By Rev. Father David Watt
No. 699 of St Faustina’s Diary, speaking of Divine Mercy Sunday, says ‘The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment’. Interpretations vary widely.
Sometimes the text is glossed as follows: ‘…Confession [beforehand] and receive Holy Communion [on the actual day]...’. To say the least, this explanation itself requires explanation. For there is an asymmetry in the gloss which is not present in the literal text. As an example, what if someone not conscious of mortal sin receives Communion and actually receives absolution afterwards, all on Divine Mercy Sunday itself? To me, this would be a fulfilment of Our Lord’s conditions. (I am, of course, assuming that St Faustina has transmitted them correctly, though there is no obligation to believe this, even in the case of a devotion such as Divine Mercy which has been approved by the Church.)
On a personal note - because of the shortage of priests on Divine Mercy Sunday, I and other priests have sometimes heard Confessions from well before Mass, all the way through. It is difficult to believe that penitents “missed out” on Our Lord’s promise, simply by coming after Holy Communion.
Against the “liberalism” of the gloss – often interpreted to mean the Confession can be weeks prior - one might attempt a reductio ad absurdum – why not then say, by parity of reasoning, that the Communion too can be weeks earlier? For the text allows one as much – or as little – as the other.
There is however a possible defence here – praxis. Experts in the field assure us that in Poland, where the devotion originated, there was always this “liberal” view of the time for Confession. Whereas it seems agreed on all sides that the Communion needs to be on Divine Mercy Sunday itself (often interpreted, I think rightly, as including reception at the Saturday vigil Mass, since liturgically this is Sunday).
Why did Our Lord not express Himself with greater precision? Perhaps He wished to emphasize especially Confession being received on Divine Mercy Sunday itself (some take Him as requiring this, for the promise to be fulfilled), and before the Communion, which He mentions second. Ceteris paribus, the shorter the interval between the two Sacraments, the greater the chance of maintaining the state of
grace for this time. However (on this hypothesis) Our Lord deliberately used a form of words sufficiently vague as to allow His giving the same grace to a soul confessing, say, three weeks prior to Divine Mercy Sunday, and then maintaining the state of grace all the way through up to and including the receiving of Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday itself. It would be surprising if He “penalized” such a person, for even those with the strictest view of His words, agree that a notorious sinner who makes a good Confession on Divine Mercy Sunday itself, and then immediately receives Communion, if he dies there and then, goes straight to Heaven without having to pass through Purgatory; whereas the one who maintains the state of grace for three weeks before his Communion, has actually done more.
Often it is said the Confession may be up to 20 days after Divine Mercy Sunday itself. Is there sometimes confusion here between the promise of Our Lord – which will never be revoked – and something with the same effect: the plenary indulgence associated with Divine Mercy Sunday, which the Church has granted (29 June 2002) and therefore could also take away? For the latter, it is indeed sufficient to make the Confession afterward, if it is sufficiently close. For the plenary indulgence however – unlike Our Lord’s promise – more than just Confession and Communion is required; one of several extra conditions is freedom of attachment to sin – even venial sin. This condition, though challenging, is not as hard as it may seem. The key word is attachment, not attraction. The feelings may be strongly attracted to sin, but the condition is still satisfied if sin is firmly rejected by the will.