Taken from PROVIDENCE, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P.

Nihil Obstat, Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur, 1937

Providence and Mercy

. . . God's mercy seems at first sight to differ so widely from His justice as to be directly contrary to it; it appears to set itself up in opposition to justice, intervening in order to restrict its rights. Yet in reality there can never be any opposition between two Divine perfections; however widely they may differ from each other, the one cannot be the negation of the other.  . . . they are so united . . . in the intimate life of God, as to be completely identified.

Far from setting itself up in opposition to justice and putting restrictions upon it, mercy unites with it, but in such a way as to surpass it, as St. Thomas says. [1] In Psalm 24:10, we read: "All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth (i. e., justice)," but, adds St. James, "Mercy exalteth herself above judgment [justice]." [2] In what sense is this to be understood? Says St. Thomas: [3]

"In this  sense, that every work of justice presupposes and is founded upon a work of mercy, a work of pure loving kindness, wholly gratuitous. If, in fact, there is anything due from God to the creature, it is in virtue of some gift that has preceded it.  . . . If He owes it to Himself to grant us grace necessary for salvation, it is because He has first given us the grace with which to merit. Mercy (or pure goodness) is thus, as it were, the root and source of all the works of God; its virtue pervades, dominates them all. As the ultimate fount of every gift, it exercises the more powerful influence, and for this reason it transcends justice, which follows upon mercy and continues to be subordinate to it."

If justice is a branch springing from the tree of God's love, then the tree itself is mercy, or pure goodness ever tending to communicate, to radiate itself externally.

We shall best understand this by a consideration of our own lives. Our best course will be to proceed, as we did with justice, by considering the relations between providence and mercy first of all in this present life, then at the moment of death, and lastly in the next life.

Providence and mercy in the course of our present life

If in this present life Divine justice gives to each of us whatever is required for us to live rightly and so attain our end, mercy, on the other hand, gives far beyond what is strictly necessary, and it is in this sense that it surpasses justice.

In creating us, for example, God might have established us in a purely natural condition, endowing us with a spiritual, immortal soul, but not with grace. Out of pure goodness from the very day of creation He has granted us to participate supernaturally in His intimate life by bestowing on us sanctifying grace, the principle of our supernatural merits.

 Again, after the fall, He might have left us in our fallen condition so far as justice is concerned. Or He might have raised us up from sin by a simple act of forgiveness conveyed through the mouth of a prophet after we had fulfilled certain conditions. But He has done something infinitely greater than this: out of pure mercy He gave us His Only Son as a redeeming victim, and it is possible for us at all times to appeal to the infinite merits of the Savior. Justice loses none of its rights, but it is mercy that prevails.

Once Jesus had died for us, all we needed was to be guided by interior graces as well as by the preaching of the Gospel; but Divine mercy has given us far more than this: it has given us the Eucharist, in which the sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated in substance on our altars and the fruits of that sacrifice are applied to our souls. [4]

Finally, those of us who have been born into Christian and Catholic families have received incomparably more from the Divine mercy than the bare essentials God has given to the savage of Central Africa. With those essentials God has given to the savage, provided the first prevenient graces are not resisted, the savage will receive whatever further graces are required for salvation; but we have received much more than this from our very childhood. When we consider the matter, we realize that we have been led on by the invisible hands of Providence and Mercy, preserving us from many a false step and raising up each one of us individually when we have

Again, if Divine justice rewards the merits we have acquired even in this life, the gifts of mercy go far beyond anything we have deserved.

In the collect for the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost we pray: "Almighty and eternal God, Who in the abundance of Thy goodness dost surpass the merits and even the desires of Thy suppliants: pour out Thy mercy upon us, forgive us the things our conscience must fear, and grant us what we cannot presume to ask. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, etc." [5]

The grace of absolution from mortal sin is not something that can be merited, it is a gratuitous gift. And how often has that grace been granted us!

Again, by no merit of ours could we obtain the grace of communion; it is the fruit of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which of itself produces that grace within us, even daily if we wish. And how many communions has not the Divine mercy granted us! Let us bear in mind that if we are faithful in fighting against all attachment to venial sin, each successive communion becomes substantially more fervent than the last, since each successive communion must not only preserve but increase charity within us, thus disposing us to receive our Lord on the morrow with a substantial fervor, a readiness of desire not merely the same but more intense.

This law of acceleration governing the love of God in the souls of the just must, if we are alive to it, arouse our admiration. It will be seen that, just as the stone falls more rapidly as it approaches the earth which is attracting it, so is it with the souls of the just: the more nearly they approach to God and therefore the greater the force of His attraction, the more rapid must their progress be. We then grasp the meaning of these words of the Psalm (32:5): "The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord." Even the sinner can say with the Psalmist: "Return, O Lord, . . . we are filled in the morning with Thy mercy: and we have rejoiced, and are delighted all our days" (Ps. 89:14).

If we could only see the whole span of our life as it is written down in the book of life, how many instances should we find where providence and mercy have intervened to piece together again the chain of our merits which again and again perhaps we have broken by our sins! But at the final moment mercy intervenes in a manner no less gracious.
Providence and mercy at the moment of death

If at that moment justice alone were to enter in, all those who had led a life of sin would die as they had lived. After so many warnings from Providence had been neglected, the final warning would receive no better response; remorse would not give place to a salutary repentance. Thanks to the mercy of God, however, this last appeal is more insistent. If His justice inflicts the punishment due to sin, here again His mercy will outstrip it by pardoning. To pardon means to "give beyond" what is due. The rights of justice are safeguarded, but mercy outweighs it by constantly inspiring the sinner, as death approaches, to make a great act of love for God, and of contrition, which will wipe away sin and the eternal punishment mortal sin incurs. And so, through the intervention of mercy, through the infinite merits of the Savior, through the intercession of Mary, refuge of sinners, and of St. Joseph patron of the dying, for many persons death is something very different from the way they lived. These are the laborers of the eleventh hour whom the Gospel parable speaks of (Matt. 20:9); they receive eternal life, as do the rest, in proportion to the few meritorious acts they have performed before death, when already in their agony. Such was the death of the good thief who, touched by the loving kindness of Jesus dying on the Cross, was converted, and he had the happiness of hearing from the Savior's lips: "This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).

These interventions of mercy at the moment of death are one of the sublimest features of the true religion. This was often clearly enough shown during the World War, when a man, dying a tragic death after absolution, was saved, who in ordinary circumstances, in the midst of his occupations and pleasures, would perhaps have been lost.
So, too, where there are Catholic hospitals, many a poor soul, heeding the warning that the disease from which he is suffering is soon to carry him off, there prepares himself for a happy death. He listens to some sister speaking to him on this subject and then to the priest who finally reconciles him to God after thirty or forty years of a life spent practically in indifference, a life that has left much to be desired.
The Divine mercy extends appealingly to every one of the dying. Jesus said: "Come to Me, all you that labor and are burdened: and I will refresh you" (Matt. 11:28). He dies for all men: as the beautiful prayers for those in their agony remind us, He is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.

The death of the repentant sinner is one of the greatest manifestations of Divine mercy. Some striking examples of it are given us in the life of St. Catherine of Siena written by her confessor, Blessed Raymund of Capua. [6] Two condemned criminals, who were being tortured with hot pincers, were blaspheming ceaselessly, and then through her prayers the unhappy wretches received a vision of our Lord, Who appeared covered with wounds, inviting them to repent and promising them forgiveness. At that same moment they begged earnestly for a priest and with heartfelt contrition confessed their sins. Thereupon their blasphemies were turned to praise, and they went joyfully to their death as to the gateway of Heaven. Those who witnessed the incident were struck with amazement and could assign no reason for such a sudden change in their interior dispositions.
On another occasion the Saint herself was present at the execution of the young nobleman, Nicholas Tuldo, who had been condemned to death for criticizing the government. When she saw how desperately he clung to life, refusing to accept what seemed to him so unjust a punishment, she herself prepared his soul to appear before God. Her account of the death-scene is given in a letter to her confessor, Raymund of Capua:

Seeing me at the place of execution, he began to smile, and wanted me to make the Sign of the Cross upon him. I did so and then I said to him: "On your knees, sweetness my brother. You are going to the marriage feast. You are about to enter into everlasting life." He prostrated himself with great gentleness, and I stretched out his neck; and bending over him, I reminded him of the blood of the Lamb. His lips said nought save "Jesus" and "Catherine." And so saying, I received his head in my hands, closing my eyes in the Divine goodness, and saying, "I will."

Then I saw, as might the clearness of the sun be seen, the God-Man, the wound in His side being open. He was permitting a transfusion of that blood with His blood, and adding the fire of holy desire given to that soul by grace to the fire of His Divine charity.

But if the death of the sinner is a manifestation of the Divine mercy, far more beautiful is the death of the Saint who has always remained faithful. His last moments are, as a rule, peaceful because he has vanquished his enemies during life and his soul is now prepared for the passage to eternity. Uniting himself with all the Masses then being celebrated, he makes of his death a last sacrifice of reparation, adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication to obtain thereby that last grace of final perseverance which carries with it the assurance of salvation.

Providence and mercy after death

Mercy and justice, the Scripture tells us (Ps. 24:10), combine in everyone of God's works; but whereas mercy is the more prominent in some, as in the conversion of the sinner, in others justice predominates, as in the case of punishment due to sin.

Thus it is that, as St. Thomas says, [8] after death "mercy intervenes on behalf of the reprobate, in the sense that the punishment they receive is less than they deserve." Were justice alone to enter in, they would suffer still more. St. Catherine of Siena is of the same mind. [9] Mercy is there to temper justice even for those who have fomented hatred among others, between class and class, nation and nation, even for the most perverse, for monsters like Nero, who have shown a refinement of malice, an obstinacy of will that spurned all advice.

 Obviously, with the Souls in Purgatory Divine mercy is still more active, inspiring them with the loving desire to make reparation, which tempers a little that keen purifying pain they are undergoing and confirms them in their assurance of salvation.

In Heaven Divine mercy shines forth in the Saints according to the intensity of their love for God. Our Lord will greet them with the words recorded in St. Matthew (25: 34):

Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink: I was a stranger, and you took Me in: naked, and you covered Me: sick, and you visited Me: I was in prison, and you came to Me. Then shall the just . . . answer Him saying: Lord, when did we see Thee hungry .  . . thirsty . . . and came to Thee? And the King answering shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me.

What joy will be ours in that first instant of our entering into glory, when we shall receive the light of glory in order to see God face to face, in a vision that will know no end, whose measure will be the unique instant of changeless eternity.
How consoling is the thought of this infinite mercy, which transcends all wickedness and is inexhaustible. For this reason no relapse into sin, however shameful, however criminal, should cause a sinner to despair. There can be no greater outrage against God than to consider His loving kindness inadequate to forgive. As St. Catherine of Siena tells us, "His mercy is greater without any comparison than all the sins which any creature can commit." [10]

In this matter we should keep before our minds these words from the Psalms, words that the liturgy is constantly putting before us:

The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever.  . . . For Thou hast said: Mercy shall be built up forever in the heavens. Thy truth shall be prepared in them.  . . . Thou art mighty, O Lord, and Thy truth is round about Thee, Thou rulest the power of the sea.  . . . Thou hast humbled the proud one.  . . .

The Lord is compassionate and merciful: long-suffering and plenteous in mercy. He will not always be angry: nor will He threaten forever.  . . . For according to the height of the heaven above the earth, He hath strengthened His mercy toward them that fear Him.  . . . As a father hath compassion on his children, so hath the Lord compassion on them that fear Him: for He knoweth our frame. He remembereth that we are dust.

Man's days are as grass: as the flower of the field so shall he flourish. For the spirit shall pass in him, and he shall not be.  . . . But the mercy of the Lord is from eternity and unto eternity, upon them that fear Him. [

May the Lord deign that these words be revealed in us also, that we may glorify Him forever.

Rarely have the relations between mercy, justice, and providence been better expressed than in the Dies Irae. [12]

Dies irae, dies illa

Day of wrath and doom impending,
David's word with Sibyl's blending,
Heaven and earth in ashes ending!

O what fear man's bosom rendeth,
When from Heaven the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth!

Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
Through earth's sepulchres it ringeth,
All before the throne it bringeth.

Death is struck, and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.

Lo! the book exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded;
Thence shall judgment be awarded.

When the Judge His seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.

What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?

King of majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us!

Think, kind Jesu!-----my salvation
Caused Thy wondrous Incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.

Faint and weary Thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me;
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?

Righteous Judge! for sin's pollution
Grant Thy gift of absolution,
 Ere that day of retribution.

Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning;
Spare, O God, thy suppliant groaning!

Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.

Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.

With Thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To Thy right hand do thou guide me.

When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to shame and woe unbounded,
 Call me, with Thy Saints surrounded.

Low I kneel, with heart's submission,
See, like ashes my contrition!
Help me in my last condition!

Ah! that day of tears and mourning!
 From the dust of earth returning,
Man for judgment must prepare him:

Spare, O God, in mercy spare him!
Lord, all-pitying, Jesu blest,
Grant them Thine eternal rest. Amen.

Let us acquire the habit of praying for those in their last agony, that the Divine mercy may incline to them. Then others will assist us when the moment of our own death arrives. Where or how we shall die, we know not; it may be quite alone; but if we have prayed frequently for the dying, if again and again we have said with attention and from our hearts: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death," then at the supreme moment mercy will incline to us also.

1. Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 21, a. 4.
2. James 2: 13.
3. Loc. cit.
4. Cf. St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue, chap. 30.
5. Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui abundantia pietatis tuae et menta supplicum exedis et vota; effunde super nos misericordiam tuam: ut dimittas quae conscientia metuit, et adjicias quod orationem praesumit. Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium, etc.
6. Life, chap. 7 (Bollandists, April 30, p. 918).
7. Letters of St. Catherine of Siena, tr. by Scudder, p. 113.
8. See St. Thomas, Ia, q. 21, a. 4 ad Ium.
9. Dialogue, chap. 30.
10. Dialogue, chap. 32. 
 11. Ps. 88: 2 ff.; Ps. 102: 8-17.
12. Tr. by Irons; cf. The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal.


An easy way to practice devotion on behalf of the dying, especially those who may be in danger of Hell, is to dedicate at least one decade of the Rosary, to ask for the mercy of final repentance, more especially on behalf of those who have no one else to pray with or for them. If we acknowledge our own unworthiness to ask for this grace for these poor ones, and ask Our Lady to intercede in our stead with her Divine Son, Whose mercy is above all His works, will she not consent to do so as the Mother of Mercy, and could her Son refuse her anything?

Jesus loves us to trust Him enough to ask for His mercy, provided our hearts are remorseful and desiring to atone for our own sins. For those who have no one to help them to die as they ought, can we not at least be inspired by the example of dear Catherine of Siena, and beg the Divine Mercy for souls:

Jesus and Mary, we love Thee, save souls;
Jesus and Mary, convert the dying, save the dying.

There is also the daily devotion of the Adoption of
 One Unknown Dying Soul, online HERE.

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