Question: "What is Divine Mercy Sunday?"
Answer: Divine Mercy Sunday and its associated feast are the Sunday after Easter and are observed by many Roman Catholics and some in other churches. Divine Mercy Sunday is based on the visions and diary of a Polish Catholic nun, Maria Faustina Kowalska, also known as Saint Faustina (1905—1938). The point of Divine Mercy Sunday appears to be to emphasize the mercy of Jesus and the completeness of His forgiveness from sin and punishment. Celebrants respond to the receiving of mercy by extending mercy.
In her purported visions, Maria spoke directly with Jesus. Her conversations were published in the book Diary of Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul. She claimed that Jesus gave her the title of “Apostle and Secretary of His Mercy.” In her visions, Jesus contrasted the message He gave Maria with past messages: “I sent prophets wielding thunderbolts to My people,” Jesus allegedly told her. “Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart” (Diary, entry 1588).
In one of her supposed talks with Jesus, Maria was given an assignment to produce an image of Jesus she saw. Jesus told her the image was to be venerated; in fact, Jesus promised her that those who venerate the image would never perish. Further, Jesus told her that the veneration of His image was to be done on the Sunday after Easter. Maria was not a painter herself, and some time passed before she found a capable artist who was willing to paint her description of Jesus. The resulting image was first displayed on April 28, 1935, one week after Easter. In the image, one of Jesus’ hands is raised in blessing, and two rays of light, representing blood and water, shine down from His heart.
The message of Sister Faustina and the image she produced caught on quickly in Poland. By 1951, there were over 150 chapels or religious centers dedicated to Divine Mercy in the country. On Divine Mercy Sunday in 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Saint Faustina.
Today, Divine Mercy Sunday remains a popular celebration, and variations of the Faustina image of Christ are widespread. Catholics believe that “extraordinary graces” are available on Divine Mercy Sunday, depending on how well they follow certain rituals and whether they perform acts of mercy. Many Catholics pray the chaplet of Divine Mercy every day at 3:00, using rosary beads, as per the instructions Maria received. The opening prayer the chaplet says, “You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world.”
Did Saint Faustina actually have visions? Yes, it’s very likely that she did have visions of some kind. But, whomever she was talking to, and whatever she saw, it was not Jesus. The Lord Jesus would never tell people to “venerate” a painting or promise eternal life to those who do. Other visions of Faustina are equally unbiblical, such as her vision of Mary’s visits to Purgatory: “I saw Our Lady visiting the souls in purgatory. The souls call her ‘The Star of the Sea.’ She brings them refreshment” (ibid, entry 20).
The Lord is merciful (Psalm 37:26), and we are called to perform acts of mercy (Matthew 5:7). But, given the idolatry inherent in Divine Mercy Sunday, and given that the feast is based on error-filled, extrabiblical revelations, Christians should have nothing to do with it.