Today is a day of many names. Properly speaking the second Sunday of Easter, yet in recent years it is also commonly called Divine Mercy Sunday. Further, it has traditionally been called Low Sunday, indicating its “lower” status in comparison to the Easter Sunday itself, coming at the end of the Easter Octave. Another name for this day is Dominica in albis; this refers to the ancient practice of those who were baptized on Easter returning to mass a week later in their baptismal albs and then taking them off and joining the rest of the congregation as full members of the community. Occasionally it also used to be called Quasi modo Sunday, because of the opening words of the entrance antiphon for mass today. Finally, it is called Sunday of St. Thomas by many Eastern-Rite Catholics and Orthodox Christians, since the gospel account of “doubting Thomas” has long been read at mass and Divine Liturgy this day.
Six names for one day—it must be important! What these various names should call to our minds is the fact that this day is a critical part of the commemoration of the resurrection which we celebrate at Easter, and that this entire drama has attracted such attention from Christians through the centuries precisely because they long recognized it as the center of our faith. Easter, along with the Lenten season and Passiontide which lead up to it and the long Easter season which flows from it, is the hinge upon which our salvation turns and as such the Church has developed rites and practices over the centuries that express this importance and focus on its different dimensions.
On this great day the scriptures teach us that the earliest members of the Church were intensely conscious of the spiritual presence of the risen Lord in their midst, celebrating this presence constantly: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). By devoting themselves to “the breaking of the bread” they signaled that they understood that our Lord was as present to them in the Eucharist, although in a different way, as he had been during his earthly life.
This sense of God’s presence and in particular the presence of the risen Lord Jesus to the Church is underlined in the second reading, from the First Letter of Peter. There we hear: “Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:8-9). Here again the presence of the Lord among the faithful, though invisible, is acknowledged profoundly and indeed leads us to rejoice in the salvation it has brought us.
The presence of the risen Christ to his people is even more dramatically described in the gospel story of St. Thomas. From childhood many Catholics have been taught to quietly pray “My Lord and my God” when viewing the elevated Eucharistic Host at mass; these words are taken from today’s reading (John 20:28). They proclaim Thomas’ heartfelt belief in the risen Lord, in spite of his earlier doubt. Here St. Thomas becomes a model for all of us as we keep in mind the promise “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29), and together with the Psalmist (Ps 118:1) we say “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love is everlasting”!
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.