Understanding the Beauty of the Divine Mercy Chaplet
The Heart of the Gospel
The central message of the Gospel is of God’s mercy toward fallen mankind. It is His mercy that initiated His becoming man, dying, and rising from the dead. He desired to win mercy for His beloved children. Yet, for so many of us it can be very easy, when we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, to forget about God’s mercy, and to think that He is no different than a human being, whose capacity for forgiveness is limited. It is this tendency to shortchange God’s forgiveness that gave rise to our need for the Divine Mercy devotion.
The Hopelessness of Jansenism
The origins of the devotion to Divine Mercy can be traced, at least in part, to the heresy of Jansenism, which originated in seventeenth century France with a Dutch theologian named Cornelius Jansen. Focusing not on God’s goodness but on man’s tendency to sin, Jansenism infused its adherents with a terror of God, and a panicdriven belief that the Christians must fulfill a laundry list of spiritual tasks in order to be assured that he had done all the “right” things and thus would be guaranteed God’s forgiveness. In the Jansenist view, God was a scrupulously exacting judge, Who left little room for mercy, and expected humans to behave perfectly in every way.
While it is certainly necessary to avoid sin, Jansenism took this requirement to an unreasonable extreme, emptying God of the mercy which is one of His greatest attributes. Perhaps to remedy this, beginning in 1673 Jesus Himself intervened by appearing to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in a France that was increasingly under the sway of Jansenism and giving to her, and by extension to all of us, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. By emphasizing Jesus’ Sacred Heart and the love He has for man, the devotion that He gave to Saint Margaret Mary served to pave the way for the Divine Mercy devotion that Jesus would give to the world nearly three centuries later.
The Beginnings of Mercy
The Divine Mercy devotion itself has its origins in 1931. One Sunday evening in February, Jesus appeared to a young Polish nun named Sister Faustina Kowalska of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw. In the image, Jesus appeared with two rays, one red and one pale, emanating from His Heart. These two rays represent the blood and water which flowed from His side when He was pierced by the centurion’s lance after dying on the cross. He called Himself “the King of Mercy,” and told her to make a painting of his appearance, with the words “Jesus I trust in You” at the bottom of it. That same day, He also told Sister Faustina that He desired the first Sunday after Easter every year to be commemorated as Divine Mercy Sunday, to spread awareness of His infinite mercy, and to be a source of grace and forgiveness for the whole world. With the assistance of Father Michael Sopocko, whom she had met in Vilnius, Faustina secured the efforts of a professional painter to make the image according to her description. Thus the initial seeds of the Divine Mercy devotion were planted.
Over the next few years, Jesus gradually revealed to Faustina all the various elements that He wanted to make up the Divine Mercy devotion. In 1935 He gave her the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which is a series of prayers that can be prayed on a standard Rosary. These prayers serve to remind the faithful of God’s infinite love and mercy for them, and is itself a great source of grace for those who pray it. Jesus advised Faustina to pray the Chaplet especially at 3:00 in the afternoon the “Hour of Mercy” because it was at that hour that He had died on the cross, thereby winning mercy for the world. Jesus promised Faustina: " ....When they say this Chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying not as the just judge but as the Merciful Savior."
The Divine Mercy chaplet may be said every day, but there is a particular time of year when it is most efficacious, and that is during the Divine Mercy Novena. This begins on Good Friday and runs through the Saturday of the following week, the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday. Jesus Himself gave Faustina the particular intentions to be prayed on each of the nine days:
- All mankind, in particular all sinners
- The souls of priests and religious
- The souls of the devout and faithful people
- For the nonbelievers and those who do not yet know Jesus
- The souls of heretics and schismatics
- The souls of "the meek and humble" and for little children
- The souls of people who especially glorify Christ's mercy
- The souls in Purgatory
- Souls who have become lukewarm and indifferent
Sunday is a time of special grace for the world. Jesus wants to pour out His mercy on the entire world, especially when we make petitions to God during this novena.
Suppression and Approval
It was not until after Sister Faustina’s death in 1938 that news of Jesus appearing to her, and all that she wrote in her diary, became well known outside of her convent. Devotion to Jesus as King of Mercy became especially timely as World War II ravaged Europe. Centers and shrines to Divine Mercy began to multiply quickly, especially in Sister Faustina’s native Poland. However, in March 1959 the Holy See formally suppressed the Divine Mercy devotion, meaning that it forbade Catholics from practicing the devotion and incorporating it into their private or public prayer life. Suppression is something the Holy See must do with private revelations before it has had time to investigate them thoroughly and judge whether or not they are authentic.
For nearly two decades, the devotion to Divine Mercy was officially prohibited by the Holy See. All this time, however, a Polish cardinal named Karol Wojtyła did extensive research into the topic, and went straight to Sister Faustina’s original Polish texts to try to see if these apparitions of Jesus could eventually be shown to be valid, and the Divine Mercy devotion orthodox. Eventually he convinced the Holy Father Pope Paul VI that the apparitions were genuine and that the devotion was in accord with Catholic Theology. Consequently, Pope Paul lifted the ban on Divine Mercy in April 1978. Just six months later, Cardinal Wojtyła became Pope John Paul II.
Throughout his pontificate, Pope John Paul II never ceased to spread Faustina’s message of mercy to the world in his travels, sermons and witness to the faith, and beatified her in April of 1993. In addition, on April 30, 2000 the first Sunday after Easter Pope John Paul II both canonized Faustina as the first saint of the 2000s, and declared that the first Sunday after Easter would thereafter be known as Divine Mercy Sunday, in fulfillment of the request Jesus made to Faustina back in 1931.
How to Pray the Chaplet
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is very easy to learn, and can be prayed on a standard Rosary. Begin by praying the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Apostles’ Creed. Next, recite the opening prayer:
“You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.”
Then, on the large bead of the first decade (the “Our Father” bead), say the following prayer:
“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 each of the ten smaller beads (the “Hail Mary” beads), say this prayer:
“For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
Repeat these prayers five times, just as you would the five mysteries of the Rosary. At the end of five decades, say the following prayer three times:
“ Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.”
The final closing prayer is:
“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”
What Does This Mean?
What does it mean to offer to God the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus? How can we offer Jesus to God? Isn’t He also God?
What we do when we say these prayers is merely the same thing that Jesus Himself did on Calvary offered Himself to God the Father on our behalf. As true Man, Jesus could genuinely represent all of mankind, His brothers, before God in atoning for man’s original sin. At the same time, as true God, only Jesus could provide a sacrifice that was sufficient to atone for man’s sins, which are sins against an infinitely good God. Man’s redemption and sanctification begins with God’s mercy, not with man’s merits. We did not do any good works that merit our salvation, such that we could demand that God give us salvation as a right. Rather, we have only the merits of Christ on which to base our hopes. This is why we say that we offer Christ’s sacrifice to God: it is what we have to defend us on the day of judgment.
Spiritual Benefits of Praying the Chaplet
The essence of the Divine Mercy Chaplet is remarkable in its simplicity, but also perfectly unremarkable in that it is merely a summary of the original Gospel message preached by Our Lord Himself during His time on earth. In it, we are asking God to bestow His Mercy upon us and upon the whole world. In her diary, Faustina records a vision in which an angel is sent by God to destroy a sinful city, but the angel’s power is stayed when Faustina begins praying the Chaplet. This vision represents what happens whenever we pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, or venerate the image of Jesus as the King of Mercy. Our imploring God’s mercy calms or satiates His wrath and unleashes the floodgates of His mercy upon sinners.
The Church has long understood the blood and water flowing from Christ’s side on the cross as representing the Church, just as Eve was formed from the side of Adam. The inclusion of this blood and water in the Divine Mercy image illuminates and brings to life its significance. Christ’s Blood redeems us, and the waters of Baptism make us members of His life, and partakers in the redemption He offers us. Together, they are the means through which human beings receive God’s mercy. The Divine Mercy chaplet, and all the other elements of the Divine Mercy devotion, are ways for us to implore God’s mercy upon ourselves and the entire world.
Christ told Saint Faustina that not only will He consent to be merciful, but He positively desires it; He longs for us to ask Him for mercy, because He does not want us to perish forever. As Pope Francis said in his very first Angelus address in 2013: “The Lord never gets tired of forgiving us. It is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness.” We can use the Divine Mercy devotion to bring this forgiveness, as well as innumerable other graces, to the world. God wants you to come to Him with trust, since He is your Father. Let us go confidently, with Saint Faustina, to God our Father to ask for His forgiveness. Let us say with Saint Faustina, “Jesus I trust in You!”