Maria Faustina Kowalska was born in Poland in 1905. She entered the convent of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw when she was 20 years old. Experiencing private revelations from Christ St. Faustina began to promote devotion to the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ. The Church has recognized several instances of private revelation from Christ or the Blessed Virgin Mary as for example, in Fatima or Lourdes. One common theme of these heavenly encounters is that they emphasize apostolic teaching and do not introduce new doctrine.
In the case of St. Faustina’s writings, she highlights the concepts of purgatory and indulgenced actions. St. Faustina received from Christ a prayer, the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Someone who recites the Divine Mercy Chaplet in a group on the First Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), goes to confession and receives communion within eight days receives a plenary indulgence. (“Indulgences attached to devotions in honour of Divine Mercy”, 29 June 2002, Apostolic Penitentiary, Archbishop Luigi De Magistris). This was a powerful message for the mid twentieth century world skeptical about hell, sin and divine judgement.
To briefly summarize Apostolic Church teaching; Christ died on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven. We experience forgiveness for sin most commonly in baptism or confession. Forgiveness for sins and reconciliation with God is His free gift. We can’t earn that by our actions. However, reparation must be made for past sins (cf Matthew 5:26). This is why we perform penitential acts in this life and, perhaps undergo purification in purgatory after we die. Surprisingly purgatory is rejected by many Christians today in spite of the pervasive biblical witness. Purgatory is actually a more common theme in the Old Testament than the New. The problem is language. Purgatory is a Latin word, which, of course, does not appear in the bible since none of the biblical texts have any Latin words. The Hebrew word is Sheol, roughly translated into English as “the place of the dead.” Really good bible translations (eg Revised Standard Version) leave the word untranslated as Sheol. Israelite (Old Testament) teaching was that every human who died went to Sheol, a sort of “holding tank” until the coming of the savior. In short, Sheol and Purgatory are the same thing (CCC 633). Purgatory (Sheol) is where the faithful departed make reparation for their sins in life. I’d love to go into a longer analysis, but probably shouldn’t take the space here.
Our prayers can help our departed loved ones. We know this intuitively. We pray for our deceased family and friends. We offer Masses for them. The Church formalized this a long time ago in the idea of Indulgences which, by an indulgenced act, remove the temporal punishment for sin. Pope Francis led a Holy Hour on March 27 to which he, as supreme pontiff, attached a plenary indulgence. Praying the Rosary in a group, going to confession and receiving communion within eight days grants a plenary indulgence. That is the removal of all temporal punishment for sin, for us or, more importantly, for someone we have loved and lost in death.
The message of Divine Mercy Sunday is the message of the cross, the message of the Mass, God’s abounding mercy. Christ came into the world to bring us reconciliation. He shows us the way to live. At the last supper, Christ said to the apostles, “These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25 – 26). This guidance is a part of His Divine Mercy. Even more, on that first Easter, when Christ appeared to the apostles, confirming what He said at the Last Supper, “He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:22 – 23). This is the mercy of God. Not only to forgive our sins and restore us to His family, but to show us the way.