“Today, bring to Me the souls who especially venerate and glorify My Mercy.. These souls sorrowed most over My Passion and entered most deeply into My spirit. They are living images of My Compassionate Heart. These souls will shine with a special brightness in the next life. Not one of them will go into the fire of hell.”

– Novena in preparation for the Feast of Mercy

The message of Divine Mercy is not new. In fact, this message is older than the Gospels – going back to the days of the Old Testament, where we read the developing story of the relationship between the loving God and sinful man, from the Garden of Eden onwards. Themes recur in the Scriptures, and they often give a hint of something yet to come, of a promise yet to be fulfilled.

In the pages of those ancient Scriptures, we read of the Old Covenant, established between the Lord and His people. The Scriptures recount the story of the Holy of Holies, which was the most sacred of places, found in the innermost part of the Temple, beyond the Holy Place. In it was found the Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets upon which were written the Ten Commandments as given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. The lid of the Ark was made of pure gold and was called the Mercy Seat. The Holy of Holies was separated from the remainder of the Temple and from the Holy Place by the Veil of the Temple. It was considered to be the place where God resided, His glory having entered there. The light of the glory of God was the only light in the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was so sacred that only the High Priest was allowed to enter there, and only on one day of the year – the Day of Atonement, known as Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement was a day or repentance and it fell at the end of the Days Of Awe. The Jewish people would offer prayers of forgiveness for their sins against God and against each other. During the Days of Awe, God would inscribe the names of the people in the Book of Life and on the Day of Atonement, the verdict would be sealed as to whether or not their names remained inscribed there. To prepare for this Day of Atonement, the High Priest had to be properly prepared and sanctified. He would remove his usual ornate robes, replacing these with a simple garment of white linen, tied at the waist. Entering the most holy place, he would sprinkle the blood of sacrificial animals (a goat and a bull) upon the Mercy Seat and beg the forgiveness of the Almighty and Holy God, in his name and in the name of all the people.

Now, consider all you have read so far – does it make you think of anything particular? Is it perhaps an Old Testament foreshadowing of what we now call the message of Divine Mercy? Do you see a promise of the Image of Divine Mercy and of the Feast of Mercy?

Throughout the Gospels and the New Testament, the Person of Jesus is represented as the personification of the Holy of Holies – He is the spotless lamb, slain to take away the sins of the world. His Death on the Cross is the moment at which the Veil of the Temple is torn in two. And at the moment of His death upon the Cross, the lance of the soldier opens the Wound in His Sacred Heart, from which Blood and Water flows forth; this Heart is the Source or Fountain of all mercy and grace. He is the fulfilment and completion of the Old Law, and He is the institution of the new and eternal Covenant. He is both the High Priest and the Sacrifice. He alone stands between the Eternal Father and mankind – now, the Father sees mankind only through the Wounds of the Crucified, His Son, Whose death atones for the sins of the world. He is the reparation and atonement of the Day of Atonement.

In the Divine Mercy image, Jesus is depicted as the risen and glorious Lord – this is the Lord Who appears to the Apostles after the Resurrection, blessing them and granting them His peace, that peace ‘which surpasses all human understanding’. He is dressed simply, in a white garment tied at the waist – just like the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. It is the same Lord we hear described in the Gospel on the Sunday after Easter, which is now Divine Mercy Sunday.

Divine Mercy Sunday was instituted twenty years ago at the time of the canonisation of Saint Faustina by Pope John Paul II. By doing so, the Holy Father acceded to an explicit request of the Merciful Jesus, made to our young nun – and through her, to the Church –

“I desire that the first Sunday after Easter be the Feast of Mercy.. whoever approaches the Fount of Life on this day will be granted complete remission of sins and punishment.. Mankind will not have peace until it turns with confidence to My Mercy”

Indeed, the canonisation itself was the also the fulfilment of another promise of the Merciful Lord to His confidante, that her religious order would be given a great Saint – “You are that Saint”, He told her.

At her canonisation on 30th April 2000, Pope John Paul said –

“And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of divine mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters.. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the Face of the Risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope:  ‘Christ Jesus, I trust in You!’” 

The Polish Pope had long been acquainted with this extraordinary devotion, which had blossomed in his own homeland – in fact, as a much younger man he had often visited the tomb of Sister Faustina. It was he who brought the Devotion into the full light of the Church. In his Encyclical entitled ‘Dives In Misericordiae’ (Rich In Mercy), the Holy Father wrote –

“The Message of Divine Mercy has always been near and dear to me… which I took with me to the See of Peter and which in a sense forms the image of this Pontificate.”

Like our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, John Paul also lived a life of mercy – his actions an echo of the commands of the Lord in the Gospels to ‘be merciful’, a living witness of Divine Mercy. Such was the case when, in May 1981, he was shot in St Peter’s Square on the anniversary of the appearance of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima. He went on to visit and to forgive his would-be assassin.

After a life where the message of Divine Mercy was continually interwoven amongst the facets of his life as man, priest and eventually Pope, it should come as no surprise that Pope John Paul II died on 3rd April 2005, the vigil of the feast of Divine Mercy, that very same feast which he had given to the Church and to the world. Neither should we be surprised that Pope John Paul II was canonised on the Feast of Divine Mercy, 27th April 2014 by our present Holy Father, Pope Francis. Pope Francis later recalled that Pope John Paul’s institution of Divine Mercy Sunday showed his insight and realisation that a new ‘age of mercy’ was needed in the church and the world.

And in case there was any doubt on the intentions of Pope John Paul, he said this during the Canonisation Mass for Saint Faustina –

“Sister Faustina’s canonisation has a particular eloquence; by this act, I intend today to pass this message on to the new millennium.”

Clearly, then, the Holy Father saw that the Message of Mercy was needed by humanity as it entered the third millennium.

It is thanks to the constant endeavours of Pope John Paul that the Divine Mercy devotion took firm root in the Church, gradually growing throughout many years until, finally, it burst into flower. And from that point onward, it’s heavenly fragrance filled the entire Church and continues to do so even now. The extent to which the devotion has spread and grown is quite extraordinary.

After John Paul, Pope Benedict continued the work of Divine Mercy, reminding us that –

“Mercy is.. the core of the Gospel”.

In an Angelus message in 2007, he said –

“In our time, humanity needs a strong proclamation and witness of God’s mercy. Beloved John Paul II, a great apostle of Divine Mercy, prophetically intuited this urgent pastoral need. He dedicated his second Encyclical to it and throughout his Pontificate made himself the missionary of God’s love to all peoples.”

The following year, Pope Benedict said –

“Indeed, mercy is the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God, the Face with which he revealed himself in the Old Covenant and fully in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of creative and redemptive Love. May this merciful love also shine on the face of the Church and show itself through the sacraments, in particular that of Reconciliation, and in works of charity, both communitarian and individual. May all that the Church says and does manifest the mercy God feels for man, and therefore for us. When the Church has to recall an unrecognized truth or a betrayed good, she always does so impelled by merciful love, so that men and women may have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10). From Divine Mercy, which brings peace to hearts, genuine peace flows into the world, peace between different peoples, cultures and religions.”

In our own day, the present Holy Father, Pope Francis has continually lived out the message of Mercy, exemplifying it over and over in so much of what he has done in very concrete ways. To those who reject Mercy and talk of Divine Justice, he offered clarity –

“God’s justice is His mercy. Mercy is not opposed to justice, but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert and believe. At times how hard it seems to forgive. And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully.”

Throughout his papacy so far, Pope Francis has consistently shown himself to be a messenger of mercy. This has been evident not only in the words he has spoken, but also in the deeds he has done – for example, in the strong rumour that he sometimes go out of the Vatican at night to give money to the poor; a rumour which, when directly asked about it in an interview, Archbishop Krajewski refused to deny.

In many ways, the active deeds of the Holy Father speak even more loudly than his words – although these are already powerful. Sometimes, it is easy to simply ‘say’ the right thing – much harder to actually ‘do’ the right thing. But in doing so, we lead by example and this is always a very powerful witness. It is also contagious; good deeds bring about further good deeds in those touched by them.

There are many examples of the Holy Father reaching out to those in the margins of society and defending their human dignity with compassion and kindness – people such as the poor, the imprisoned, the homeless, the disfigured, those weary beneath the weight of so many burdens. On those occasions when we see such people to whom the Pope has reached out, it always appears that his actions have moved them and, perhaps, changed them in some deep way. Even watching all of this through the media, it is difficult not to be moved by what we see.

Asked to explain why he had convoked an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (from 2015 to 2016), Pope Francis replied simply in his homily for the first vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday –

“Here, then, is the reason for the Jubilee (of Mercy) – because this is the time for mercy.”

Note well that three successive Holy Fathers have spoken very clearly and explicitly of the need we have of Divine Mercy; the voice of the Church here is very clear.

The continued advancement of the message of Divine Mercy is due in no small part to the tireless work of so many unknown apostles of the Merciful Lord, each doing what they can to bring that message to a despairing world, so in need of hope and of trust in the Mercy of God. Some are called to act in various ways, perhaps through particular direct apostolates or through the media, while other are tasked to hold up the world by their prayerful entreaties for mercy for the world. All draw down great mercy and grace from Heaven and in this way, live out the commandment to ‘be merciful’– for without works of mercy, the message means nothing. As the Lord said to Saint Faustina –

“This Image is to be a reminder of the demands of My mercy, because even the strongest faith is of no avail without works.”

Each year, in preparation for the great Feast of Mercy on the Sunday after Easter, the apostles of Divine Mercy pray a Novena, the prayers of which were dictated to Saint Faustina by the Merciful Jesus. Each day of the Novena is offered for a particular group of souls. On the seventh day of this Novena, the Lord asks –

“Today, bring to Me the souls who especially venerate and glorify My Mercy.. These souls sorrowed most over My Passion and entered most deeply into My spirit. They are living images of My Compassionate Heart. These souls will shine with a special brightness in the next life. Not one of them will go into the fire of hell.”

Those who have heard and responded to this message of Divine Mercy should be deeply grateful to the Lord, Who has granted such souls a very great grace indeed. The souls should also be mindful that, like the man with the talents mentioned in the Gospel, they are expected to make good use of this grace, for they will be asked one day to give an account of what they have done with this grace.

In this twentieth year of Divine Mercy as a fully approved private revelation within the Church, let us give thanks to the ‘Eternal Father, in Whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible’ (Chaplet of Divine Mercy). And with Saint Faustina, Saint John Paul and all the hidden apostles of Divine Mercy, let us acclaim together –

Jesus, we TRUST in You!