Written By: David P. Deavel
Though not as widely known as it should be even by Christians, Easter Sunday marks not the end but the beginning of the Easter Season. This upcoming Sunday is the eighth and culminating day of the feast. Early church writers called the Resurrection of Christ itself “the eighth day” to show how it completes history (represented by the seven days of the week) and introduces us to eternity, so an eighth day of Easter celebration is an important sign of what it means.
That’s why over the centuries this “eighth day of Easter” has had many names. For example White Sunday (dominica in albis), because on this day newly baptized people in the early Church would take off their white baptismal garments that they had worn all week. It has been called Quasimodo Sunday for the Latin chant that echoes 1 Peter 2:2 and begins Quasimodo geniti infantes—“like newborn babes.” Victor Hugo’s hunchback was so named because he was found as a baby abandoned at the Church that day. In England and some other countries, it was known as Low Sunday to contrast it with the high feast of Easter Sunday proper. Eastern Christians have called it Renewal Sunday and New Sunday to designate the new life that has been taken up. They have also called it Thomas Sunday to remember Doubting Thomas, whose fateful encounter with Jesus was a week later than the other Disciples.
All these names are wonderful, with some requiring more explanation than others. But a modern addition—a name given to this Sunday by one of the most important figures of the twentieth century and used by Catholics for the last twenty years—may well be the most fitting to our time because it can be embraced by people of all faiths and Christian denominations. It also serves as a wonderful bit of instruction for the present secular world, especially those protestors who shout, “No justice, no peace!”
The name comes from someone who knew quite a bit about justice, peace, and the relationship between them: Pope Saint John Paul II. Though a man of great accomplishments who fought for justice and peace against both the Nazis and the Communists, and also wrote a number of documents as pope about justice in the areas of medical ethics, labor, politics, and economics, he considered his renaming of that eighth day of Easter one of his most important accomplishments.
Inspired by Sr. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who had written down messages she believed Jesus was giving her in visions before she died at the age of 33 (most likely of tuberculosis) in 1938, he named the feast Divine Mercy Sunday when he named her as a saint on April 30, 2000.
In that document declaring Sister Faustina’s sainthood and the new name for Easter II, the Polish pontiff pointed out that the Bible’s great message is of God’s mercy. Psalm 88 says, “I will sing of the mercy of the Lord forever.” That message of mercy is shown in full in Easter time when the one who died on the Cross to save humans from sin and misery rises again to show us that he is saving us for life everlasting.
Nor is that simply “pie in the sky.” The “message of divine mercy” teaches us how to experience heaven here and now because it gives us new eyes. John Paul says that when we hear about God’s mercy, we realize it “is also implicitly a message about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God’s eyes; Christ gave his life for each one; to everyone the Father gives his Spirit and offers intimacy.”
John Paul knew that so much of the terror and anger of our time comes from confused people carrying a great burden of guilt for the wrong they know they have done in their lives without knowing how easily this burden is lifted. He wanted them to know that even a whispered prayer—“Lord if I have done something wrong, show me and forgive me”—will lift the burden and turn the sinner back to God. The great secret of God’s mercy is that it is there for the asking.
God is not a mere God of justice—thank God for that!—but a merciful father who loves each one of us as if we were the only one in the world. Justice can seem impersonal but mercy is always personal. For many who bear guilt and shame that is a powerful thought. To realize that is true of our neighbors and even those we see, or who see us, as enemies can reorient us from cancelation and anger to forgiveness and help.
“No justice, no peace!” You’ll often hear protesters chanting this. They’re right, of course. Full peace in society requires justice. But true peace requires much more than justice. It requires love. And the form love takes in a world where people are sinful, weak, and prone to hurtful mistakes is mercy. Cancel culture has room for justice but not for mercy. Thankfully, this coming second Easter Sunday provides an opportunity to meditate on the mercy God has for us—and that we are to extend to others.
It’s meant to. As John Paul said, “the path of mercy which, while re-establishing the relationship of each person with God, also creates new relations of fraternal solidarity among human beings.” The Quasimodo, Doubting Thomas, and hostile Roman soldier in our lives can now be seen as brothers and sisters, people for whom we can pray, “Father, forgive them”—and then offer our help and kindness.
This second Easter Sunday, if you want to chant, don’t just make it about justice. Make it something that fits with the wise words of that Polish nun: “Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to Divine Mercy.”
David P. Deavel is editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy, and a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota).
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Agree! Jesus does not want us to deal with “anxiety”, wondering if you are “in compliance” Do what you can to the best of your ability……Life is a journey, like his painful trek to the cross!
Our Lord, obviously understands our misgivings. In his Divine Wisdom, their is no reason to doubt his promise to all of us. March through life with your faith, & do not doubt your belief in his message. Embrace it & follow through to the best of your understanding & convictions…..we are not perfect, but certainly strive to approach our Savior, Jesus. I really do not feel he expects any of us to be completely perfect.
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ,
Does vicariously suffice!
In Christ and His cross – total belief,
Does eternally bring relief!
God, in the flesh had to bear it,
Infinite are His work and merit! ! !
Almighty God, perfect in His attributes!
Sinful man neither adds or contributes.
The Word of God, does Saint,
One is saved by grace through faith! ! !
Christ’s mercy – NO HELL, though we deserve to burn!
Christ’s grace – HEAVEN, though we do not earn!
Believe in Christ alone, or you’ll lose,
The gospel of Jesus – IS GOOD NEWS! ! !
This is the Easter news,
Eternal life or death, which will you choose?
”For by grace you have been saved through faith;
and that not of yourselves,
it is the gift of God;
not as a result of works,
so that no one may boast.”
The fifth stanza should say at the end, “saith” not “Saint”.
I have read the diary of St. Faustina and have become a devotee and promoter of the Divine Mercy message which is very simple: God loves all of us, His mercy is greater than our sins, we need to Trust in Him and His Mercy and that we, in turn be merciful to others.
I could not say it better……Thanks
Beautiful message. I am saving this for my records. .
If more people and families would return to the church in our country one will see mercy as well as justice and peace come alive again.
Fantastic message! I bookmarked it so I can come back and read it again.
How lovely. Thank you.
Thank you for this beautiful message