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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Apr 16, 2009)
The following column was first posted on Jan. 17, 2007:

This week, a Mr. Dwyer asked: What is the difference between the special graces promised by Jesus for devout communicants on Divine Mercy Sunday, and the plenary indulgence for Divine Mercy Sunday devotions that was instituted several years ago by Pope John Paul II? Are they the same thing? Or are they different?

Simply put: They are NOT the same thing!

The main difference, of course, is that an "indulgence" is something offered to the faithful by the Church, as the keeper of the keys of the kingdom, with authority to "bind and loose" (see Mt 16:17-19). The special graces of Divine Mercy Sunday, on the other hand, were promised directly by our Lord, through a prophetic revelation given to St. Faustina (see Diary of St. Faustina, 699). The Church has not officially ruled that this particular promise was an authentic supernatural revelation (and no Catholic is required to believe it as a matter of faith), but the Church has discerned, in various ways, that there is nothing that violates Catholic doctrine in this promise.

Briefly, here are the other main differences between the "special graces" promised by Jesus for Mercy Sunday, and the plenary indulgence offered by the Church for special devotions to The Divine Mercy on Mercy Sunday:

1) The special graces that our Lord promised for Divine Mercy Sunday come solely through the reception of Holy Communion on that day, in a state of grace, with trust in The Divine Mercy. Any plenary indulgence granted by the Church, on the other hand, involves the fulfillment of a number of conditions, including prayer for the pope's intentions, confession and Holy Eucharist, and the carrying out of the special indulgenced work (in this case, participating in public devotions to The Divine Mercy on Divine Mercy Sunday itself).

2) The special graces promised by our Lord for Divine Mercy Sunday can be received by a soul in a state of grace, but with imperfect love for God, and imperfect contrition for sin — as long as the soul merely trusts in the mercy of God and clings to Him because of His promised benefits. A plenary indulgence, however, can only be obtained through the performance of an indulgenced work as an expression of pure love for God. If the intentions of one's indulgenced work are not pure (say, the work is done in part out of fear of hell or purgatory, and loathing for oneself — or the desire to impress one's friends and relatives! — rather than purely out of love for God) then the indulgence obtained will be only partial, not plenary.

3) The special graces that our Lord promised for Divine Mercy Sunday can only be received for oneself through the devout reception of Holy Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday (as stated in #1 above). A plenary indulgence, however, can be offered for oneself, or for souls suffering in purgatory.

4) The most special grace promised by our Lord for Divine Mercy Sunday is nothing less than the equivalent of a complete renewal of baptismal grace in the soul: "complete forgiveness (remission) of sins and punishment." Such a measure of grace can only be received otherwise through baptism itself, or through making a sacramental confession as an act of perfect contrition for sin, out of pure love for God.

As you can see, this is no easy topic. However, you can find a more in-depth treatment of this same subject by reading "Understanding Divine Mercy Sunday".

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at

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Carol - Apr 17, 2009

In the body of the article, you state that the special graces are received soley through the reception of the Eucharist. However, in St. Faustina's Diary quote, both confession and Holy Communion seem to be required, although Confession does not have to occur on the same day. Please explain.

Web Editor - Apr 17, 2009

Hi Sherrie,

Allow me to quote from a previous column of Dr. Stackpole, who addressed this question a year ago. He wrote:

"So, can a non-Catholic receive all the graces promised for Divine Mercy Sunday? Well, God is sovereign, so He can pour out His graces into the heart of anyone, in any measure, at any time if He wills to do so. But in general, He wills to pour out the fullness of His grace upon the world through the Catholic Church, so that we will all be united in one Body and one flock (see Jn 10:16; 17:20-23; and I Cor. 10:16-17).

"Thus, save for extraordinary cases (usually known only to God), the answer is "no" they cannot receive the extraordinary grace of a complete renewal of baptismal grace on Divine Mercy Sunday because that is a sacramental grace that comes through reception in a state of grace of Holy Communion, in and with His Catholic Church.

"Of course, non-Christians can sincerely pray for an outpouring of God's merciful love on Divine Mercy Sunday. They can make a "spiritual communion" (the benefits of which, for a non-Catholic, are known only to God). And they can trust Him for His mercy on that day. Then, they will be open to receive whatever special graces and guidance our Lord wants to give to them.

"But that is not quite the same thing as receiving the extraordinary grace of Mercy Sunday Communion, and I would guess that in most cases, one of the special graces our Lord will want to give them on that day, if they are open to receive it, is a sincere desire to draw nearer to His Church in its fullness, the Catholic Church.

"This does not mean that all card-carrying Catholics (so to speak) are necessarily better people, or more grace-filled than all non-Catholics. We all know Catholics who refuse to learn, in depth, the truths of their Faith, who do not devoutly receive the sacraments, and who fail miserably to cooperate with God's grace to lead a virtuous life.

"In the eyes of God, some non-Catholics (who have prayerfully and obediently accepted God's truth, such as they are able to discern it, and followed the promptings of His grace, to the extent they have access to it) are doubtless in a better spiritual state right now than these Catholics, who have every advantage of truth and grace, yet squander their spiritual inheritance!

"But again, Divine Mercy generally can be received in its fullness only in the Body of the merciful Christ on earth, which, in its fullness, is the Catholic Church He founded. It is in and through this Church that He wants to unite us all in truth and love (see I Cor 12:12-31). That is one reason why, even though some non-Catholics surely do make it to heaven, only Catholics can be canonized as saints. And that is what our Lord earnestly desires everyone of us to be: saints of His Merciful Heart!"

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God bless you!

Sherrie - Apr 17, 2009

I have read the book and am saying the Divine Mercy Novena and the chaplet. But I cannot go to confession or recieve communion because I have not yet completed my catechism classes.(yes I am 34 years old). My first communion will be May 29th 2009. My question is how can one fully participate in Divine Mercy Sunday,if one cannot go to confession or recieve communion. I want so bad to do all these things on Divine Mercy Sunday.

Fr. Donald - Apr 16, 2009

Very nicely done, Robert. I get asked this question all the time.