Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In music, an octave (from the Latin octavus, from which we derive words like “octopus” and “octagon”) is a scale of eight notes, the first and eighth being the same note, simply at higher or lower pitches. The Church celebrates octaves as eight-day extensions of the most important feasts of the liturgical year. Today we come to the octave day of Easter, also called Divine Mercy Sunday. Just as musical notes that are an octave apart are the same, though at a different pitch, so Divine Mercy Sunday, an octave apart from Easter Sunday, gives believers the same mystery to celebrate, though at a different pitch. The day of Resurrection stands out as the definitive triumph of mercy over sin, of life over death. By His glorious Resurrection, Jesus has placed His mercy at our disposal for the rest of time. The octave day of Easter echoes that mercy and calls our attention to the way in which that mercy is made available and extended through time to those who profess faith in Jesus.
The post-Resurrection accounts that we read at Masses in the Easter season often begin with some mention of the apostolic band hidden with the doors locked. Even with such barriers, Jesus comes to them, showing them His hands, feet, and side, giving them the undeniable, visible proof that He has truly risen from the dead. In the Gospel today, we hear that He breathes on them, giving them the power of the Holy Spirit and the mission to forgive sins. In this moment, our Lord confirms the truth of the Resurrection, as well as the purpose not only of the Passion, but of the Incarnation itself. The empty tomb on Easter Sunday testifies to the truth that God has truly visited His people, that God so loves the world that the Son would become incarnate and take the sins of the world on Himself so that we might have forgiveness and life. The empty tomb of Easter Sunday is the visible proof that our sin has been forgiven and our death has been defeated. The octave celebration of this great mystery sounds the same note, but in a different pitch. Jesus appearing to the Apostles affirms that sins have been forgiven, but adds that this mercy is meant to be extended in time, not isolated to the past.
“Whose sins you forgive are forgiven.” Our Lord gives the Apostles a mission to forgive sins in His name. It is this command of Jesus to the Apostles that the Church has understood as the origin of the sacrament of confession/reconciliation/penance. This great sacrament of God’s mercy extends the victory of the empty tomb in time. That mercy that was won for us once, for all, on the Cross and by the Resurrection, is afforded to us again each and every time we confess our sins with true contrition. In the week leading up to Easter, our lines for confession were amazing. Throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport, and I’m sure throughout the country and the world, many came to receive the gift of Divine Mercy through the sacrament of confession. Fortunately for all of us, this sacrament is something available throughout the year. Just as we so often find ourselves in need of God’s grace, support, and mercy, so He desires to provide for our needs!
The pastoral practice of the Church from time immemorial, along with the wisdom of the saints, has long encouraged frequent encounters with the merciful love of the Risen Jesus in the sacrament of confession. I want to echo that historic encouragement. The Church has always taught that confession helps to prepare us for reception of the Eucharist. Prior to receiving Holy Communion, it is good for us to examine our consciences and see if we are spiritually prepared to receive the Lord. If we are aware of any serious, mortal sins, we should go to confession before approaching Communion. The sacrament of confession is so very needed, and such a source of grace. By it, we learn to be humble before God, to trust in His providence, and to understand that we are not defined by our sinful past. Confession helps us to look forward with hope, to ease spiritual burdens, and to invite God into our daily lives. Making this great sacrament a more regular part of our lives can feel daunting, so take small steps, but take them quickly! If it has been more than one calendar year since your last confession, go as soon as you can. If you are on an annual confession plan, consider increasing the frequency with which you avail yourself of this gift of mercy. Perhaps quarterly (if you think in terms of a fiscal year), or every marking period (if you are in school). Aim to get to confession every month. Resolve to seek God’s mercy whenever you recognize your need for it, and know that His mercy endures forever.