Let’s recall the variety of terms Israel used to describe various aspects of mercy: masculine, feminine, legal, motherly, free and unmerited. But there is a commonality with all of these variations. The theme is that people ask God for mercy, and God grants it.
The Old Testament proclaims the mercy of the Lord by the use of many terms with related meanings; they are differentiated by their particular content, but it could be said that they all converge from different directions on one single fundamental content, to express its surpassing richness and at the same time to bring it close to (people) under different aspects. The Old Testament encourages people suffering from misfortune, especially those weighed down by sin – as also the whole of Israel, which had entered into the covenant with God – to appeal for mercy, and enables them to count upon it: it reminds them of His mercy in times of failure and loss of trust. Subsequently, the Old Testament gives thanks and glory for mercy every time that mercy is made manifest in the life of the people or in the lives of individuals.
What is our response to all this? Gratitude. The cycle closes: misfortune, petition, mercy, and thankfulness. In a way, this cycle is recalled, experienced, and celebrated at every Eucharist.
Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana