The Octave of Easter and the Sunday of Divine Mercy

The celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection continues in the Church for eight days, called the Octave of Easter. Each day of the Octave is ranked as a Solemnity in the Church’s liturgical calendar, the highest ranking of liturgical feasts. At Masses during the Octave of Easter, as on Sundays, the Gloria, is recited or sung. And at the end of each Mass of the Octave, the double Alleluia is sung at the dismissal.

The idea of an Octave of a great feast has its roots in the Old Testament. There are many Jewish feasts that lasted for eight days, for example, the feast of Passover and the feast of Tabernacles. In the Catholic Church, we celebrate eight days of Christmas as well as eight days of Easter.

The Gospel readings at Masses during the Octave of Easter include passages from the Gospels that relate various appearances of the Risen Jesus. Reflecting on these Gospel texts is a wonderful way to prolong the celebration of Easter. Each day during the Octave, we proclaim in the Gospel Acclamation: This is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it.

The Octave of Easter ends on the Second Sunday of Easter, the Sunday of Divine Mercy. In the Jubilee Year 2000, at the Mass in which he canonized the humble religious Sister Faustina Kowalska, Blessed John Paul II declared that from then on throughout the Church the Second Sunday of Easter would also be called the Sunday of Divine Mercy. This is entirely appropriate since, as Blessed John Paul II reminded us, “Divine Mercy is “the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity… .”

Blessed John Paul II frequently reminded us that “mercy is an indispensable dimension of love.” He would refer to mercy as “love’s second name.” God’s love was revealed and actualized as mercy. We see this in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And this is what we are called to live and actualize today in our lives and in the life of the Church. Our Lord told Saint Faustina three ways we are called to exercise mercy toward our neighbors: by deed, by word, and by prayer. To love as Jesus loved includes practicing mercy towards others. Jesus taught us in the Beatitudes: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

At Mass on the Sunday of Divine Mercy, we will hear the Gospel account of Our Lord’s appearance to the apostles on the night of the first Easter Sunday. When He appeared to them, the Risen Jesus showed them his hands and his side. He showed them his glorious wounds. These wounds reveal the divine mercy. And then Our Lord imparted to his apostles his own power to forgive sins and entrusted to them and their successors the ministry of reconciliation when he said to them: Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, we have a blessed opportunity to experience the divine mercy in a powerful way through the forgiveness of our sins. In this sacrament, we encounter our merciful Savior through the ministry of his priests.

Through Saint Faustina, our Lord promised an abundance of graces to the faithful who devoutly observe the Sunday of Divine Mercy. There will be special celebrations of the Sunday of Divine Mercy in many of our parishes. There are various devotional practices revealed through Saint Faustina that can help us in our spiritual lives: the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the image of Divine Mercy, and the simple prayer: Jesus, I trust in you. These devotions are not ends in themselves — they help us to put mercy into action in our lives, to live the Beatitude: Blessed are the merciful. Showing mercy to our neighbors is a requirement of Divine Mercy devotion. As Our Lord said to Saint Faustina: I demand from you deeds of mercy which are to arise out of love for me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse yourself from it.

At Mass on the Sunday of Divine Mercy, we will pray Psalm 118 (the responsorial psalm that day). This is one of a series of psalms that the Jewish people call the Hallel. They were songs of praise used on feasts that recalled God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. Psalm 118 is one of thanksgiving to God for his steadfast love and mercy in rescuing his people from their enemies. In psalm 118, we read:

Let the house of Israel say,

‘His mercy endures forever.’

Let the house of Aaron say,

‘His mercy endures forever.’

Let those who fear the Lord say,

‘His mercy endures forever.’

Jesus himself would have prayed this psalm at the Last Supper. When we pray it, we remember Christ’s passion and death and we thank God for raising Jesus from the dead. It reminds us to trust in the Lord and his merciful love. It truly endures forever.

In the Divine Mercy image, we see two rays of light shining from the heart of Jesus, one red, the other white. The red represents Christ’s blood and the mystery of the Eucharist. The white represents the water of Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Spirit. From the Sacred Heart of Jesus, God’s merciful love shines forth and illumines the world.

As we celebrate the Sunday of Divine Mercy, let us “give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his mercy endures forever” (Psalm 118:1). And may the Lord help us to spread his mercy and to bear witness to it among all our brothers and sisters!

Posted on April 11, 2012, to: