“For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world”
Chaplet of Divine Mercy
Historically, Friday has always been a day of penitence within the Catholic Church – many are familiar with the concept of not eating meat on Fridays, offering this little sacrifice as penance in remembrance of the Passion of the Lord, which occurred on Good Friday. In large part, that notion of Friday penance – indeed, of penance of any sort – is now something from a past age.
This present time may be a good moment to reconsider this aspect of Catholic life and to seek to recall our need of the practice of penance.
At the root of the loss of the sense of the need for penance, is the loss of the sense of sin. When we no longer believe ourselves to be sinners, we forget our need to ask forgiveness of God, Whose infinite holiness is offended by every single sin, and which demands reparation.
There are two aspects of the loss of the sense of sin which are particularly troublesome.
The first aspect, is the belief that sin is purely personal; it affects only the sinner. The reality is that every sin, even if committed privately, also has a very real communal effect.
The second aspect is the gravely erroneous belief known as ‘universalism’ – the idea that we will all go to Heaven anyway, because God is good. Yes, He is indeed good – but He is also just. If universalism is correct, then we have no need of reparation, prayer, the Sacraments or the Church, as all of us will be saved regardless. Of course, this idea is nonsense and is entirely contrary to the Gospel.
Hell exists and it is anything but empty.
Remember, too, that God does not send a soul to Hell – this irrevocable and final choice is one made by the soul itself, seeing clearly at it’s particular Judgement that so many of the choices it made in life deserve Hell as a natural consequence.
We may not like hearing this, but there is no escaping the reality of it; in the Gospels, the Lord is perfectly clear on the reality of Hell and the Church has echoed His words throughout the ages.
And at Fatima, He sent His own Mother to show the children a vision depicting the reality of Hell. “You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go”, She told them with great sadness.
And so, if sin exists, and if it can lead to eternal perdition in Hell, and if it requires a communal – as well as a personal – demand for reparation, then how are we to go about making this reparation?
I would like to suggest two means – the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
The most beautiful prayer, the one most requested by the Mother of God, is Her Rosary; in this, we meditate deeply on the life, Passion, Death and Resurrection of Her Son. The Saints throughout the ages have consistently reminded us of the remarkable power of the Rosary, and the Church has called us time and again to rediscover this most holy prayer.
At Fatima, the first apparition of the Angel in 1916 focused very much on prayer as reparation – “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You”.
At his next apparition, the Angel said this –
“Pray! Pray very much! The most holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High. Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.. Above all, accept and bear with submission the suffering which the Lord will send you.”
Giving the children Holy Communion, the Angel told them – “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men! Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.”
And so from the start, Fatima was very clearly about the need for reparation, by means of prayer and sacrifice – not the need of the children to repair for their own sins, but the collective need of humanity to repair for it’s sins communally, including those committed by others.
This message continued in the words of the Blessed Virgin the following year –
“Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the suffering He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners? .. Then you are going to have much to suffer but the grace of God will be your comfort.”
At the apparition in July 1917, She showed the children the vision of Hell and She said this –
“Sacrifice yourselves for sinners and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice, ‘O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary’.. You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to My Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out in the pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that He is about to punish the world for it’s crimes, by means of war, famine and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father.
The following month, She told the children – “Pray, pray very much and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to Hell because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.”
Clearly, then, Hell is not an empty place. Clearly, too, our prayers and sacrifices have the power to prevent souls arriving there by obtaining for them the grace of conversion.
The final words of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima focussed once more on the core of the message She was giving – “Do not offend the Lord our God any more, because He is already so much offended.”
Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, taking the forms of the prayer of the Rosary, and the offering of daily duty and sacrifice willingly borne as penance for the sins of the world; these are the requests of the Mother of God at Fatima.
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy
By it’s very design, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy is a prayer of reparation; it begs the mercy of God “for our sins and the sins of the whole world”.
In His appearances to Saint Faustina, the Lord said – “these prayers will serve to appease My wrath”. In other words, to repair for sins committed against Him.
The words of the Chaplet clearly express the communal dimension of both the sin itself, and the associated reparation – “our sins” rather than “my sins”; “have mercy on us”, rather than ‘have mercy on me’.
The Lord was equally clear that the revelation of His Divine Mercy is “a sign for the end times – after it will come the Day of Justice. While there is still time, let them have recourse to the fount of My mercy”.
And so there is an urgency about the message of Divine Mercy, an urgency we ignore at our peril.
All are aware of the current crisis within the Church. Remember that this crisis has been brought about by sins of commission and sins of omission on the part of some, aided and enabled in no small way by the machinations of the Tempter and his demons. The effect of this is that many – both the good and bad – will be called upon to bear the cross. In particular, good and holy Priests and Bishops will suffer enormously and will keep company with Christ in Gethsemane, where their own souls will be sorrowful unto death, as was His. Those good Priests and Bishops desperately need our prayers, now and in the times ahead.
This is primarily a spiritual crisis; because of this, the most efficacious response will necessarily be a spiritual one.
In response to what they are learning, the laity are asking what they can do to renew the Church; many speak of their ‘disbelief, anger, outrage, shock, grief, shame’. These are emotions and emotions eventually pass, no matter now dark the present moment is. A spiritual response is required, one that is powerful and efficacious, and which lasts.
Certainly, a realisation of the need for penance is required on the part of those most deeply involved in bringing about this crisis, for their good and the good of all the Church, and to repair some of the damage that has been done.
But every single one of us – Bishops, Priests, Religious and laity – can and must play our part in making reparation at the communal level. After all, the Church is the Mystical Body and anything that damages a part of it, damages all of it; equally, anything that repairs that damage in one part, repairs damage in the entire Body.
Prayer of reparation and sacrifice willingly borne, will bring about the beginnings of the change and renewal so many are calling for.
It will also bring about the raising of great saints within the Church – for whenever the Church is in particular danger, the Lord gives His Church those shining lights who most effectively illumine the way for us; so it will be on this occasion, as in times past.
When next you pray the Rosary or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, please specifically offer as an intention “for the Church”.
And if you do not already so pray, this is the time to start.
May the Lord guard, preserve and renew His Mystical Body, the Church, and may He graciously hear and answer the prayers of all those who support her with their prayers and sacrifices.
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us.