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What is the Definition of Mercy?

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According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the simple meaning for mercy is:

  1. a) kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly
  2. b) kindness or help given to people who are in a very bad or desperate situation

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2447) says, “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.”  It then lists the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, stating that “giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity; it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.”

John Michael Talbot, in his book, Nothing is Impossible With God, the word “mercy” has both Hebrew and Greek roots.   There are several Hebrew words for it – words that mean “loving-kindness, “pity,” “favor” and “goodliness.”  Another Hebrew word means “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior; to favor, bestow.”  The Greek words for “mercy” are words related to the Kyrie Eleison, or the “Lord, Have Mercy” at Mass.  Another Greek word used for merciful means “the atoning victim who will bear the full weight of punishment for the sins of another.”

The most comprehensive statement by the magisterium on the meaning of Divine Mercy can be found in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter “Dives in Misericordia” (Rich in Mercy, 1981). In that encyclical, the Holy Father made two very important statements about mercy. First, he wrote, “Mercy is love’s second name.” Secondly, he taught that mercy is “the greatest attribute of God.”

Finally, St. Faustina Kowalska’s diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, tells of these words spoken to her by Christ:  “Let the greatest sinners place their trust in My mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My mercy. My daughter, write about My mercy toward tormented souls. Souls that make an appeal to my mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more graces than asked. I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in my unfathomable and inscrutable mercy.”