As Catholics throughout the world celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday and the beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1, the extraordinary day will have special significance for one Rhode Island liturgical music minister who will be blessed with the opportunity to see his dreams become a reality.
Stephen DeCesare, music minister at St. Martha Church, will conduct “The Mass of Divine Mercy,” featuring several musical scores that he wrote for the special liturgical celebration, on Sunday at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass. The shrine is operated by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.
More than 20,000 pilgrims are expected to attend the Mass, which will be broadcast live on EWTN. DeCesare, a talented organist and singer, will also perform several musical selections at a Vigil Mass celebrated on April 30 and during a musical performance being offered the next morning before the Mass.
Noting his great devotion to the Divine Mercy and to St. Faustina, the respected liturgical composer and musician sent a tape of his compositions last spring to the shrine. In October he received a call from the shrine inviting him to conduct the music for the special weekend, which coincides with the beatification of the late pontiff who canonized St. Faustina on April 30, 2000.
Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska was a Polish nun who reported having seen and spoken to Jesus and Mary several times. She wrote that Jesus revealed to her that she was to spread the devotion of the mercy of God. During one vision in 1931, she said that Jesus appeared as the “King of Divine Mercy,” wearing a white garment. His right hand was stretched as a sign of blessing while his other hand was touching the garment at the breast.
From beneath the garment emanated two large rays, one red, the other white, Acting upon orders Faustina said she received from Jesus, she had an artist create a painting of the vision. Images of the vision were distributed and people started to pray for divine mercy.
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is Roman Catholic devotion based on the visions of St. Faustina, who is known as “the Apostle of Mercy.” According to the visions, written in her diary, the chaplet’s prayers for mercy have three intentions: to obtain mercy, to trust in God’s mercy and to show mercy to others. “I started praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in high school,” said DeCesare. “My devotion just started to grow.”
In addition to composing the music, DeCesare has also written a musical about St. Faustina in which the saint narrates a poignant story about her own life and the need for the faithful to pray for God’s mercy.
DeCesare said he has also done a great deal of reading about Pope John Paul II as he prepares for the important liturgical celebration.
“He changed the world and broke many barriers,” DeCesare reflected. “Pope John Paul II brought a lot of people together – especially the young.”
During the Divine Mercy Mass on Sunday, DeCesare will offer original compositions such as “Come to My Mercy” and “Rest in Me.” He will be accompanied by several instrumentalists from throughout New England.
“I feel honored and blessed to be part of this celebration,” he said.
Also performing DeCesare’s music at the shrine’s Divine Mercy Mass and other services will be a choir from Mater Eclesiae College, Greenville; Scott Morency, coordinator of the music ministry at St. Francis Xavier Church, East Providence; and Stacey Geer, coordinator o the music ministry at St. Mary Church, Providence.
“It’s a great honor to be included,” said Morency, noting that he accompanied the choir from St. Brendan Church, Riverside in 1991, and had the privilege of meeting the late pontiff.
“This event is exciting in many ways,” added Geer, adding that it was an honor to work with DeCesare and to perform before a global audience.
“I realize that I’m doing something very important and very special,” she said. “I’m conveying God’s message through song. I try to convey that message as best as I can.”
Naoise Johnston, academic secretary and librarian at Mater Ecclesiae College, said 35 consecrated women will sing at the shrine this weekend.
“The shrine is a favorite pilgrimage spot for us,” she said. “It’s just a blessing for us to go and to celebrate with so many other believers the feast of God’s divine mercy on the day of Pope John Paul’s beatification.”
Printed with permission from Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, R.I.