The Sunday after Easter has had various titles through the centuries. One ancient title, which was used in the Roman Missal was “Dominica in Albis,” which means “Sunday in Whites.” Scholars concluded that originally the title was “Dominica in Albis Deponendis,” that is “Sunday of Laying aside White [Garments].” The neophytes, who had been baptized at the Easter Vigil, were given new, white garments to wear when they emerged from the baptismal pool. They would wear them for a week and, on this Sunday, resume wearing ordinary clothing.
Another title was “Quasimodo Sunday.” This follows the custom of designating Mass texts by the opening word(s) of the introit. When the Mass was only used on a particular Sunday, the title was also given to the day. The introit for the Sunday after Easter began with a quote from 1 Peter 2:2, “Like newborn infants [newly born through baptism, that is], long for pure spiritual milk,” in Latin “Quasi modo geniti infantes rationabile concupiscite lac.” So the hunchback of Notre Dame was called Quasimodo because he was born on Quasimodo Sunday.
In English speaking countries, it was also called “Low Sunday,” because after the peak Sunday of the year, it was, relatively speaking, low. As with “Dominica in Albis,” it may also suggest the end of the Church’s week long celebration of Easter and a return to usual activities.
More recently, with a view to the 50 day Eastertide of the liturgy, it has been known as the Second Sunday of Easter.
Now the subtitle “Divine Mercy Sunday” has been added. This comes from popular devotion based on the writings of a Polish nun of the first half of the 20th Century, St. Faustina Kowalska. She wrote of having visions of Jesus in which he presented himself as the exemplar of the mercy of God and urged people to invoke divine mercy in their prayers. She also reported that Jesus asked that this Sunday be designated “Divine Mercy Sunday.” Pope St. John Paul II both wrote an encyclical about God’s mercy titled “Dives in Misericordia,” that is, “Rich in Mercy” — a phrase taken from Ephesians 2:4 — and designated the Sunday as requested by St. Faustina.
Pope Francis has followed up, in a way, by designating this year a jubilee year to be called the Year of Mercy. So there is considerable emphasis in the Church on God’s mercy today. Nevertheless, the scriptures assigned to the day were put in place for the Second Sunday of Easter before its designation as Divine Mercy Sunday. So we begin with a reading from Acts about the time after Jesus’ resurrection, then hear the first of a series of passages from Revelation, and conclude with an account from John about post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Only the responsorial psalm explicitly mentions mercy.
The first reading — Acts 5:12-16 — tells of the respect in which the apostles, and especially Peter, were held in Jerusalem. Peter and Jon had cured a cripple at the temple gate by invoking the name of Jesus, and had been ordered by the chief priests not to preach about Jesus, but they persisted, and cures continued and faith in Jesus spread. In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks of six ways of showing love to others, including caring for the sick. These, along with have come to be called “corporal works of mercy.” Then seven “spiritual works of mercy” were identified, one of which is “instructing the ignorant” and another “converting sinners.” The apostles are engaged in these works of mercy, in which God’s mercy reaches people through them.
The responsorial psalm — Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24 with verse 1 as the refrain — proclaims that God’s love (mercy, “misericordia,” in the Latin of the liturgy) is everlasting, and the first strophe urges all to proclaim that everlasting mercy. The final strophe contains two verses which have become classic in the tradition of the Church going back to the New Testament. By his resurrection, Jesus, rejected by the chief priests, has become the cornerstone of God’s people; and the Lord has made the day of his resurrection (and by extension every Sunday) a day of rejoicing.
In the second reading — Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19 — we hear of John’s vision of the heavenly Jesus who once was dead but now lives forever.
The gospel — John 20:19-31 — tells of two appearances of Jesus after his resurrection. The first takes place on the evening of the first Easter Sunday, and the second a week later, which would be this Sunday. Thomas’ absence on the first occasion, his doubting of what he was told, his subsequent presence and vision of the Lord, with his enthusiastic proclamation of Jesus as not only his Lord but also God, serve as an encouragement to hearers of the gospel to believe. Beyond that, it is an instance of God’s mercy. When Thomas doubts, God does not condemn him or dismiss him from the company of the apostles. He mercifully calls Thomas to faith, just as he mercifully forgives Peter for his denials. So it is with us: God mercifully calls us to repentance and forgiveness — a forgiveness which the conferral of the Holy Spirit on the apostles enables the Church to extend on God’s own authority.