Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

April 7: Second Sunday of Easter

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Sunday of Divine Mercy

Acts 4:32-35; Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20:19-31

This Sunday has been known by different names. Early liturgical books referred to it as White Sunday. It was the last day on which the newly baptized wore the white garments they received at their baptism that took place during the Easter Vigil.

In the Middle Ages, it was common to refer to Sundays as after the first word of the antiphon sung as the Mass began. Today’s entrance antiphon is “Like newborn infants, you must long for pure spiritual milk” (1 Pt 2:2). The Latin word translated as “like” is “quasimodo.” This Sunday then was once known as Quasimodo Sunday.

Today Quasimodo is better known as the name of the main character in Victor Hugo’s novel, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Quasimodo was a foundling adopted by the archdeacon of Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral. The archdeacon named the foundling after the day he was left on the doorstep of the cathedral: Quasimodo Sunday.

In English-speaking countries, this Sunday was also known as Low Sunday. Perhaps it was because after the liturgical extravaganza of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday, the liturgy of this Sunday was comparatively low-key. Pope St. Paul VI’s 1970 missal called this Sunday simply “the Second Sunday of Easter.”

In 2000, Pope St. John Paul II designated this Sunday as Divine Mercy Sunday. The visionary St. Faustina Kowalska, who promoted devotion to the mercy of God, said that Jesus requested this designation.

Today’s responsorial psalm takes up the motif of divine mercy with the refrain in its first stanza: “[God’s] mercy endures forever.” The Hebrew word translated as “mercy” is “hesed,” a word for which we have no precise English equivalent. It refers to that quality of people who are bound to each other in a covenant.

That word may have its origins in the legal sphere, but its use in the Scriptures clearly has an affective dimension. God is passionately attached to the people of Israel and, by adoption, to the Christian faithful with the bond of everlasting love.

Love is the glue the binds the three Persons of the Trinity in a bond so intense that they share a single nature. As boundless and deep as this love is, it is still not enough. The love of the Trinity bursts forth in a creative impulse that brought the cosmos into existence. Of all of God’s creatures, only human beings can respond to their Creator with love. God waits for, longs for that love.

The great tragedy of human existence is humanity’s failure to reciprocate God’s love. Still, that is not the end. Through Jesus Christ, God reaches out to God’s human creatures for “[God’s] mercy endures forever.”

It is the church’s great mission to speak about that merciful love. But the church cannot speak about the mercy of God without speaking of the cross. The risen Christ shows the disciples the wounds on his hands and in his side before he commissions them to be the instruments of divine mercy.

The great anomaly of the appearances of the risen Christ is the transformation of Jesus’ body, which is no longer subject to the laws of physics, but which still bears the wounds he received on the cross. These wounds then are the wellspring of God’s mercy that endures forever.

Over the years, this Sunday has been known by several names. Perhaps the Sunday of Divine Mercy is the most appropriate of all. In writing about mercy, Pope Francis asserted that “mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the church; it constitutes [the church’s] very existence, through which the profound truths of the Gospel are made manifest and tangible. Everything is revealed in mercy; everything is resolved in the merciful love of [God].” For this we give thanks on this Sunday of Divine Mercy.



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