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Dedicated to the memory of my mother, Anna, for the upcoming Divine Mercy Sunday, April 16, 2023 (Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church on the first Sunday after Easter)
“At three o’clock, implore My mercy, especially for sinners,“ Jesus told St. Maria Faustina Kowalska in a vision. “This is the hour of great mercy….In this hour I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion….In this hour you can obtain everything for yourself and for others for the asking; it was the hour of grace for the whole world — mercy triumphed over justice.”
At 3:00 p.m. daily, all those gathered in the perpetual adoration chapel of my parish fulfill Our Lord’s request by reciting the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for the sick and dying, often called “the 3 o’clock prayer.” For Catholics, who believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, perpetual adoration is the practice of prayer and worship in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (consecrated Host), which is usually exposed in a golden receptacle called a monstrance. It is called “perpetual” adoration because there is at least one person voluntarily committed to each hour of the day without intermission. This practice has been carried out by monks and nuns since early Christian times, and eventually spread to lay Catholics in parishes that have a perpetual adoration chapel.
For many months, my mother and I had been keeping a Holy Hour together once a week from 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. We cherished this weekly vigil, sitting and praying quietly side-by-side in the peaceful atmosphere of the chapel. Since both of us had read Divine Mercy in My Soul (The Diary of St. Faustina), and often prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet, we gladly stayed the extra ten minutes to recite it for the sick and dying at 3:00 p.m.
One terrible afternoon in January 2002 found my mother and me together in a different type of vigil. But this time, the harsh sterility and bustling activity of the hospital’s Surgical Trauma Unit replaced the soft light and peaceful hush of the chapel. Although my mother and I were physically only a foot or two apart, the gulf between us seemed to me unfathomable.
Mom lay motionless and unconscious in a hospital bed, surrounded by tubes and a complex array of blinking, beeping machines. She was dying of complications following emergency surgery to repair a ruptured abdominal aortal aneurysm. Amazingly, she had survived the four-hour operation, but the massive amounts of blood she had lost made it impossible to stabilize her. I sat at her bedside, my eyes glued to readouts on the machine that monitored her heartbeat and blood pressure. The rosary clutched in my hand was my only weapon against the icy grip of fear and despair that grew tighter as it became increasingly clearer to me that all the heroic efforts of the medical team were not going to save my beloved mother. With each agonizing minute, my prayers were changing gradually from a hopeful plea for healing to the prayer of Gethsemane: “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
My mother and I had always shared a deep spiritual bond and had often discussed the afterlife. Neither of us feared death itself, but we had the natural apprehension about what form it would take and the suffering that might precede it. I knew that my mother was spiritually ready to face God, and since she already had been given Last Rites, the one remaining gift I could give this woman who had given me so much was to let her go.
“It’s alright, Mom, ” I told her silently. “If it’s your time to go Home, you go ahead and don’t worry. I won’t hold you back — I want you to be happy.”
My mother died at 3:20 that afternoon. Although I was too overcome with grief to think about it at the time, I later realized that she had passed into eternity during the Hour of Great Mercy, just minutes after the adorers at my parish’s chapel would have finished praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for the sick and dying. The same prayers my mother and I had recited so many times for other souls in need had come back to us, easing my mother’s transition into the next life and giving me the strength to accept and bear the greatest loss of my life. Furthermore, I was grateful that my mother had been spared the painful and lingering death she had always feared.
For several years afterward, I still kept my weekly hour in the chapel, although the first few times there without my mother were so painful I couldn’t even bear to sit in the same place I used to sit with her. But now, every time I say the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3:00 p.m. for the sick and dying, it is much more meaningful to me than it was before her death.
Now when I pray, I see images in my mind of families gathered around sickbeds, keeping vigil with a loved one they can’t bear to lose but know they must let go; of souls closing their eyes to darkness and opening them to a Light so brilliant their sufferings fall away like dying leaves. I see people whose time on earth is not yet through, gaining strength of body and mind through the healing energy of a stranger’s prayers.
With a certainty that surpasses understanding, I know that all souls are connected in ways more profound and mysterious than we can ever imagine. I feel reassured that each one of us praying the Chaplet will be blessed with the same sustaining light of God for which we are offering ourselves as channels today.
I sense my mother’s presence with me and I recall Our Lord’s words to St. Faustina: “Encourage souls to say the Chaplet which I have given to you….Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death….When they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the Just Judge but as the Merciful Savior….”
As the Chaplet ends, I silently add St. Faustina’s prayer of praise: “Divine Mercy, embracing us especially at the hour of death, I trust in You.”
(For more information on Divine Mercy, visit: http://www.thedivinemercy.org/message/devotions/chaplet.php)