While the concept of Divine Mercy has been with the Church since the beginning, it wasn’t until the 20th century that the Church received a renewed impetus to emphasize this beautiful teaching.
It is a teaching that reminds us of God’s infinite and tender mercy, and that God is truly a loving Father, ready and willing to embrace us with his love.
Here is a brief rundown of the Divine Mercy devotion, its origins and how it affects the Church today.
Some readings of the Bible can give the idea that somewhere between the Testaments, God switched from being a vengeful God to a loving God. There is even an ancient heresy called Marcionism that states the God of the Old Testament was a tyrant or demiurge, distinctly separate from the God of the New Testament, who is loving, kind and merciful.
St. John Paul II dedicated an entire section in his encyclical Dives in Misericordiato the merciful love of God in the Old Testament and expertly laid out this truth.
In this way, mercy is in a certain sense contrasted with God’s justice, and in many cases is shown to be not only more powerful than that justice but also more profound. Even the Old Testament teaches that, although justice is an authentic virtue in man, and in God signifies transcendent perfection nevertheless love is ‘greater’ than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love. The primacy and superiority of love vis-a-vis justice – this is a mark of the whole of revelation – are revealed precisely through mercy. This seemed so obvious to the psalmists and prophets that the very term justice ended up by meaning the salvation accomplished by the Lord and His mercy.
Initially the heavenly visions of St. Faustina were difficult to believe. Fr. Michael Sopocko was initially skeptical and did not give his full approval of them. He was worried that the visions were revealing a heretical teaching.
However, after doing some more research into this concept of God’s Divine Mercy, Father Sopocko no longer had any doubts, as can be seen in a recollection he wrote years afterwards.
I began to search in the writings of the Fathers of the Church for a confirmation that this is the greatest of the attributes of God, as Sister Faustina had stated, for I had found nothing on this subject in the works of more modern theologians. I was very pleased to find similar statements in St. Fulgentius, St. Ildephonse, and more still in St. Thomas and St. Augustine, who, in commenting on the Psalms, had much to say on Divine Mercy, calling it the greatest of God’s greatest attributes. From then onwards, I had no serious doubts of the supernatural revelations of Sister Faustina.
Sopocko preached his first sermon on Divine Mercy on Friday April 26, 1935.
During St. Faustina’s lifetime her spiritual director, Fr. Michael Sopocko, commissioned an artist to paint an image of Jesus based on St. Faustina’s description. Sopocko relates in a letter how he hired artist Eugene Kazimirowski and what St. Faustina thought of the end result.
Upon my request Mr. Eugene Kazimirowski began the painting of the image on January 2, 1934. Sister Faustina of blessed memory with the permission of the Superior, Mother Irene, came once or twice a week to the painter’s studio (in the company of another sister) and imparted instructions, how this image is to look. For several months the painter was unable to satisfy the author, who became sad on that account, and it was at this time that she wrote in her diary: “Once when I was at that painter’s, who’s painting this image, and saw that it is not as beautiful as Jesus is, I became very sad, but I hid that deep in my heart. When we left the painter, Mother Superior remained in the city to settle various matters, but I returned home by myself, immediately I made my way to the chapel and I had a good cry. I said to the Lord: ‘Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?’ Of a sudden I heard the words: ‘not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush is the greatness of this image, but in my grace.'”
St. Faustina gave further instructions on how the artist could improve his painting, but the image never won over her heart. It was difficult for her to reconcile the vision she saw with the static image of the painting.
One of the devotions that Jesus revealed to St. Faustina was the “Divine Mercy Chaplet.” He said to her, “At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or when others say it for a dying person, the indulgence is the same … When this chaplet is said by the bedside of a dying person, God’s anger is placated, unfathomable mercy envelops the soul, and the very depths of My tender mercy are moved for the sake of the sorrowful Passion of My son.”
He also said to her, “It pleases Me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying the chaplet … if what you ask for is compatible with My will.”
In 2000, St. John Paul II canonized the Polish religious mystic Faustina Kowalska, and during his homily officially renamed the Second Sunday of Easter “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
John Paul II did this to endorse Faustina’s visions as well as to put more emphasis on Divine Mercy in the 21st century. He explained during his homily, “Divine Mercy reaches human beings through the heart of Christ crucified: ‘My daughter, say that I am love and mercy personified,’ Jesus will ask Sr. Faustina (Diary, p. 374). Christ pours out this mercy on humanity though the sending of the Spirit who, in the Trinity, is the Person-Love. And is not mercy love’s ‘second name’ (cf. Dives in misericordia, n. 7), understood in its deepest and most tender aspect, in its ability to take upon itself the burden of any need and, especially, in its immense capacity for forgiveness? Today my joy is truly great in presenting the life and witness of Sr. Faustina Kowalska to the whole Church as a gift of God for our time … Jesus told Sr Faustina: ‘Humanity will not find peace until it turns trustfully to divine mercy’ (Diary, p. 132).”
The Polish pope then went on to proclaim, “It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called ‘Divine Mercy Sunday.’”
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