The Meaning Behind the Divine Mercy Chaplet
The term chaplet refers to a string of beads or the beads comprising the 5 decades of a rosary. In this manner chaplets have long served to aid Christians in the counting of prayers and the practice of devotions. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is a popular devotion which was promoted by Saint Maria Faustina Kowolska, a polish nun who lived from 1905-1938.
How the Chaplet Arose
The words of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy were given to Saint Faustina in a vision which occurred in September of 1935. In her diary, Faustina records a vision in which she saw an Angel of God coming to administer the Divine judgment upon the earth followed by a vision of the Holy Trinity. Moved by the sight of God, Faustina found herself “…pleading with God for the world with words heard interiorly. As I was praying in this manner, I saw the Angel’s helplessness: he could not carry out the just punishment which was rightly due for our sins. Never before had I prayed with such inner power as I did then. The words with which I entreated God were these: Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son Our Lord Jesus Christ for our sins and those of the whole world; for the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us.” (Divine Mercy in my Soul, Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowolska, #474-475)
The next morning Faustina returned to the chapel where the Lord instructed her interiorly; “Every time you enter the chapel immediately recite the prayer which I taught you yesterday…This prayer will serve to appease my Wrath. You will recite it for nine days on the beads of the rosary, in the following manner: First of all you will say one OUR FATHER and HAIL MARY and the I BELIVE IN GOD. Then on the OUR FATHER beads you will say the following words: “Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” On the HAIL MARY beads you will say the following words: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and on the whole world. In conclusion, three times you will recite these words: “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.’” (Divine Mercy in my Soul, Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowolska, #476)
So it is in the manner described above that the Chaplet of Divine Mercy is prayed today. However, like all forms of private revelation the devotion was entered into cautiously and not immediately promoted throughout the church. That began to change in 1965 when the Archbishop of Krakow Karol Wojtyla (who would become Pope John Paul II) was appointed to investigate her life and writings. After many years Sister Faustina was canonized Saint Faustina in April of 2000.
The Meaning Behind the Words
Three primary phrases reoccur throughout the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. The first is prayed on the Our Father beads. “Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” This phrase consists of our offering of the Lord Jesus back to his Father. Now, at first glance this may seem strange, as it might appear that we are making the offering on Christ’s behalf. Who are we to do so? However, this points us to a fundamental truth, that through our baptism we are so deeply united with Christ that our actions can actually become His. St. Paul conveys this truth in the following manner, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…” (Colossians 1:24). Or stated another way, “In a sense, He does belong to us, just as we belong to Him; the New Testament says that the relationship of Jesus to His disciples is so close that we literally become His mystical "Body" on earth, and He fills us with His Spirit (see I Cor 12). Thus, when we offer Him to the Father in the chaplet, we are also offering ourselves in and with Him, and He is offering us in and with Himself. Spiritually, we are so enmeshed as to be inseparable from Him (save by unrepented mortal sin, of course).” (Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Mar 25, 2013))
In a very real way praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy fulfills our participation in what the Catholic Church refers to as the priesthood of all believers or common priesthood. “…The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be... a holy priesthood.” (CCC 1546) “That we can, in a sense, offer Christ to the Father is also enshrined in the Catholic liturgical tradition, and manifest in the Mass even today. Look at Eucharistic Prayer #1 in the Roman Missal: "We offer to You, God of glory and majesty, this holy and perfect sacrifice: the bread of life and the cup of salvation" (so we offer what has just been consecrated, and is no longer bread and wine, but now the "bread of life" and the "cup of salvation." In other words, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ).” (Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Mar 25, 2013)) As such, ministerial (ordained) priests have been granted the charism to offer the physical Body and Blood of Christ up to the Father in the Mass. Praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy mirrors this action and allows us to fulfill our baptismal priesthood according to our state in life.
The second recurring phrase is “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and on the whole world.” This phrase is prayed on the Hail Mary beads and is repeated 50 times. It is perhaps fitting that it is emphasized in this way as it reminds us over and over again of our reliance on the saving action of Jesus. We cling to God’s mercy not because of our own actions but because Jesus acts on our behalf. In repeating these words we learn to trust Jesus more deeply.
Finally, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy ends as we repeat the phrase “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world” three times. In saying these words we proclaim the power and majesty of God and recognize for a final time our dependence on Him and our own weakness by contrast which leads to our need for His great Mercy.
Let us therefore give thanks for the great gift of God’s mercy and utilize the Chaplet of Divine Mercy to draw close to Him. Click here for printable instructions on how to pray the Chaplet, visit. Click here for more information on the history of the Chaplet.