In a by-gone tradition, tomorrow was known as “Low Sunday” – a lesser Easter celebration – or “Quasi-modo Sunday” from the first two words of the Entrance antiphon at Mass: “Like newborn infants” referring to those baptized at Easter. It is the day that the newly baptized officially put away their white robes, hence, it is known liturgically as the “Sunday of putting away the albs.” And yes, the name of this feast, Quasi-Modo is the origin of the name in Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The foundling was so named because he was discovered at the cathedral on the second Sunday of Easter.
Another bit of trivia: in England, there was a strange custom on the Monday and Tuesday after Low Sunday, between the hours of 9 a.m. and noon. These two days became known as “Hoke Day.” (“Hoke” – related to “hocus pocus” is to perform in an exaggerated or overly sentimental way.) On Monday, men “captured” women to auction. On Tuesday, the women reciprocate by capturing the men for ransom and both days the money was given to the Church.
Now leap ahead to the Second Sunday of Easter in the Jubilee Year 2000. At the Mass for the canonization of Faustina Kowalska, Pope John Paul II made a surprising announcement in his homily: …” from now on throughout the Church, the second Sunday of Easter will be called ‘Divine Mercy Sunday.’ ” Thus, while it is clearly not a new feast, neither is it an optional title for this solemnity; rather, Divine Mercy is the integral name for the Second Sunday of Easter. For centuries the Easter liturgies have proclaimed the mercy of God. In tomorrow’s responsorial psalm we will sing four times, “His mercy endures forever.”
The Gospel for this feast begins with the risen Christ appearing to the apostles on Easter night. Jesus calms his disciples by sharing with them “Peace.” He shows them the scars of his Passion, his wounded hands and side, the evidence of his saving work through his suffering, death and resurrection. Then he breathes on them and explains what the divine breathing means with the words, “Receive the holy Spirit.” He gives to the apostles, from His treasury of divine mercy, the assurance there is nothing to fear. So important to remember especially this year. Think of it – this is our second celebration of Easter in pandemic times.
Pious devotions such as the rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet foster the virtue of trust in God’s mercy making participation in the sacraments, especially the liturgy of Eucharist and Reconciliation, more vital and fruitful.
There is a trend of late among many media services (thankfully) to close the evening news with an effort to balance stories of violence, horror and tragedy with illustrations of volunteer service, almsgiving and one-on-one forgiveness and kindness and other examples of “divine mercy” in action. Stories that stand out: heroism and neighborliness in times of COVID, floods and tornadoes, the expanding problem with world hunger, homelessness and closing of businesses; over-crowded hospitals, death, dying and stranded migrant children. And it is likely you may recall earlier stories. Like the one from 2006, the story of the Amish community that walked to the home of the man who had killed 5 of their children to tell his widow they forgave her husband for what he had done, and they consoled her for the loss of her spouse. They buried their anger before they buried their children.
Another not-to-be-forgotten story of forgiveness, you may recall, was depicted on the cover of TIME magazine 1984. Two men sit knee-to-knee, up close and personal in a prison cell. The younger man wears a black turtleneck sweater, blue jeans and white running shoes. The older man is dressed in a white robe and a white skullcap on his head. The two spoke quietly so as to keep others from hearing their conversation. The young man was an attempted assassin; the older man was Pope John Paul II, his intended victim. The pope held the hand that had held the gun with the bullet that had torn into his body. At the end of their 20-minute meeting, raising the pope’s hand, Ali pressed to his own forehead as a sign of respect. John Paul shook Ali’s hand tenderly. When the pope left the cell he said, “What we talked about must remain a secret between us. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.” John Paul’s deed has become an icon of living mercy.
These, and other stories, teach us that forgiveness is central. They show us in a real sense that God’s forgiveness depends on our being the first to extend forgiveness – starting with forgiveness of self for short-comings. That’s what the mercy of God is all about. These are but a few examples of God’s divine mercy in action. This is the gift of mercy we celebrate on Divine Mercy Sunday.
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress