After 40 days of Lent, the Church celebrates 50 days of Easter, concluding the liturgical Season of Christ’s triumph at Pentecost. We hear the Alleluias freely and joyfully sung. Easter provisions often include lilies and other colorful flowers; the Paschal or Easter Candle which was solemnly brought into the darkened church at Easter Vigil, stands lit, most appropriately near the lectern where the Gospel is proclaimed.
The readings of this season are frequently drawn from the Acts of the Apostles, and provide us vignettes of the early Church; the exuberance of the followers of Christ who now have seen Him alive. The work of the Holy Spirit, manifest at Pentecost, is the dynamic power of the work of evangelization which spreads from Jerusalem and into all the known world. The Gospel readings recount the appearances of the Risen Jesus. He comes in the flesh. He is not a Ghost. (Lk 24:39) His wounds remain - reminders of the price of His love for us. The Apostle Thomas will touch them, (Jn 20:27-28), examine them, for the help of our own faith.
The Octave of Easter is the eight days from Easter Sunday to “Low Sunday,” the Second Sunday of Easter, now celebrated as “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
These octave days are called solemnities of the Lord. They are “eight little Easters”; eight days of Easter joy celebrated with the Gloria, with sung Alleluias. They are so special that if, in the Church’s liturgical calendar there would be a major feast day, for example the Annunciation, March 25th, that feast day would be postponed until after the Octave.
Since the time of the apparitions of Jesus under the title and image of the Divine Mercy, to the Polish Sister, St. Faustina Kowalska, in the 1930’s, the Sunday after Easter had been observed in a devotional manner in some countries. In the Jubilee Year 2000, St. (Pope) John Paul II, established it as a solemn feast day to be observed throughout the Universal Church.
The extraordinary forgiveness and mercy of Jesus is manifest in the Gospel for the Sunday in the Octave. It is St. John’s account (Jn 20:19-31) of the appearance of the Risen Jesus on Easter night. To the apostles still huddled fearfully in the upper room, the Lord appears. We might have reason to think that the Risen Christ would be disappointed or upset with these, His closest followers, who had deserted Him at the arrest and crucifixion (except the “beloved disciple,” John). Rather Jesus speaks words of mercy to them: “Peace be with you!” He doesn’t upbraid them for their lack of fidelity. He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, and commissions them to forgive sins. Jesus chooses weak sinners to be instruments of the Divine Mercy.
The Image of Divine Mercy which Our Lord directed Sister Faustina to have painted is that of the Risen Christ standing, walking toward us. From His Heart flow streams of light – red and white – to remind us of the blood and water which flowed upon the world from His pierced side. (Jn 19:34). These rays, as Jesus explains to Sister Faustina, represent also the life-giving mercy and power of the sacraments: the white recalls the waters of Baptism; the red rays - the Blood of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Here is the flood of Grace which is unsealed in Baptism and through the Paschal Mystery of Our Lord’s suffering, death, and Resurrection.
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy, a series of brief prayers using rosary beads, are prayers of praise and petition directed to God the eternal Father, the Father of Mercy. These prayers recall the saving action of Jesus as the cause of our salvation. “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” “Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” “Jesus, I trust in You.”
The Novena of Divine Mercy can be offered from Good Friday through Divine Mercy Sunday. This nine days of prayer, and the celebrations of the Sunday itself, often at 3:00 p.m., the “Hour of Mercy,” carry Jesus’ promises of extraordinary forgiveness and reparation of sin, to those who invoke His Mercy and use the sacraments worthily.
The fifty days of Easter should strengthen us in the hope of the Risen Jesus Christ. They can be for us, who have received the outpouring of God’s mercy, an opportune time to become witnesses of the Peace of the Risen Christ, extending mercy to others.
Quotations from the Diary of St. Faustina
“… There are three ways of performing an act of mercy: the merciful word, by forgiving, and by comforting; secondly, if you can offer no word, then pray-that too is mercy; and thirdly, deeds of mercy. And when the Last Day comes, we shall be judged from this, and on this basis we shall receive the eternal verdict.” (no.1158)
“‘I remind you, My daughter, that as often as you hear the clock strike the third hour, immerse yourself completely in My mercy, adoring and glorifying it; invoke its omnipotence for the whole world, and particularly for poor sinners; for at that moment mercy was open wide for every soul. In this hour you can obtain everything for yourself and for others for the asking; it was the hour of grace for the whole world – mercy triumphed over justice.’” (no.1572)
“Today the Lord said to me, ‘Daughter, when you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it. Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of Mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrent of grace will inundate humble souls. The proud remain always in poverty and misery, because My grace turns away from them to humble souls.” (no. 1602)