What effect does contemplating the Holy Face have? A devout Franciscan brother presents it well. “Who could ever go through such a torturous passion with so much evil intent, and end up with such a countenance so full of compassion and forgiveness but Jesus!” The Gospels are full of such merciful encounters with Jesus who always says, “Go and sin no more.”
In 1939, Jesus related to Blessed Maria Pierina de Michelis (1890-1945) that “I wish that my Holy Face be honored in a particular manner on Tuesdays. Do you see how I suffer? Yet, very few understand me. Those who say they love me are very ungrateful...”
Before looking at the revelations — and the promises connected with them — first it is good to set the scene for its importance as seen throughout Scripture.
Timelessness of the Holy Face
Devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus has a long history; it seems as long as that of the Church, if not longer because there is a recurrent theme in the Old Testament to seek the Holy Face of God. Already in Genesis 3:8 at the sin of Adam and Eve, we read that they “hid from the face of God.” It seems that a longing to see the Divine Face remained in them and was passed on to their descendants.
Since their darkened minds and weakened wills gave them a false idea of divinity, this may have been the source of idol worship until the merciful revelation to Abraham and his descendants.
The Hebrew scriptures make reference to the holy face of God, especially in the psalms. Desire to see the Face of God is frequent as is the fear of being denied that blessing — such as in Psalm 27.8-9: “Thou hast said, ‘Seek ye my face.’ My heart says to thee, ‘Thy face, Lord, do I seek.’ Hide not your face from me.’”
Psalm 119:135 assures wisdom, “Make thy face shine upon your servant, and teach me thy statutes.” Psalm 11:7 promises a blessing, “… the righteous shall behold his face.”
Besides the individual’s prayer, there is also communal expressions.
Psalm 67:1 begins with an invocation, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.”
In 2 Chronicles 7:14 a national blessing is assured by God to Solomon, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
The priestly blessing of Aaron over the people emphasizes its importance: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you his peace” (Numbers 6.22-27).
New Testament Too
We see that devotion to the Holy Face of God in the Old Testament prepared for its realization in the Holy Face of Jesus in the New Testament.
Images of God were forbidden in the Old Testament because they would be designed and made by man according to his imagination. God had the people “seek his face” in preparation for the revelation of that Face in Christ. Colossians 1:15 declares, “Christ is the image (icon) of the invisible God” — an icon of God given by God, being the true image of God.
The New Testament opens with annunciation of St. John the Baptist, whose father prophesied, “Thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways” (Luke 1:76). All of the synoptic gospels include the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9.28-36). It is Matthew that emphasizes his face: “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.”
In 2 Corinthians 4:6, St. Paul directs our attention to the face of Jesus: “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Revelations 22:3-4 proclaims the eternal joyful contemplation in heaven “… the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face…”
This devotion will be expressed in various ways in the history of the Church up to our times.
The fourth-century Church Father, St. Cyril of Jerusalem commented in his Catechetical Lectures 10:7: “Moses says (to the Lord), ‘Show me your glory’ (Exodus 33:18). You see that the prophets in those times saw the Christ, that is, as much as each was able. ‘Show me your glory … that I may see you with understanding.’ But (God) says, ‘You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live’ (Exodus 33:20).
For this reason, because no man could see the face of the Godhead and live, he took upon himself the face of human nature, that we might see this and live. And yet when he wished to show even that with a little majesty, when his face did shine as the sun (Matthew 17:2), the disciples fell down afraid. His bodily face shining with less than the full power of him who made it, but according to the capacity of the disciples still frightened them, so that they could not bear it. How, then, could any man gaze upon the majesty of the Godhead?
As the Lord said to Moses: “You want a great thing, O Moses, and I approve of your insatiable desire, and I will go this thing for you, but measured by your ability. I will put you in the cleft of the rock. Since you are little, you shall lodge in a little space.” (see Exodus 33:22)
A tradition from apostolic times tells the story of a healing image of the Holy Face of Christ “not made by human hands.” This tradition links the Apostle St. Jude as the bearer of the Image. That is why he is pictured with an image of the Holy Face. This tradition persevered in the Eastern Church. It was believed that the Crusaders took this image from Constantinople to the West. Eventually a “Veronica’s Veil” was kept and venerated in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
In the fourteenth century there also arose the belief that the Holy Shroud of Christ was found in France and was later transferred to Turin, Italy. This emphasized the sorrowful face of Jesus.
Timeliness of the Holy Face
Modern Holy Face revelations began at the Carmel of Tours, France to Sr. Mary St. Peter (1816-1848). A Golden Arrow prayer of reparation for blasphemy was given with the promise that “Those who contemplate the wounds on my Face here on earth shall contemplate It radiant in heaven.” Eventually this spread throughout all the Carmelite monasteries.
Pauline, Mother Agnes of Jesus, the sister of St. Therese, introduced her to the Holy Face Devotion. St. Therese’s complete name includes “of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face.” Celine, her sister, stated in her book about Therese that unless you know her ardent devotion to the Holy Face, you do not know Therese.
Holy Face 20th-Century Revelations
The revelations to Blessed Pierina regarding the Holy Face started in 1926. This is a summary:
Jesus stated, “I firmly wish that my Face reflecting the intimate pains of my soul, that suffering and love of my heart, be more honored! Whoever gazes upon me already consoles me.” — 1936
“Each time my Face is contemplated I will pour out my love into hearts and through my Holy Face the salvation of many souls will be obtained.” — 1936
This does not take away from devotion to Jesus’ Sacred Heart. As he said:
“Perhaps some souls fear that the devotion to my Holy Face may diminish that to my Sacred Heart. Tell them that, on the contrary, it will complete and increase it. Contemplating my Face, souls will share my sorrows and will feel the need for love and reparation. Is this not true devotion to my Heart?” — 1937
In May 1938 Our Lady appeared to Sr. Pierina holding a scapular made of two small pieces of flannel joined by a cord. One of these pieces bore the image of the Holy Face of Jesus with the words, Illumina, DomineVultum Tuum Super Nos — “May the light of thy Face shine upon us” (Numbers 6:25) and the other, a Host surrounded by rays and the words Mane Nobiscum Domine — “Stay with us Lord” (Luke 24:29). In this way Our Lady introduces a Eucharistic dimension to the devotion to the Holy Face.
Interestingly, there is such a connection in the Old Testament. In the Temple of Solomon, besides the famous Ark of the Covenant and the Menorah candelabra, there was also the Show Bread or the Bread of Presence. Each sabbath the priests baked twelve loaves of bread and placed them with wine and incense on a golden table before the Holy of Holies. This was to commemorate the meal that Moses and seventy elders had in the presence of God on Sinai [Exodus 24.9-11]. Before eating the bread, the priests showed the bread to the people saying, “Behold how much God loves you.” For this reason, it was also called the Sabbath Sacrifice.
Because “face” meant “presence,” it was considered the “Bread of the Face of God.”
Jesus said that he did not come to abolish but to fulfill. And so it is with Eucharistic adoration and benediction.
Our Lady continued, “This scapular is an armor of defense, a shield of strength, a pledge of mercy which Jesus wishes to give to the world in these times of lust and hatred against God and his Church. There are very few true apostles. A divine remedy is necessary, and this remedy is the Holy Face of Jesus. All who shall wear a scapular like this and makes, if possible, a visit to the Blessed Sacrament every Tuesday in reparation for the outrages that the Holy Face of my Son Jesus received during the Passion and is still receiving in the Holy Eucharist every day, will be strengthened in the faith, and will be made ready to defend it, will overcome all difficulties, internal and external and they will have a peaceful death under the loving gaze of my Divine Son.”
Our Lady relieved Blessed Pierina’s anxiety because a medal replaced the scapular. On April 17, 1943, Our Lady reassured her: “My daughter, rest assured, the scapular is replaced by the medal with the same promises and favors — it only has to be spread widely. Now my heart is on the feast of the Face of my Divine Son. Tell the Pope that I desire this.”
In 1939, Jesus continued: “I wish that my Holy Face be honored in a particular manner on Tuesdays. Do you see how I suffer? Yet, very few understand me. Those who say they love me are very ungrateful. I have given my heart as the sensible object of my great love to men and I give my Face as the sensible object of my sorrow for all the sins of men. I wish that it be venerated by a special feast on Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. I wish that the feast be preceded by a novena in which the faithful will make reparation with me, joining with me and sharing my sorrow.”
St. John Paul II referred to the Eucharistic Face of Jesus in his apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum Domine (Remain with Us Lord) for the October 2004-2005 Year of the Eucharist. The theme of the Holy Face of Jesus then recurred in his writings as well as in those of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
Isn’t this Holy Week the time to focus on the Holy Face of Jesus? As the Franciscan brother said, “The world needs a little ‘Face time’ with the Lord to get lives in alignment with His Divine will.”
Father Stanley Smolenski, SPMA, is co-founder and director of the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina/Our Lady of Joyful Hope in Kingstree, South Carolina.