Two currently and widely recited prayers of the 20th century are the prayer taught to the children of Fatima by our Lady and the prayer for mercy taught to Sister Faustina by our Lord, himself. These, of course, are new prayers from private revelations, but in spirit, they are as old as the public revelation to the Jews, and its completion in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.
Prayers for Mercy
These 20th-century prayers are on the theme of mercy, which is also evident in ancient revelation. One item of evidence is Psalm 33:11,18-22:
The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
to deliver their soul from death,
and to keep them alive in famine.
Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
Our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.
Similarly, the New Testament is full of expressions of mercy by our Lord. Let two quotes suffice:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37)
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
The thought of the heart of God is mercy through all generations.
The Fatima Prayer
Our Lady of Fatima asked the children, now declared Saints Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia, to append the following prayer to each decade of the rosary.
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who have most need of your mercy.
In this prayer, we acknowledge the universal need of God’s mercy, especially those in most need of it. Of course, in each one’s immediate experience the one in most need is oneself. We pray for everyone without exception and we pray for the seemingly most depraved. In doing so we beg for mercy, especially for ourselves. In this, we pray that the very mission of the Incarnation be fulfilled,
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)
The Prayer for Divine Mercy
The short form of the prayer for Divine Mercy is said as the five decades of the Divine Mercy Chaplet:
For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
The longer version is said at the beginning of each decade:
Eternal Father, I offer you the body and blood, soul and divinity of thy dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.
This is the essence of the Mass. In saying the Divine Mercy Chaplet we unite ourselves in offering the Mass where it is presently being celebrated somewhere in the world. It is indeed in the Mass that Jesus Christ is in the world saving sinners.
Focused on the Mass
As noted above, our Lord in his mercy came into the world to save sinners. He does so preeminently in the sacrifice of his life on the Cross. Although this is a singular sacrifice “once for all” (Hebrews 7:27), God is mindful of our condition in time and makes this singular, but eternal sacrifice for sin, present to us in our time. Not only is the sacrifice, which is the expiation of our sins, present to us before our very eyes, but, in removing the impediment of our union with God, Jesus then unites himself to us in Holy Communion.
An appropriate private prayer before Mass would be, “Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who have most need of your mercy.” An appropriate private prayer at the elevation during the consecration of the Mass would be, “Eternal Father, I offer you the body and blood, soul and divinity of thy dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” These express ‘the thoughts of his heart to all generations’, i.e. his unrelenting and inexhaustible mercy.
The Divine Mercy prayer is an iteration of the sacrifice of the Mass. At the conclusion of the Sacrifice of the Mass, we audibly acknowledge the merciful self-sacrifice of our Lord in his humanity for the forgiveness of sin. The Priest proclaims, “The mystery of Faith”. The people respond, acknowledging the immediacy of the Sacrifice, by saying one of the following,
We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again.
When we eat this Bread and Drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.
Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.
The 20th-century, yet ancient prayers of the children of Fatima and of St. Faustina, express the happy predicament of each of us throughout all of history, our dependence upon the unfathomable mercy of God. The ultimate response from God to these prayers for mercy is the sacrifice of the Mass.