A Walk Through the Words of the Chaplet

Two questions on the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy landed on my computer screen. The first one was from a good friend, John Doering, in Sacramento, California:

I know that we use the phrase "body and blood, soul and divinity" a lot now to describe the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but where did that phrase originate? I see in I Corinthians 11:27 we find, "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord." Who added "soul and divinity," and why?

The second question about the wording of the Chaplet was from a woman named Antoinette:

I have been saying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for eight years now every day; I can't go a day without reciting it. Well, for some reason this morning I was saying the Chaplet and I started to concentrate on the words, "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion," and I said to myself, What does it mean? I know you are supposed to understand what you are saying, but for some reason I got lost in the thought. Then when you recite, "Eternal Father, I offer you the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ," my understanding would be it is as if you were receiving Communion. Can you please explain the words to me?"

Well, John and Antoinette, I will certainly do my best. I think it might be helpful to all our readers if we took a "stroll" through the phrases of the Chaplet to be sure we have the meaning clear of each of its phrases. In fact, both of you have already hit upon the secret of the Chaplet in your questions. The secret of the Chaplet is that it is a form of intercessory prayer that draws its power and meaning from the Eucharist!

The Chaplet begins ...

1. "Eternal Father"

Notice that we are addressing the Lord as "Father," the same way that He is addressed in the Eucharistic Prayer at every Mass. We do not address Him just in the abstract, as "God," or "Supreme Being," but as the loving Father that Jesus Christ revealed Him to be, "the Father rich in mercy" (Eph 2:4). The Chaplet, therefore, brings us into God's presence in the same way that the Lord's Prayer does: as our "Father."

We also call Him "Eternal" Father here. Why don't we start by calling Him "Almighty Father," or "Heavenly Father," or even "Merciful Father"? Why focus on His "eternity"?

There is a special reason for the focus on His eternal, divine nature here, for God's "eternity" means that every moment of time is always present before Him. He sees with His infinite intellect all the past, all the present, and all the future, always before His gaze. What the Father sees from all eternity, therefore, includes the life, agony and passion of His beloved Son. In other words, the Father has ever before His eyes (so to speak) His Son's perfect offering and sacrifice for sins. He also sees all the Masses all over the world in which the Church pleads, in Christ and with Christ, that all the graces He won for us by His sacrificial life and death may be poured out upon the world.

It is only because God is our "eternal" Father, who has all these things ever before His gaze, that we can confidently state the second line of the Chaplet:

2. "I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ"

Notice that what we here "offer" to the Father is what He sees from all eternity: the self-offering and self-sacrifice of His Son. We "offer" this to Him in the sense that we pray all our Chaplets to the Father solely on the basis of what is most precious to Him in the whole universe. Namely, the loving obedience unto death of Jesus His Son.

So, we "offer" Christ's sacrifice to the Father in the sense that all our pleas to the Father for an outpouring of His mercy upon the world are made solely on the basis of Christ's perfect sacrifice to the Father, with all its superabundant merits, and we pray that all the graces that Jesus merited for us by His life and death may be poured out upon us.

In this way, also, we join our Chaplet prayers on earth with the pleading of the heavenly Jesus Christ, who continues forever in heaven as our "advocate" and "intercessor":

If any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world (1 Jn 2:1).

[Christ] hold His priesthood permanently because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Heb 7:25).

Most importantly, you will recognize that all this is precisely the same thing that happens at every Mass. Catechism 1374, quoting the 16th century ecumenical Council of Trent, states: "In the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore the whole Christ, is truly, really, and substantially contained."

This is the answer to your particular question, John. Trent was responding to those Protestant critics at the time who misconstrued the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence, as if it meant that we receive merely the material elements of Jesus' Body and Blood. Whereas Catholic belief is that those words are just "shorthand" for the fullness of the Eucharistic mystery: that we receive the living and glorified Body and Blood of our heavenly Advocate and Intercessor, Jesus Christ, in every Holy Communion. For a living body is a body united to its soul, and a glorified human being is a body and soul united with divinity. Therefore, in the Eucharist we receive and enjoy an intimate and deeply personal relationship with Jesus Christ in the fullness of all that He is, and we unite ourselves completely with His earthly sacrifice and heavenly pleading on our behalf.

The Council of Trent also taught that by offering Christ to the Father in the Eucharist (that is, by offering our prayers in union with His sacrifice and prayers to the Father) we make a truly "propitiatory" offering for our sins. In other words, an offering that covers and makes up for the debt to God's justice that we incurred by our sins. Similarly, in the Chaplet, we extend this same Eucharistic offering: We offer up the whole Christ, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, as the next line says ...

3. " ... in atonement for our sins, and those of the whole world."

"Atonement" literally means "at-one-ment." The Eucharist re-unites us with God, makes us "one" with Him, re-establishing our friendship with Him by removing the barriers to union with God. The principal barrier, of course, are our sins, and the "debt" to divine justice that we owe to God because of our sins. This debt is fully compensated, blotted out, wiped away (or, to use more technical, theological language: expiated, propitiated, and satisfied) by the Son of God's perfect sacrifice in His perfect life and death for us, made present to us, and offered up to the Father, at every Mass. Thus, whenever we say the Chaplet, we are, in a sense, extending that same Eucharistic offering-prayer. We are prayerfully offering up the infinite value and merit of the Son of God's perfect sacrifice to the Father, uniting to that sacrifice our own intercessory intentions.

The secret of the Chaplet, therefore, is that it flows directly from the Eucharist. It is an intercessory prayer that extends the Eucharistic offering of Jesus Christ (that is, it is an intercessory prayer made explicitly on the basis of Jesus Christ's sacrificial life and death, and heavenly pleading for us, made present to us at every Mass), and it applies the blessings of that Eucharistic sacrifice to the needs of the world, as much as such devout supplications at Mass can do.

And that, Antoinette, is really the answer to your question. The Chaplet is not really "as if you were receiving Communion." The bread and wine can only be consecrated and transubstantiated, becoming the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, at Holy Mass itself, and we can only receive Him in the fullness of His Eucharistic presence by going to Mass and receiving the Sacred Host. So the Chaplet is certainly no substitute for going to the Eucharist, nor the equivalent of receiving Holy Communion. But the Chaplet is more like an echo that does not die away of all the supplications and intercessory prayers we say at Mass, as if those prayers at Mass - that offering of Christ to the Father and that pleading for all the benefits of His sacrifice to be poured out upon us - were part of a liturgy that never ceases here on earth, wherever devout and faithful souls continue to pray the Chaplet ...

4. "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion"

To be continued next week!