Thursday, May 18, 2017

Casual Thoughts on Divine Mercy

Pictured: Doe-eyed mystic.
Recent times have seen a bit of backlash against the JP2-Approved "Divine Mercy" devotion and feast. Last year, Hilary White wrote an extensive hit piece on the What's Up with Francischurch? blog, and a few days ago the equally irascible Maureen Mullarkey expressed her disgust with the phenomenon. My interest in anything related to plenary indulgences has waned considerably as the Holy Father's monthly prayer intentions have become increasingly absurd, and while I have a grudging respect for the "Sacred Heart" movement, I find the prospect of reading Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska's diary to be even less attractive than the prospect of reading Stephenie Meyer's memoirs.

But aesthetic problems aside, the implications of the Divine Mercy Sunday devotion are somewhat troubling. If taken literally, the devotional practice is said to grant graces much greater than that of a plenary indulgence, graces greater than all the Sacraments except for Baptism, at the rank of a second Baptism. Gone is the usual indulgence requirement of complete detachment from sin; now we're in the dispensation of the New Pentecost, I suppose.

Still, what do I know? I cannot say I understand how P. John Paul's 1993 canonization of Sr. Kowalska and the creation of her Divine Mercy feast in 2000 deals with the apparently severe problems of her character and theology, so much as it sweeps them under the rug. The endless gibbering of JP2 2.0 about "mercy" is the logical endgame of mercy without penance.

One of the tragedies of the spiritual life used to be the soiling of one's baptismal garments. Rare even was the saint who never soiled that primordial purity with mortal sin. The stains of sin were difficult to wash out, and the loving desire for self-purification was a great drive for those wishing to please God and his Mother. Now this has been replaced with a yearly return to baptismal purity with little effort on the sinner's part, like Hera at Kanathos. But maybe this is what we require in these dark times? Maybe the Catholic faithful are so far lost in ignorance and apathy that God is reaching down into the depths to pull us up into his good graces. Maybe we have been trained so long to hate penance and perfection that Christ is outpouring his mercy in such a way that he is willing even for that to be abused by preachers, so long as it is received.

There is also a liturgical tragedy, for the old celebration of the Octave Day of Easter in its various forms (Low Sunday, White Sunday, Quasimodo Sunday, Pascha Clausum, etc.) has been lost. Like so many other octaves on the Roman kalendar, the Octave of Easter has been manipulated, though at least not eliminated. I cannot help but think that Karol Wojtyła was inspired by national loyalty rather than careful reasoning when he promoted Faustina's cultus and devotions to universal status.

Still, what do I know? On Low Sunday this year I thankfully heard a sermon that spoke of Jesus and Easter, with only a passing mention of the Divine Mercy stuff. Maybe one day I will dip into Sr. Kowalska's diary and present commentary on a few choice passages, but until then I have more interesting books to read.

Jesus' secretary "in this life and the next," pray for us!

14 comments:

  1. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/tribunals/apost_penit/documents/rc_trib_appen_doc_20020629_decree-ii_en.html

    "a plenary indulgence, granted under the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the intentions of Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday, in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, take part in the prayers and devotions held in honour of Divine Mercy, or who, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!");"

    So, you still have to be detached from venial sin.

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    1. Now that is interesting. Almost like the higher ups at the Vatican realized that the DM promise as it was presented by Sr. Kowalska was missing something important?

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    2. Yeah. The claim that one doesn't have to be attached to sin to gain the indulgence was a novelty to me.
      And also i don't understand why people who talk about the indulgence go with the revelations and not with what the Church actually says. Nobody actually interprets the 9 fridays of Sacred Heart promises as being possible to fulfill without the usual, i.e. grace, so it's puzzling to me why would anybody just go around the official documents...

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  2. Good piece, J.! I also liked Mullarkey's two articles, probably because I never warmed up to this devotion myself and was always a little resentful that it got superimposed on Low Sunday. (I'm not too fond of the artwork, either, not even of the "original" image--something just seems off.)

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  3. I cannot help but think that Karol Wojtyła was inspired by national loyalty rather than careful reasoning when he promoted Faustina's cultus and devotions to universal status.

    You might not be alone in that suspicion.

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    1. As a Pole, I would like to clarify something.

      The Divine Mercy Chaplet, while enjoying a great degree of popularity, was far from the most practiced devotion among Polish. The Black Madonna of Częstochowa (recogninzed by the state as Queen of Poland), the Seven Dolors, Our Lady of Perpetual Success, and the Marian Rosary (created in its current form by Dominic of Prussia, a Polish Carthusian) were far more popular. I know this because I had a Polish Grandmother who passed down her Catholicism to her descendants. The Divine Mercy chaplet was never more than a footnote to her far overshadowed by the Rosary.

      Personally, I find the chaplet to be alright. I just don't put stock in all the indulgence promises and would rather pray it for what it is.

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  4. I don’t mind it being on Low Sunday. It shows that Providence arranges the liturgy.

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  5. ABS has always been a cadre of one when it comes to Quasimodo and The Hunchback of Notre Dame for although he knows the putative reason for how that character came to be named that, ABS always thought Victor Hugo (raised a Catholic) was trying to indicate ol' Quasi was not only a hunchback but retarded and, thus innocent as a newborn babe (Baptised) even though Victor Hugo was decidedly not a Christian as an adult but that just goes to show its much more fun to have your own fantasies about fiction.

    It now seems that Quasimodo might have been based on a real man..

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/artsandentertainmentbooksreview/7945634/Real-life-Quasimodo-uncovered-in-Tate-archives.html

    but, far more interestingly, John Price mentioned him in this catchy tune

    https://youtu.be/b_PFDXEsFQc

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  6. It's a pity that a "private revelation" has been offcially added to the current edition of the New Roman Missal.I thought that this went against the public and liturgical customs of the church.

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    1. Our Lady of Lourdes, of Guadalupe, etc. are on the calendar.

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  7. Well, finding of the True Cross is a private revelation of sorts and it's a feast.

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  8. The Sacred Heart Devotion deserves more than a grudging respect. Besides all the good it has done in the Church, my own small experience (praying before a Sacred Heart statue), is that it brings a confident love of Jesus, yes, but also mixed with a sense of awe of the majesty of Christ's Person and the mystery of the Incarnation. Thinking of it as something merely sentimental shows a superficial understanding & lack of experience.

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    1. I just want to add: that the very peculiar mix of the sense of closeness to Christ with the sense of the majesty of His divinity, is something I've not experienced anywhere else except in this devotion. I know faith doesn't really on feeling or experience, and I don't make that much of it; I say this because I think that this - intimacy with the Heart of Jesus hypostatically united to the divine nature - must be of the essence of the devotion, and I want to defend it against the charge that it is empty sentimentality.

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    2. I'm not going to try to argue with your experience (to each his own), and I don't think I have claimed that the S.H. devotion is empty sentimentality. I do think its devotees sometimes tend in that direction and insist on treating their existential experiences with something nearing dogmatism—I know people who think I'm probably sinning by not having a "Sacred Heart enthronement" in my home—but any meditation on St. John's summary that "God is Love" can never be worthless.

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