Given to St Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s, the devotion should make us more compassionate
Devotion to the Divine Mercy consists in witnessing by one’s own life to the spirit of trust in God and compassion for others. This, in fact, is the focus of the example left to us by Sister Faustina Kowalska, a Polish religious who was the main proponent of this devotion.
1. The Polish sister Faustina Kowalska stands at the origin of devotion to Divine Mercy.
Sr. Faustina, the third of ten children, was born on August 25, 1905 into a very religious family of peasants in Glogowiec (Poland). She was baptized Helena and from her childhood aspired to the religious life. At the age of 16, she left her home in order to work as a maid, but after experiencing a vision, she returned home to ask permission to enter the convent. Her parents were very religious, but they did not want to lose their best daughter, and so they denied her their permission, claiming that they did not have sufficient money for a dowry. Helena returned to work, but after another vision she asked Jesus what she should do. He told her to go to Warsaw, where she would enter the convent. Before entering the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, she worked for another year in order to earn a small dowry. Then, on August 1, she crossed the threshold of the cloister. She later went to the Congregation’s house in Krakow for her novitiate. During the ceremony of investiture she was given the name Sr. Maria Faustina. On May 1, 1933 she professed her perpetual vows.
Outwardly, nothing betrayed the extraordinary richness of the Sr. Faustina’s mystical life. She reflected a complete and unreserved devotion to God and an active love of neighbor, in imitation of the supreme model, Christ. The depth of her spiritual life, which she made known to her confessors and, in part, to her superiors, was only revealed in the Diary. The basis of her spirituality is the mystery of Divine Mercy, which she meditated upon in God's word, and contemplated in the unfolding of her everyday life. Jesus honored her with extraordinary graces such as visions, revelations, the hidden stigmata, mystical union with God, the gift of discernment of hearts and prophecy.
The austerity of her life and the extended fasts to which she subjected herself even before entering the convent weakened her body, and during the final years of her life, her inner sufferings of the "passive night of the spirit" as well as her physical sufferings intensified. She died on October 5, 1938 at the age of 33, after only 13 years of religious life.
Devotion to Divine Mercy spread rapidly across the globe during the Second World War. Sr. Faustina wrote in her diary: "I feel certain that my mission will not end upon my death, but will begin" (Diary, 281). Her body is laid to rest at the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki, near Krakow. Pope John Paul II beatified Sr. Faustina in 1993 and canonized her in the year 2000.
2. Jesus himself explained the image of Divine Mercy to Sister Faustina.
Jesus revealed the image of Divine Mercy to St. Faustina, in a vision that occurred in her cell in the convent of Płock, on February 22, 1931.
"In the evening, when I was in my cell, I saw the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment,” she writes in her Diary. “One hand was raised in the gesture of blessing, the other was touching the garment at the chest. From beneath the garment, slightly drawn aside at the chest, there were emanating two large rays, one red and the other pale. (…) After a while Jesus said to me, 'Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You'"(Diary, 47).
The artist Eugene Kazimirowski, who received instructions provided personally by Sister Faustina, painted the first depiction of Divine Mercy in 1934 in Vilnius. However, it is the image of Lagiewniki, Krakow, painted by Adolf Hyla, which has gained fame throughout the world.
The meaning of the painting is closely linked to the liturgy of the first Sunday after Easter, when the Church reads the account contained in St. John’s Gospel of the appearance of the risen Jesus at the Last Supper, and the institution of the sacrament of penance (Jn 20:19-29). The image thus represents the risen Savior, who bestows peace upon men through the remission of sins, won at the cost of his Passion and death on the Cross. The rays of blood and water flowing from the Heart of Jesus pierced by the lance, as well as the scars of the wounds of his crucifixion, recall the events of Good Friday.
Jesus indicated that three promises were to be tied to veneration of the image: eternal salvation, victory over the enemies of salvation and great progress on the path of Christian perfection, and the grace of a happy death.
The image of the Merciful Jesus is often called the image of Divine Mercy, since God’s love for man is most clearly revealed in the Paschal Mystery of Christ. The image, Jesus said, "is to be a reminder of the demands of My mercy, because even the strongest faith is of no avail without works” (Diary, 742).
3. The most important of all the forms of devotion to Divine Mercy is the Feast of Divine Mercy.
Jesus spoke for the first time to Sr. Faustina about his desire to establish this feast in 1931: "I desire that there be a Feast of Mercy. I want this image, which you will paint with a brush, to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy," (Diary, 49)", which is “the greatest attribute of God” (Diary, 301).
Based on studies carried out by Don I. Rozycki, in the years that followed, Jesus appeared to Sr. Faustina 14 times to renew this request. He indicated when the feast was to be celebrated according to the Church’s liturgical calendar, the cause and purpose of its institution, how to prepare for and celebrate it, and the graces that would granted be through its observance.
The choice of the first Sunday after Easter carries a deep theological meaning, for it indicates the close relationship between the paschal mystery of the Redemption and the Feast of Mercy. Sr. Faustina wrote: "I see now that the work of Redemption is bound up with the work of mercy requested by the Lord" (Diary, 89).
Jesus explained the reason he called for the establishment of the feast, saying: "Souls perish in spite of My bitter Passion (…). If they will not adore My mercy, they will perish for all eternity" (Diary, 965). One should prepare for the feast through a novena, or recitation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, beginning on Good Friday. Jesus said that on the day of the feast, "whoever approaches the Fount of life on this day will be granted complete remission of sins and punishment" (Diary, 300). As Don Rozycki has pointed out, the feast offers us "something much greater that the plenary indulgence", which consists only in the remission of temporal punishment due for the sins we commit.
From the pages of her diary, we learn that Sr. Faustina was the first person to celebrate this feast individually, with the permission of her confessor. Cardinal Franciszek Macharski introduced the feast in the diocese of Krakow through his Pastoral Letter for Lent 1985, and in the years that followed, the example was followed by the bishops of other dioceses in Poland. It is worth noting that worship of Divine Mercy on the first Sunday after Easter was already present in sanctuary of Krakow-Lagiewniki in 1944.
4. Blessed John Paul II was the great promoter of devotion to the Divine Mercy.
In his homily during the canonization of Sister Faustina on April 30, 2000, Pope John Paul II declared that, henceforth, the second Sunday of Easter would be called "Divine Mercy Sunday" throughout the entire Church.
The Polish Pope was a great supporter of this devotion, which developed significantly between 1938 and 1959. However, despite the favor of popes it enjoyed, the interest expressed by many pastors of the Church, and the countless requests made by bishops and curial offices, it also met with resistance, especially from the Holy Office, which in 1959 issued a negative Notification.
The Divine Mercy devotion was officially established by Blessed Pope John Paul II, who in his 1980 encyclical Dives in Misericordia exalted the mercy of God, and on June 7, 1997 stated: "I give thanks to Divine Providence that I have been enabled to contribute personally to the fulfilment of Christ's will, through the institution of the Feast of Divine Mercy." (Address at the Shrine of Divine Mercy, Krakow). On 1 September 1994, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments approved the text of the votive Mass De Misericordia Dei, which by the will of John Paul II, was promulgated for use by the universal Church, and is now to be included in all missals.