Divine Mercy Sunday and the Pierced Side of Christ

‘Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe’… ‘My Lord and my God!’ (Jn. 20:18)).

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, and as we celebrate the end of the Easter Octave, we contemplate the wounded side of our Saviour, the Church’s source of life. On Good Friday in the commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, St John recorded that as Our Lord hung in death upon the Cross, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear and at once there came out blood and water (Jn. 19:34). These living streams which continue to flow from the Sacred Heart of Our Risen Lord are the saving waters of Baptism by which we are born again and become a new creation, and the Precious Blood of the Eucharist which nourishes this life. St. John Chrysostom explains: As God took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and water after his own death…. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with His own blood those to whom He Himself has given life (The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, p. 275).

We know that each time we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the fullness of Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost is conveyed to us. Each time we participate in the sacred mysteries, the Pascha Domini (the Passover of the Lord), we die with Christ, we rise with Him and receive from Him the Spirit of Promise who transforms us and unites us to the Father in and through Christ (Fr. M. Louis Merton, Seasons of Celebration). The Mass is the Paschal Mystery. So we always celebrate the Mass, every Mass with the unleavened bread of purity and truth; that is to say, with faith and devotion, reverence, gratitude and love. The understanding of this truth is what we should seek to grasp and rightly understand (Collect, Second Sunday of Easter; The Roman Missal). This is the grace that we especially implore on this beautiful Feast.

The water that flows from the Heart of Our Saviour is no less the water of wisdom (Sir. 15); for with St. Paul we count all things as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [Our] Lord (Phil. 3:8). This is true wisdom for in knowing Christ, we also come to know ourselves in Christ. This may sound strange at first hearing; but it is only in the light of Christ that we come to understand our true value and worth, and by extension the value and worth of our neighbour. Saint Anthony of Padua’s eloquent exhortation is worthy of reflection: Christ, who is your life, hangs before you, so that you can gaze upon the cross as if in a mirror… If you look upon him, you will be able to see the greatness of your dignity and worth… Nowhere else can we better recognize our own value, than by looking into the mirror of the cross (Sermones dominicales et festivi, III, pp. 213-214).

This is why the Passion of Our Lord reveals to us everything we need to know; and on this Divine Mercy Sunday Our Lord invites us to contemplate the glorious marks of His Passion: Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe’. With the Apostle Thomas we say: ‘My Lord and my God!’  Knowledge of the true God leads us to the possession of  true knowledge of ourselves in Christ, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14). The journey to self-knowledge is perhaps the one aspect of Christian discipleship that least appeals to us, but without self-knowledge the transformation of our hearts and minds in Christ remains an alien concept and we fail to mature and grow never reaching the measure of stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).

This is the nature of knowledge; that as we arrive at the knowledge of one truth we are led to another. In this sense, we never cease to learn. Eastertide is a privileged time of instruction or particular catechesis known as mystagogy; that is, instruction in the mysteries: when we proceed from the visible to the invisible, from the sign to the thing signified, from the sacraments to the mysteries (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1075). Its aim is to lead us ever more deeply into the Mystery of Christ. ‘Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe’. So we contemplate the wounded side of Christ and we enter into the Mystery of Our Lord’s Sacred Heart whose love and mercy we receive and share with the world. This form of liturgical catechesis rightly presupposes a commitment to prayer, personal prayer that is reflective, silent and meaningful; and a serious effort to become mature in the practice of our faith. Because the ultimate Mystery is God Himself, we can easily understand why in the contemplation of this Mystery we are always beginners, always in need of initiation; and because we grow and change and our lives change, the reality of this Mystery must be brought to bear on the different stages of our lives. So we celebrate Easter anew this year and never exhaust the treasures of knowledge and wisdom that Our Saviour communicates to us through grace.

As we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, we recall that in our age God revealed the immeasurable riches of His grace through the witness of St. Faustina, a messenger of the Merciful Heart of Jesus. To her Our Lord entrusted the message of Divine Mercy and specifically the devotional prayer which we know as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. The chaplet is in essence, an extension of the Mass, the perfect prayer given to us by Our Lord. The Mass is Calvary and in the Mass Our Lord provides everyone who loves Him with an opportunity to be with Him on Calvary, where, for the world’s salvation He offered the Sacrifice of His Life. The prayers of the chaplet extend this offering: Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; In atonement for our sins and those who the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, Have mercy on us and on the whole world. These prayers echo the Solemn Intercessions of Good Friday which embrace the whole world and its needs; and they bring to mind the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, whose celebration is denied to the faithful during this pandemic. In some way the prayer of the Chaplet can help us at this to be united to the Masses offered by priests in the solitude of our empty churches. The Church lives from the Sacrifice of her Lord, the Sacrifice of Calvary. This Sacrifice is what sustains us and gives us hope. In His infinite goodness Our Lord has revealed to us a prayer that enables us wherever we are, to unite ourselves with His Sacrifice and offer to the eternal Father the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; In atonement for our sins and those who the whole world.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday as we rejoice in the peace and glory of the Resurrection and all the marvels that are wrought by the thread of God’s mercy that binds us all together, we affirm our belief that everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man, God does nothing without this goal in mind (St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue on Providence, Ch. IV, 138). This conviction should strengthen our resolve to remain faithful and merciful in this time of crisis. The circumstances we presently endure invite us to greater fidelity to prayer and active charity by practising the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We place our trust in the Risen Lord, confident in the saving knowledge that is ours in Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge… in whom the fullness of deity dwells bodily and in whom we have come to the fullness of life (Cf. Col. 2:3,9-10). ⧾