In 1931, a young Polish nun saw visions that would touch the life and death of Pope John Paul II.
Sr. Faustina Kowalska reported seeing a merciful Jesus dressed in white, with beams of red and white light shining from his heart.
In her diary, the cloistered mystic, described a 1936 vision in which she was told to write down this prayer as protection from divine judgment: “Eternal Father, I offer you the body and blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world; for the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
She said Jesus told her the image should be venerated, first in her chapel, and then, throughout the world. She said he also told her the rays depicted blood and water.
In 1956, artist Sr. Mary Luciana Kolasinski of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Third Order of St. Francis painted the third known image of Divine Mercy to be displayed in her convent in Stevens Point. On Nov. 19, 1958, nine months after the image was copyrighted, what was then known as the Congregation of the Holy Office decreed that images and writings propagating the Divine Mercy devotion as it was received by Sr. Faustina were not to be divulged. The same congregation reiterated that prohibition less than four months later. The prohibition was due to questions surrounding the translations from the diary of Sr. Faustina.
Approximately 20 years later, the translations were corrected and the ban was lifted. This reversal depended heavily upon the work of the cardinal archbishop of Krakow (Poland); in 1978, the same year the prohibition was lifted, that cardinal was elected pope and took the name John Paul II.
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Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27
The original image will be presented for veneration at Immaculate Conception – St. Mary Church, 108 McHenry St., Burlington. Recitation of the rosary begins at 2 p.m. and the day will conclude with solemn vespers and Benediction at 4 p.m.
The painting was moved to the basement of the convent until it found a home in the 1990s at the Franciscan Friary in Burlington. Several Catholics formed a rosary group and included the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in their weekly devotions, praying in front of the late Sr. Mary Luciana’s painting. She died in 1966.
After the friary closed, the prayer group was granted permission by the order to move the painting to the eucharistic adoration chapel at Immaculate Conception Parish in Burlington.
The image, in place when he arrived in 2009, is important to the adorers, explained Fr. James Volkert, pastor.
“Not only do they acknowledge and worship our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, but they are also to reflect on this great image of his Divine Mercy,” he said. “Spending time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament affords one time to make a good examination of conscience. Many times, the Lord helps us know and understand our failures, gives us the resolve we need to change, and most importantly, reminds us that his Divine Mercy and forgiveness is offered freely out of his love for us. This image is very warm and inviting, reminding us that we should know fear acknowledging our weakness, but welcome the opportunity, through the mercy of God, to begin again.”
With Fr. Volkert’s permission, parishioner Michael Raboine brought the image to the Men of Christ conference last month, and it caught the attention of Marian of the Immaculate Conception Fr. Michael Gaitley, a presenter at the event who has a devotion to Divine Mercy.
“He suggested that we get it professionally scanned and duplicate this image in print quality,” he said. “We got the permission of the sisters and made three large images of this beautiful painting that is much different than the other two Divine Mercy paintings.”
Not long after the conference, Raboine heard from a member of Fr. Gaitley’s order, in Stockbridge, Mass., that it would make copies of the print to hand out at Immaculate Conception Parish on Divine Mercy Sunday.
“We had to work on some issues with the copyrights that expired in 1986, and work on the dimensions of the print which does not fit a standard picture frame,” said Raboine. “On Sunday, we plan to hand out holy cards commemorating the day of canonization and then an 8” x 12” of the image that is suitable for framing with the story of the painting on the back. We are very excited about this. The sister’s art is beautiful and she has at least 50 more originals at the convent that could be reprinted if excitement builds about this image and her artwork.”
Devotion to Divine Mercy has grown in the years since the first Sunday after Easter, April 18, 1993, when Pope John Paul, who had championed the reinstatement of the Divine Mercy before he was pope, declared Sr. Faustina “blessed.” He canonized her on the first Sunday after Easter, April 30, 2000.
The decree establishing Divine Mercy Sunday was issued by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on May 5, 2000. Fr. Volkert said some have questioned the wisdom of celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday on the Second Sunday of Easter, as it seems it is a more penitential observance more fittingly commemorated during Lent.
“Among the reasons Blessed John Paul II designated the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday is because the Gospel of this Sunday describes the appearance of Jesus after his resurrection to the Apostles in the upper room. The first words he speaks to them are, ‘Peace be with you!’” he said. “After experiencing the sadness and grief of his death, the apostles are now filled with joy and peace. Then Jesus breathes on them and says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’ He gives the apostles the power to extend the mercy of God by extending forgiveness to the sinner. God’s Divine Mercy is made possible to us through the gift of Jesus imparted on his apostles and which is handed on to us today.”
Fr. Volkert believes the message of Divine Mercy resonates with Catholics as they contemplate the joy of the resurrection and the risen Lord’s presence in their midst.
“This allows us to celebrate and be mindful of his Divine Mercy offered to us every day,” he said. “I also think that the canonization of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, on Divine Mercy Sunday has also sparked an interest and curiosity about this day.”