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Don’t forget — Good Friday is the first day of the Divine Mercy novena…

Don’t forget — Good Friday is the first day of the Divine Mercy novena…

Good Friday through the Second Sunday of Easter is the time of mercy, the time when Jesus redeemed us from sin and established new life in his Resurrection. This is why it is the time Jesus asked us to pray a novena invoking his Divine Mercy for the Church and the world. The Gospel of Divine Mercy Sunday points us to the portal of mercy, as Thomas sticks his finger into the wound of Jesus’s side. Divine Mercy is an extension of devotion to the Sacred Heart, the place where blood and water flowed out for the salvation of humanity, which in turns points us to the eternal loving mercy of the Father. Although the Divine Mercy devotion dates only from the mid-twentieth century, in a series of revelations to St. Faustina Kowalska, there is much tradition behind the prayers of the chaplet, drawing from the Church’s liturgy and piety, which I will explain below.

The timing of the chaplet novena itself, starting on Good Friday and extending through the Easter octave, points to the devotion’s link to the Paschal Mystery (Jesus’s new Passover of our redemption). In the Divine Mercy Diary, St. Faustina relates: “The Lord told me to say this chaplet for nine days before the Feast of Mercy. It is to begin on Good Friday. By this novena, I will grant every possible grace to souls” (no. 796). The goal of the chaplet is to create trust in Jesus’s mercy, bringing souls to the fruits of his Passion and Resurrection. Jesus promised particular graces related to the moment of death, showing how the devotion creates a bond between his death and those who recite the chaplet and those for whom they pray: “Once, as I was going down the hall to the kitchen, I heard these words in my soul: Say unceasingly the chaplet that I have taught you. Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death. Priests will recommend it to sinners as their last hope of salvation. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this chaplet only once, he would receive grace from My infinite mercy. I desire that the whole world know My infinite mercy. I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in My mercy” (687).

Beyond the important timing of the novena of chaplets, we can recognize four central themes that resonate throughout the Church’s life of prayer.

1. Beseeching Mercy. The heart of the Divine Mercy prayers is the petition for mercy: “have mercy on us and all the whole world,” as we see in the Hail Mary bead prayer of the chaplet. This echoes a central prayer of the liturgy: Kyrie eleison, Lord, have mercy. From the earliest days of the Church’s prayer, Christians have sought mercy and clemency from the true Lord of heaven and earth, the king of all creation. The Kyrie, originally a longer litany at the beginning of the liturgy, and still preserved as such in the East, remains a hugely important prayer at the opening of Mass, manifesting the thrust of the Church’s prayer in seeking mercy for herself and the world. Prayer essentially seeks mercy, calling down God’s favor by asking for the forgiveness of sins and all that we need, as we see also in the petitions of the Our Father.

2. The Passion as the Source of Mercy. The Divine Mercy devotion recognizes the source of mercy in the Paschal mystery: “For the sake of his sorrowful Passion,” which introduces the invocation for mercy on the Hail Mary bead. It is clear that Jesus’s death on our behalf is the source of mercy, as the blood and water flows forth from his heart to cleanse us and to give us his divine life. In the Old Testament, the cover of the ark of covenant was called the mercy seat and blood was sprinkled upon it on the day of atonement. The Greek word for the mercy seat, hilastērion, is used by Paul in Romans to describe how Jesus redeemed us by his blood as a pleasing sacrifice to the Father: “For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation [mercy seat] by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:22-25). In Catholic devotion, therefore, the Cross has a central place in prayer, seeking the Lord’s mercy through an invocation of Christ crucified. We can see this devotion to the Passion in the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary and the Stations of the Cross, along with many other devotions devoted to the Passion and Jesus’s precious blood.

3. Offering Christ to the Father. On the Our Father bead of the chaplet, we make a bold prayer, offering the Son to the Father in atonement for sin: “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ…” This prayer is also linked intrinsically to Christian liturgy, as we see in a prayer of the Byzantine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, also directed to the Father: “We offer to you yours of your own, on behalf of all and for all.” The Son is the only gift truly pleasing to the Father that could atone for sins. Catholics are invited to make Jesus’s sacrifice their own during the Mass, offering his one perfect sacrifice made present in the liturgy to the Father.

There are a number of prayers that speak in this way, such as this traditional prayer said before Mass: “Eternal Father, I unite myself with the intentions and affections of Our Lady of Sorrows on Calvary, and I offer to you the sacrifice which your beloved Son made of himself on the Cross and which he now renews on this holy altar…” Outside of the Mass, we can also see this spirituality in the prayer of St. Gertrude, usually offered for the souls in purgatory: “Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.” Another example is a prayer given to the children at Fatima by the angel, which is directed to the Trinity: “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly. I offer Thee the most precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ…” The sacrifice of Jesus is the most powerful and efficacious prayer that we can offer.

4. Honoring the Trinity. The prayers as a whole have a Trinitarian character in offering the Son to the Father, although at the end of the chaplet we also find a triple invocation, reminiscent of the Holy, Holy, Holy offered by the angels in heaven (Isaiah 6:3). The concluding prayer is: “Holy God, Holy Might One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” This is an ancient prayer, known in Greek as the Trisagion, prayed not only in the Byzantine liturgy but also across the East in the Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian liturgies (meaning that in praying the chaplet, we are united in this prayer with other ancient Christian Churches). It also makes an appearance in the traditional Latin liturgy of Good Friday, particularly during the reproaches, which connects it to the Divine Mercy novena beginning on this date. Although the prayer may be older, it is also connected to another revelation through a child in Constantinople in the early fifth century, who was lifted in the air and given this prayer as a means of relief during an earthquake. The Trisagion often has been connected to the Trinity and reinforces the whole spirituality of the chaplet through its invocation of mercy.


Andreas Pavias, The Crucifixion, 15ht c., detail

The Divine Mercy devotion leads us to greater trust, as we see in the prayer on the image: “Jesus, I trust in you.” Jesus’s Passion is the source of our hope, which leads us to invoke the Father for his mercy. The ultimate goal of our hope is our salvation, our eternal happiness with God. The chaplet should lead us to a greater trust in the reality that Jesus has redeemed us: “The Lord’s Promise: The souls that say this chaplet will be embraced by My mercy during their lifetime and especially at the hour of their death” (754). Secondarily, it also leads us to a greater trust in God’s providence in history: “Speak to the world about My mercy; let all mankind recognize My unfathomable mercy. It 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; let them profit from the Blood and Water which gushed forth for them” (848). The time of mercy gives us hope that God’s mercy will triumph over our sin, washing it away with water, and will lead us to his divine life, nourished by Jesus’s own blood. This is the time of mercy, a time to turn to the Father in the blood of Jesus.

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