Sunday, April 11, 2021

Where Have You Gone, Quasimodo?

Today is known on the western Christian calendar by at least six names.

In the traditional Missale Romanum, it is referred to as “Dominica in albis octava Paschae” -- Sunday in White Within the Paschal Octave, when the robes of the neophytes were removed eight days after their initiation into the Sacraments during the Paschal Vigil. It is also known as “The Octave Day of Easter” or more colloquially as “Low Sunday.” It has also been popularly known as “Quasimodo Sunday” (my personal favorite, hence the title), after the first words of the Entrance Antiphon, or Introit: “Quasi modo geniti infantes, alleluia ...” (“Like newborn infants, alleluia ...”) In the churches of the East, it is known as “Thomas Sunday” as the same gospel is read as in the West, that of our Lord showing himself to the doubting apostle Thomas.

Since 2000, by decree of the late Pope Saint John Paul II, it is also known in the universal Roman calendar as Divine Mercy Sunday, "the culmination of the novena to the Divine Mercy of Jesus, a devotion given to St Faustina (Mary Faustina Kowalska) and is based upon an entry in her diary stating that anyone who participates in the Mass and receives the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist on this day is assured by Jesus of full remission of their sins." (from Wikipedia)

(I thought the Sacrament of Confession did that regardless of the time of year. This is what I get for using Wikipedia for an explanation.)

This brings up an issue which has concerned traditional Catholics in recent years, one that is presented in a 2010 issue of New Oxford Review by Robert Allard: "Is Divine Mercy Sunday Liturgically Correct?"

It is interesting to note that in the Tridentine Latin Mass, the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the epistle reading, 1 John 5:4-10, includes the mention of the blood and water as portrayed in the Divine Mercy image, not just once but three times each. This is important to note because the Feast of Mercy was established for the entire Church universal, not just for the ordinary form of the Mass.

There's also that part about Our Lord breathing on the apostles, giving them the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins. There's a bit of mercy for the rest of us right there. Not to mention that this devotion is mandated in its timing, on the basis of a private revelation, which in and of itself is not binding on the faithful.

Such devotions, to the extent that they would coexist with the liturgical year, must harmonize with it if they are to truly edify the faithful. This requires sufficient deference to the history of salvation as played out during the year, beginning with the incarnation, and continuing with the life, passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord, followed by his ascension into Glory, and the establishment of His Church on Earth through the work of the Holy Spirit.

That said, there is an aspect of this devotion that may appear problematic, one that has less to do with the Feast itself, than with the novena which precedes it, one that begins on Holy Thursday, and extends throughout the Octave of Easter.

Q. My pastor will allow us to pray the Divine Mercy Novena, but not on Good Friday or Holy Saturday. He says it interferes with the Holy Triduum, which are the holiest days of the year.

A. The Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) ushers in Easter Sunday and constitutes the most holy period of the Church year. The Divine Mercy Novena does not supersede the Triduum, but extends the Solemn General Intercessions of the Good Friday observance of Our Lord's Passion and Death throughout the whole octave of Easter, building up to the day of thanksgiving for Our Lord's Divine Mercy.

This response contradicts itself. It claims that the timing of the Novena doesn't "supersede" the Triduum, and then goes on to ignore its culmination. That makes no sense. Superseding is exactly what it does.

For nearly two millennia, the Easter season, including the Octave, has been devoted to the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the traditional requirement to abstain from meat does not apply on the Friday of this octave (which is why yours truly had a Rueben sandwich for lunch today), such is the magnitude of the occasion. The Fathers of the Church have told us, we have commemorated the fast, therefore let us celebrate the feast. Yet the novena is devoted to chanting thus: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Granted, at every Mass offered on any given day, we remember the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ -- the whole nine yards. But that comparison ends in the context of the liturgical seasons, the purpose of which is to shed a spotlight on a particular aspect of salvation history at the liturgical year progresses. There is sufficient reason to doubt that the emphasis made by this novena, given its timing, sheds that spotlight appropriately, even if we reduce it to a mere devotion (as opposed to the official prayer of the Church through her liturgical life).

If we read the history of the development of this Feast that is the Sunday within the Octave of Easter, if we understand what the readings and the orations are trying to tell us, we might consider the possibility that Our Lord was telling Sister Faustina something of Himself, which He has been trying to say to His Bride, our Mother the Church, all along. At the same time, She has long admonished us to be prudent with respect to the messages of private revelations. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 65-67).

While accepting the judgment of the Apostolic See in this matter of the Sunday commemoration itself, we may wish to re-examine this devotion in relation to the whole of the liturgical year. Even if the novena is not a liturgical act in the official sense, its use in parishes during the octave of the Resurrection misses the big picture, which is ...

“We have commemorated the fast, therefore let us celebrate the feast.”

... for eight days, if not forty, and if you don't mind.

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To learn more about the devotion to the Divine Mercy, visit the website of the Apostles of Divine Mercy at DivineMercySunday.com, or that of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception at TheDivineMercy.org. For a guide to praying the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, go to the appropriate page at EWTN.com.