On Mercy Sunday a sobering thought from a Pope about fear and that terrible day

As we have come to Low Sunday, Dominica in albis, I reviewed something of what Fathers of the Church had to say about our Gospel passage on this famous Sunday: John 20:19-31.

Pope St. Gregory the Great (+604) preached on this very passage in the Basilica of St. John Lateran on the 1st Sunday after Easter. Here is the very end of his sermon, which sheds a different, and I think needed, light on the theme of “divine mercy”.

Thus Gregory the Great:

Consider again, beloved brethren, this important truth, and carefully endeavour to be preserved from the eternal perdition. These Easter-days are celebrated with great pomp and magnificence; yet our duty is to make ourselves worthy of arriving at the eternal Festivals. You endeavour to be present at these feastdays, which pass and disappear; try, then, your utmost to be one day present, all together, at the never-ending celebration in heaven. What would it profit you to assist at our festivals now, were you never to be admitted to the festivities of the angels in heaven? Our present feast-days are only the shadow of those we are expecting, and, though year after year we are celebrating them, we are longing for those never-ending days in the kingdom of God. Renew in your hearts the desire of the eternal festivities by the celebration of the annual earthly festivals. Let the happiness granted to us in the present time penetrate us in such a way that we continue sighing for the eternal happiness prepared for us in heaven, and ardently desired by us on earth. Prepare yourselves for that eternal rest by amending your lives and practising virtue and holiness. Never forget that He Who in His Resurrection was meekness itself, will be terrible when coming to judge the world. On this awful day He will appear surrounded by Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Principalities and Powers. On that day heaven and earth and all the elements, being the ministers of His wrath, will be in a general conflagration. May this terrible Judge be ever present to the eyes of your mind, that, penetrated by a salutary fear of His severe judgment, that is to be held, you may confidently expect His corning. Let us fear now, that we may be without fear then, and this fear will help us to avoid sin and work out our salvation. For I tell you that the more we are now afraid to rouse the anger of our Judge against us, the greater will be our confidence when we appear before Him at the end of the world.


Also, let us strive in our liturgical celebrations both to anticipate the beauty of the heavenly liturgy before the throne of God, and also to encounter within those sacred mysteries the mystery which is the remedy for our fear of death.

If our liturgical worship does not prepare us truly for the moment in which we come to the Judge, then our liturgical worship has not provided what we truly need.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. I took the family to confession to the local parish up the street, we got there 15 min early and there was about 6 people in line already – it appeared a wedding had just gotten out but the line was already moving – I gather Father was in the confessional at least 30 min before his 3:30 start time.

    This local parish has seen quite a turn around recently – I haven’t been to a liturgy there in a while but they have replaced their Tabernacle-on-a-post with a Traditional Altar (but I don’t think you can say mass on it) with Tabernacle in the center and now 2 Traditional candles.

    They also did some marble tile work all the way up and it looks leaps and bounds better.

    The confession lines are always long and I have even seen a 3rd priest jump in from time to time to hear confessions because there are so many people.

  2. Major like: Fr. Z’s commentary begins and ends with confession :)

  3. Supertradmum says:

    One thing which is still hard, although not in my Dorking parish, [I know that Dorking is a place, but I love the sound of “my dorking parish”. o{]:¬) ] where Confession is regular and often, is that many parishes have an ask and go policy. People do not want to ask.

    Some of the best priests I know have regular Confession. This makes it so much easier for the laity.

    Good reminder from the Pope. However, daily I meet people who do not believe in hell or if it is there, it is empty, so they think.

    Even some priests say this. I had a long conversation when on retreat with some guests on this point. People just do not believe in Original Sin or the effects of Original Sin. They do not want to make distinctions between actual grace and sanctifying grace and minimize the efficacy of the sacraments. Sigh, so much error has been accepted.

  4. Jason Keener says:

    THAT, dear friends, is a sermon! When is the last time any of us heard that kind of clear Catholic message at Mass on a Sunday morning? Not too often, I’m afraid…

  5. cheerios in my pocket says:

    I’m confused Fr. Z. [Oh dear. Are you?] Isn’t that what is stressed about Divine Mercy through the writings of St. Faustina? Is that what will and is being stressed at our Divine Mercy Shrine? [I am confident that you will work it out. Happy Sunday and Happy Easter!]

  6. Texas trad says:

    Thank you Father Z for your urging toward more Confession. On first Friday in February, I found myself dying in an emergency room of a rare, sudden and deadly blood disorder when 3 days before I was a picture of heath and fitness. Even with my physician husband next to me and 3 teams of doctors, my outlook was extremely grave. Our priest arrived as quickly as possible and administered the traditional Last Rites in latin. He asked for my Confession which I was able to speak and then I received Communion. Before he left, he whispered in my ear, “everything that happens to you today must be offered for the Souls in Purgatory.” That was the last thing I remember. Nothing in this world will prepare you for hearing your own Last Rites spoken. Many priests have said “you never know if you will be able to give a last Confession on your deathbed.” So true. Miraculously, I survived a temporary disease that has a 95% mortality rate. As I grew closer to death over the day, I had a glimpse of the hereafter and someone all in white waiting to take me there. It was very peaceful and I was not in pain. Please, dear readers, stay current with Confession. You never know when death calls. Every Catholic claims to have a desire to die on First Friday at 3:00 as I was , but we should include a more important desire which is to have Last Rites that includes Confession.

  7. TexasTrad, thank you for sharing this. I’d also like to join Julian: major like when Fr. urges us to go to confession. Thank you, Fr. Z. I will go next Saturday.

  8. NoraLee9 says:

    TexTrad: I am grateful for your testimony. I am headed out to Mass this morning. I am going early to get my confession heard.

  9. Christopher says:

    Thank you for Pope St. Gregory the Great’s quote Father,

    God Bless.

  10. pray4truth says:

    Because of all I’ve learned about The Feast of Divine Mercy and from Fr. Z, my husband, who was just brought into the Church last December, and I are frequently receiving the sacrament of confession! It’s made all the difference in our lives. [My work here is done.]
    Thank you Fr. Z and GOD ALMIGHTY for Your generous gift of Divine Mercy (which is a call to full conversion and living The Faith)!!!
    Everyone… Go to confession often!!!

  11. catholicmidwest says:

    Flannery O’Connor once wrote about something she had seen written that it “neatly demonstrated how “the moral sense has been bred out of certain sections of the population, like the wings have been bred off certain chickens to produce more white meat on them. This is a generation of wingless chickens, which I suppose is what Nietzsche meant when he said God was dead.”

    This is what Pope Francis is addressing. The world has awakened and it has found itself not Arian this time, but Gnostic. It believes itself to possess utter plasticity. It’s everywhere; it’s even taken up residence in the Catholic Church in a big way. But in order to accept it, one has to deny the givens of human nature and God, the practical computation of what is possible and what is not, the reality that humanity is not omnipotent. And it causes a person to lose the taste for heaven, and the connection between the sacraments and heaven.

  12. cheerios in my pocket says:

    Fr. Z, I think your comment was less than helpful. It seems that so many are quite grateful to you, but it seems like you are saying the same thing as what is being said today at the Divine Mercy Shrine, yet your tone seems, I can’t put my finger on it but basically upset? Are you? [Nice try. You don’t get to divert this into a rabbit hole about me.]

  13. acardnal says:

    ” but we should include a more important desire which is to have Last Rites that includes Confession.”

    There is an old saying in the Church for which we should all be praying daily: “”From a sudden and unprovided death, deliver us, Lord” which is what “Texas trad” above is talking about. We should pray daily for ourselves – and for everyone and any one who may die that day – that they have an opportunity to express contrition and to die in a state of grace. Amen.

    [One of the petitions in the Litany of Saints: a morte subitanea et improvisa, libera nos Domine. VERY important.]

    a morte subitanea et improvisa, libera nos Domine

  14. OrthodoxChick says:

    This line from above hit me, “Prepare yourselves for that eternal rest by amending your lives and practising virtue and holiness. ” I also really like you giving us the latin, “a morte subitanea et improvisa, libera nos Domine.”

    I was browsing through my local Catholic bookstore today and I came upon and bought a book called, “The Divine Office for Dodos”. Not kidding. That’s the actual title. I’m hoping to learn how to say the Diving Office so I can develop some discipline and structure in my daily prayer life, as well as a stronger sense of tradition. My prayer life is a little too loosie-goosie at the moment, I’m afraid. Now I can add your above Latin prayer to it. If I make any progress at all in growing in virtue and holiness, I will happily give credit to your blog, Fr. Z. I wouldn’t have even known where to begin without you.

  15. acardnal says:

    OrthodoxChick, I read that book when I couldn’t find anyone to teach me how to pray The Office several years ago. I found it helpful. Now I am in the process of migrating to the Divinum Officium.

    If you get lost, you may find it helpful going to http://divineoffice.org/ to ensure you are on the right page(s).

  16. OrthodoxChick says:

    acardnal, thanks for the link.

  17. Kathleen10 says:

    Texas Trad, thank God you are now well! Thank you for sharing your experience.

  18. Texas trad says:

    Catholic Coffee, Nora Lee, Acardnal and Kathleen 10:
    Thank you so much for your well wishes and comments. St. John Vianney cried at his own Last Rites because “it is the last time I will receive our Lord.” Confession is not just for Easter, All Souls and All Saints Day and Christmas. You just never know when death will come. I can’t recall who said it but, this is so true…”Death is God’s calling card.”

  19. Indulgentiam says:

    @OrthodoxChic-2:07p- The Benedictine Monks at Clear Creek Abbey chant the Divine Office daily. Anyone can attend most of them. They post a schedule amd believe me it is sooooo worth the drive. They are in Oklahoma and have a guest house. I will place the link below. They chant the Divine Office and Mass with such reverence and devotion that a person can’t help but think “that’s as close as humans can get to prayer worthy of the Almighty” I’m not even in the neighborhood of close but they gave me direction to head in. They have a cd but not all th offices are on it.


    “. For I tell you that the more we are now afraid to rouse the anger of our Judge against us, the greater will be our confidence when we appear before Him at the end of the world.”
    Pure unadulterated LOGIC. Easy to see why he is called The Great. Plenty to meditate on. Thank you Fr. Z

  20. NickD says:

    Father…what happens when you try to go to confession, and some hippy-dippy, vacuous, “spirit of Vatican II” priest foists a dubious “absolution” upon you? Today, having some sins and in grave need of confession, I talked to the only priest available before Mass. I confessed, said the Act of Contrition, and then the absolution…he kind of muttered a half-way approved, truncated formula then said “I forgive you your sins.” I asked him to say “I absolve you.” Just those three words (as has been discussed, absolvo te is probably valid, and I figured “probably” is better than “probably not”). He demurred, and by that time he needed to start Mass. I received Holy Communion. I am still in doubt over the sacrament’s validity and whether I should have communicated. I spent most of Holy Mass in distracted spiritual turmoil. And on Divine Mercy Sunday no less (which he didn’t mention. Once.)

    My questions to you, Father: was this absolution valid? Even maybe valid?
    Should I have received Holy Communion, while I was still in doubt as to the state of my soul?

    On a related note, the aforementioned priest ad-libbed most of the Mass. Thankfully, he excepted the words of consecration from his personal nuances and agenda. He is coming up on his 50 year ordination jubilee, so he is of a certain generation.

    a morte subitanea et improvisa, libera nos Domine

    I will hopefully confess at my parish tomorrow.

    [First, since you are going to confession again tomorrow, just confess what you confessed before to be sure. I will delete any other advice offered from the gallery about this concrete matter, since this isn’t a good place for this discussion is it?]

  21. NickD says:

    sorry all: I didn’t realize that I neglected to close my italics with the proper code. I really need more sleep.

  22. NickD says:

    argh! I will just quit now, while I’m behind

    [EVERYONE: Please only the code that this software allows? em not i for italics please. And close the tags?]

  23. Nick, sorry to hear about your experience :( – but wow for asking the priest for the correct form of absolution!
    Not to divert the topic but Nick has mentioned Mass, so please allow me to share this: today is the Feast of the Annunciation. I live in the UK in an area of about a million people (=so not in a remote rural location). I cannot go to Mass today because I happen to have a job and priests here celebrate weekday Mass in the middle of the morning (10.00 a.m. or so). I am in my 40s and looking forward to being a pensioner so I can get to daily Mass. Of course only if the Lord gives me health, too, because I will have to be able to drive, given that by that time there will be hardy any priests at all. Now, I wonder why… :((( Those of you who can go to Mass today, please say a little prayer for those of us who can’t… Thank you.

  24. Supertradmum says:

    CatholicCoffee, in the old days, before Vat II, my parish had two daily Masses; one at 6:30 and one at 8:00. As I was in a choir which sang Requiem Memorial Masses, frequently, I had to be at both. The 6:30 was attended by men on their way to work. Almost all the people at that early Mass were men of working age.

    It is sad that the habit in England of having daily Mass at 10 or 10:30 has become a norm in so many places.

    God bless you. The young need the Mass just as much as those who are retired.

  25. Imrahil says:

    And the retired in their majority have a habit of getting up early, anyway.

  26. Lucas Whittaker says:

    Father Z: Thank you for posting this. [From sacramentum caritatis §46:] “Preach in such a way that the homily closely relates the proclamation of the word of God to the sacramental celebration and the life of the community” CHECK!

    Supertradmum: I hear what you are saying about appropriate Mass times. During a particular time of my life I was fortunate enough to “hit” Mass “on” my drive home from work at a parish with a chapel named for the Hoy Spirit where I was occasionally fortunate enough to see a quite reverent priest saying the Mass. His “ars celebrandi” was inspiring, moving. However, the 5:15 PM Mass was basically cut at some point, leaving me unable to attend Mass at all during the week, since I began work at 6AM. It was “easier” for me to live my faith during the week when I could attend daily Mass since: “faith is expressed in the rite, while the rite reinforces and strengthens faith.”

  27. Thank you, Supertradmum. I am from Eastern Europe, completely post-Vatican II (due to my birth date) and at my last parish in 2004 the first morning Mass was at 6.15 am. In most churches it was some time between 6 and 7. Schools, offices and most shops open at 8.00 am., so this is 2-1 hrs before. Using the same principle in the UK morning Masses should be at 7-8 am. I have no idea how the UK has arrived at having the morning Mass one hour after most people start work and students start school; nor how priests in the UK can justify this… :(

  28. NickD says:

    Sincere apologies, Father. I will e-mail you on similar matters in the future, and actually *check* the code next time!

  29. Nick, if you use the “preview” button, you can see what your code does to the text and correct it if necessary before posting it.

  30. tom g says:

    It’s good to have Father Z’s reminder about the value of frequent confession and absolution, and it’s a rather big scandal to go to confession in my local parish with, say, one or two other people in the chapel waiting to confess, and then go to Sunday Mass and receive the Eucharist among hundreds and hundreds of people. I try not to be judgmental about these hundreds, but it’s tough. Being judgmental is not a nice thing, and frankly I detect a bit too much of it in Father Z’s blog. God is a Terrible Judge, and all too many people decided to ignore the Terror amidst the permissiveness and moral laxity that came in after Vatican II. But on the other hand John Paul II’s championing of Divine Mercy seems to me to have been intended, purposely, to overcome negative images and feelings about a Terrible Divine Judge. Are we wrong to abandon the image of Terror–and the fear that goes with it? I think not. The solution here lies in living our daily lives with hope, as Benedict says in Spe Salvi — with the expectation, indeed the eager expectation, of God’s loving embrace at the end of our lives, not his Wrath. That’s what Pope Francis seems to offer–eager hope and joy, and the embrace of a God who never tires of forgiving. Whether you or I embrace the Fear, or the Joy, depends on what our consciences, formed of course by the teachings of the Church, lead us to embrace. Let’s go for the Joy and not the Fear, despite Saint Gregory the Great’s warning. Among other things, this choice will make us better re-evangelizers, offering hope and not fear to lapsed Catholics and indifferent folks of every sort. In a twenty-first century world of religious indifference, fear of hell and its punishments will not convert a single religiously indifferent person to Christianity.

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