.”
In addition to enthronements, the Dorsts also organize devotions three or four times a year at various Topeka parishes. These devotions include a eucharistic Holy Hour with Benediction, the recitation of the Divine Mercy chaplet, and sometimes an opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation.
In the beginning, these devotional liturgies drew perhaps 20 people. Now, they can attract 500 to 600.
“I believe that there is a nudge [toward Divine Mercy] in all of us, especially in this day and age,” said Kathy Dorst. “We need more than what is going on in the world. We need a place we can go on a special Sunday to focus on Christ and his mercy. The world needs his mercy now more than any other time, I think.”
Key to the devotion is the chaplet of Divine Mercy, which is prayed on rosary beads and is centered on the prayer: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world,” which is said on the Hail Mary beads. In addition, prayers honoring God the Father and the Trinity are said as well.
While the chaplet can be said at any time, it is especially appropriate for the novena of Divine Mercy to begin on Good Friday and end on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 15. On each day of the novena, a different group is prayed for per St. Faustina’s diary, in which she wrote that Jesus told her:
“On each day of the novena you will bring to My heart a different group of souls and you will immerse them in this ocean of My mercy.”
The novena ends on Divine Mercy Sunday. Typically, on that Sunday, the image of Jesus extending Divine Mercy is displayed, the pastor is asked to hear confessions and prayers are said for the salvation of all humanity. In accord with the message, St. Faustina received from Jesus and recorded in her diary (“I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to confession and receive holy Communion on the Feast of My Mercy”), a plenary indulgence is granted to those who fulfill the requirements as established by the apostolic penitentiary.
Throughout the history of the church, devotions have arisen to assist the faithful with the most pressing needs of their time.
Little wonder then, that Divine Mercy has become one of the most popular and widely celebrated devotions and feasts of the church.