Dear Friends in Christ,
Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti! These Greek acclamations mean “Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen!”, and in the Christian East — both Catholic and Orthodox — these acclamations replace the usual greetings of hello and goodbye during the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost, the liturgical season of Easter or Eastertide. During Eastertide, the first eight days have a special identity, and today in the liturgical calendar — eight days after Easter Sunday — has three names: 1) the Octave Day of Easter, 2) the Second Sunday of Easter, and 3) Divine Mercy Sunday.
The number eight has special meaning in the sacred liturgy because it is a symbol of the new creation. The drama of creation unfolded over seven symbolic days, and the eighth day is the sign of God’s pluperfect love revealed in the new creation. This is foreshadowed in the Old Covenant through circumcision taking place eight days after birth and is confirmed by the Resurrection taking place on Sunday, both the first day of the week and the eighth day. Accordingly, in the liturgical calendar the eight days from Easter Sunday until today are kept as one festive celebration of the Resurrection, and today completes the eighth day or Octave of Easter.
Moreover, because the Gospel appointed for today speaks of the divine power to forgive sins which the Lord Jesus gave to his Apostles when he first appeared to them after his Resurrection, the emphasis of the liturgy today is on the great mercy of God. Modern devotion to the Lord Jesus as the embodiment of Divine Mercy is connected to the spirituality of St. Faustina, a Polish mystic and religious Sister who was canonized by Saint John Paul the Great. John Paul died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005, was beatified on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2011, and was canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2014. It was Saint John Paul who decreed that the Second Sunday of Easter would be kept as Divine Mercy Sunday, and now Pope Francis has announced a Jubilee Year of Mercy which will begin this fall on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will conclude in 2016 on the Solemnity of Christ the King.
In his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium or Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis explained that as a teenager he had a life changing experience of mercy by going to Confession. “After making my confession I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice or a call.” This moment of mercy in the life of Jorge Bergoglio helps explain his burning desire to share God’s mercy with others, and now as Pope Francis he describes the Church as a “community [that] has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy” (EG, 24). Let us keep this Octave of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, by resolving to seek the Lord’s mercy for ourselves and be instruments of that mercy for others. Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!