Some traditional language here about the Church being entrusted with and dispensing the sacraments. But in essence it is believers who encounter the Lord’s mercy through the preaching of the Word (not just when mercy is explicitly proclaimed) and the Sacraments. St John Paul counsels a participation “conscious and mature.”
The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy-the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer-and when she brings people close to the sources of the Savior’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser. Of great significance in this area is constant meditation on the Word of God, and above all conscious and mature participation in the Eucharist and in the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. The Eucharist brings us ever nearer to that love which is more powerful than death: “For as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup,” we proclaim not only the death of the Redeemer but also His resurrection, “until he comes” in glory.(Cf. 1 Cor. 11:26; acclamation in the Roman Missal) The same Eucharistic rite, celebrated in memory of Him who in His messianic mission revealed the Father to us by means of His words and His cross, attests to the inexhaustible love by virtue of which He desires always to be united with us and present in our midst, coming to meet every human heart. It is the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation that prepares the way for each individual, even those weighed down with great faults. In this sacrament each person can experience mercy in a unique way, that is, the love which is more powerful than sin. This has already been spoken of in the encyclical Redemptor Hominis; but it will be fitting to return once more to this fundamental theme.
A mature participation: what does that look like? Is it merely full and active, the missing adjectives? Might it imply a deeper reflection on the experience, a believer not just going through the motions, but praying in preparation and giving thanks in one’s life afterward? If any of us is finding mercy difficult to discern and behold in the Word and sacraments, that likely implies an invitation to go deeper.
Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana