"God of everlasting mercy…" the Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter, also called Divine Mercy Sunday, begins "…who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed…".
In his Regina Caeli message on April 10, 1994, St. John Paul II asked "What is mercy if not the boundless love of God, who confronted with human sin, restrains the sentiment of severe justice and, allowing Himself to be moved by the wretchedness of His creatures, spurs Himself to the total gift of self, in the Son's cross…?"
For a long time, Divine Mercy Sunday annoyed me. The Second Sunday of Easter is part of the Octave and, like other days in the Octave, is celebrated as Easter, nothing else "out ranks" it. And yet, St. John Paul II gave us this day to commemorate the Divine Mercy. After I calmed down a bit, it all started to make more sense to me. The Second Sunday of Easter is a wonderful time to remember the Divine Mercy. Easter is, after all, the triumph of the Mercy of God.
God did not have to be merciful, Jesus did not have to take the sins we could never atone for and pay the ultimate price for them. Justice could have won. But our God is a God of Mercy and at Easter we see the triumph of that Mercy. Jesus Christ died for us, in a total act of mercy. But not only did He die for our sins, He rose from the dead and in doing so, ensured our place with Him in heaven (if we want it).
That is what the Collect for the day reminds us of. God, through the annual celebration of Easter, strengthens our faith so that we might understand the full depth of the Mercy of God. By that Mercy we are washed in the font of baptism, redeemed by Christ, by that Mercy we are reborn in Christ, freed from sin, and by that Mercy we are redeemed, our debt is paid, we are free.
The opening prayer for the Chaplet of Divine Mercy says "You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Font of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself upon us." That is the message of Easter, Christ gave Himself for us, He died for us, so that the Mercy of God may be freely given and known to the whole world.
Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director of Liturgy for the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto.