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Ask a Marian

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In "Ask a Marian," a recurring feature in our Friends of Mercy, the Marian Fathers answer questions from club members:

Missy emailed: There is this beautiful Divine Mercy Image that has been in the front of our church for a few years. Recently someone brought up to the pastor that Divine Mercy is a private devotion and said that it should be moved to the reconciliation room. I have been given permission to ask the parishioners what they want, but I wanted to see what you thought first.

The situation is not nearly as clear-cut as the person who complained to the pastor seems to think. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 67, briefly explains the purpose of private revelation and devotion: expressing the public revelation given by Jesus Christ in a way that can be more completely understood by a particular generation. The Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea stated that the canonical Gospel is handed down to us in two forms: written (the four Gospels) and painted (icons). The Divine Mercy Image can arguably be called an icon (a form of art which has always had a public, liturgical significance) in the Church rather than simply a painting; icons must be made according to a tradition of the Church, and not simply according to the whim of the painter. The Divine Mercy Image is private in its origin, but it expresses the public revelation of the Church about the mercy of the Heavenly Father. I do not believe it can be declared only a "private" revelation or devotion, as all the parts of the image relate to public revelation given in the New Testament.

Saint John Paul II emphasizes in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), section 2, that the merciful Father is revealed in and through Jesus Christ, and this is the purpose of the Divine Mercy Image. The particular forms of devotion are not strictly necessary for salvation, since those forms are meant to foster trust in the mercy of the Father, enabling us to receive that mercy and share it with our brothers and sisters. That is the essential part: trust and mercy. However, it might be foolish and imprudent to quickly throw away means provided by our Lord for our times to help us grow in that trust and in mercy.

Lastly, I want to emphasize that having a Divine Mercy Image in the confessional is also a good thing. At the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, we have them in both confessionals, and I find them very helpful to gaze upon, both when I am the confessor and when I am the penitent.

Cheryl wrote in: My Catholic niece is planning on having a civil marriage. If she has a civil marriage, will she still be able to receive Communion?

No, she will not be able to receive Communion. Unfortunately, if she enters into a merely civil marriage (rather than a sacramental marriage recognized by the civil authorities), she is committing an objectively grave sin. Now, only God Himself can see her heart to know if by doing this she in fact commits a mortal sin (which requires free, full consent of the will and full knowledge that what she's doing is wrong, as well as the gravely sinful act of marrying outside the Church). However, objectively, she is choosing a path that excludes her from the sacramental life of the Church.

Two further considerations:

1) In Baptism, Christ redeemed us and filled us with His Holy Spirit. Since He purchased (or redeemed) us by His Blood, we belong, not to ourselves, but to Him. Hence, only He can give us away to another human being in marriage. Having sexual relations outside of sacramental marriage is giving to another what does not belong to oneself, since one's body is not one's own but the Lord's.

2) One priest gave this example: A penitent went to Confession, unrepentant of being married outside the Church. So the priest, to prove his point, said, "Well, just so you know, I'm not really ordained, either. I don't think the Sacrament of Ordination is necessary to be a priest." The man protested, saying that's not right. So the priest drew the conclusion: "Why is it necessary for me to receive a Sacrament in the Church to be a priest, but not necessary for you to receive a Sacrament to be married?"

Leonard asked: As offerings to the Lord, I pray the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy (MMDM) Daily Prayer, say the Rosary, and make monthly contributions. When I miss the MMDM Daily Prayer and/or the Rosary, do I commit a sin? If I do commit a sin, is it mortal or venial?

The kinds of offerings you have written about are "supererogatory"; that is, they go above the call of duty. Hence, if they are omitted, you do not incur sin in the strict sense of the word. However, one must be careful to not merely be concerned about keeping the letter of the law (worrying only about breaking a commandment) instead of trying to keep what St. Paul would call the "spirit" of the law (see 2 Cor 3). The purpose of these offerings is to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ and Mary. If we consistently miss opportunities to commune with them, sooner or later our friendship with them will weaken or even disappear. This is true in human friendships, as well: If we continually omit moments of conversation and time together, then eventually the friendship will disappear. Hence, while missing your promised prayers once or twice is not a sin in the strict sense, it would be an imperfection (something that is not a sin but still requires correction to fulfill the will of God in its entirety). After all, Christ told us that we are all to be perfect as the Father is perfect (see Mt 5:48).

My suggestion to you would be that if you do miss a Rosary one day, offer up another Rosary the following day or when you have more time later on to make up for it. Again, all of this is still supererogatory (beyond the call of duty), but true love always goes beyond what is duty and seeks to please the beloved.

Got questions for the Marian Fathers? Email us at or write to Friends of Mercy, Marian Helpers Center, Stockbridge, MA 01263.

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