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``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Devotion to the Holy Face

Numbers 6:24-26 "The Lord bless thee, and keep thee. The Lord shew His Face to thee, and have mercy on thee. The Lord turn His Countenance to thee, and give thee peace."

Psalm 26:8 "My heart hath said to thee: My face hath sought Thee: Thy Face, O Lord, will I still seek."

I Corinthians 13:12 "We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to Face. Now I know I part; but then I shall know even as I am known."



Devotion to the Holy Face is like the Devotions to Christ's Childhood and Five Wounds: it is another aspect of focusing on the Incarnation that Latin Catholics love to contemplate, but an aspect that is especially compelling because of the nature of the human face. When we think of someone we love, we think of that person's face because it is primarily the face that identifies and expresses who that person is. Indeed, the very word "person" is rooted in the Latin word for "mask." We can look at a friend and know instantly how he is feeling by his subtle expression -- by the "lights" of his eyes and that ineffable way the eyes act as a "window to the soul."

Now consider! Because of the Incarnation, there is God with a human Face! The Divine Being with human eyes -- eyes into which human beings could gaze, eyes that beheld things as beautiful as His mother, and as ugly as soldiers' spittle. God with eyes that cried (John 11:35). Meditating on the Holy Face is not simply to recall the visage of some spiritual teacher who lived on earth 2,000 years ago; it is to realize something so movingly true about the One Who created the very Sun and Moon and stars: that He is a deeply personal Being, so personal that He took on our nature and walked among us, looking at us through human eyes, and letting Himself be seen.

John 14:5-9
Thomas saith to him: Lord, we know not whither Thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by Me. If you had known Me, you would without doubt have known My Father also: and from henceforth you shall know Him, and you have seen Him. Philip saith to Him: Lord, shew us the Father, and it is enough for us. Jesus saith to him: Have I been so long a time with you; and have you not known me? Philip, he that seeth Me seeth the Father also.

So this is what the Father is like! Alleluia! God isn't some far-away, coldly intellectual "source"; He is Father, and we see Him through the human Face of His Son Who wept at the ugliness of St. Lazarus's death, Who healed the sick, Who allowed Himself to be beaten for our iniquities. We aren't evolved monkey-flesh that suffers needlessly and without meaning; we are creatures deeply loved by a personal God, called to partake of the Divine Nature! The very fact that God took on a human Face is a rich Mystery, and behind that adorable Countenace is the eternal Mystery of God Himself.

Devotion to the Holy Face isn't only a matter of marvelling at these Truths, however; in another sense, it is to "become St. Veronica "-- the woman we recall at the sixth Station of the Cross, the one who took pity on Him and wiped the sweat from His Face with her veil which bears the impession of His Holy Face to this day. It is to do as she did and comfort Jesus for the wounds the world still inflicts on Him with its irreverence, sacrilege, and blasphemy -- especially by doing that which pleases Him most: bringing souls to Him.

St. Veronica holding her veil

There has been devotion to the Holy Face ever since Our Lord walked the earth. His mother looking down into the manger and seeing the Face of a beautiful Boy, the eyes of St. Mary Magdalen as she looked up at Him with love after anointing His Feet with perfume, the already mentioned St. Veronica whose veil, along with the Holy Shroud, is the basis for our depictions of Christ in the icons upon which we've gazed for two millennia -- all who saw Him and knew Who He was carried the image of His Holy Face with them in their hearts. But throughout Catholic History, there have been those who've done more than others to popularize the devotion in an explicit way.


Mid-19th Century:
Sister Mary of Saint Peter
and the Venerable Leo Dupont

In the mid-19th century, in Tours, France, a Carmelite nun named Sister Marie de Saint Pierre (1816-1848) received a private revelation from Our Lord that "Those who will contemplate the wounds on My Face here on earth, shall contemplate it radiant in heaven." In her vision, she was transported to the road to Calvary and saw St. Veronica wiping away the spit and mud from His Holy Face with her veil. Sister realized that the taking of the Name of God in vain and all the other sacrilegious and blasphemous acts that men do fall on the Lord's Face like that spit and mud that St. Veronica so lovingly wiped away. Jesus revealed to Sister that He desired devotion to His Holy Face in reparation for sacrilege, the profanation of Sundays, and blasphemy, which He described to her as being like a "poisoned arrow." To her He dictated the prayer which has become known as "The Golden Arrow" and which honors His Holy Name:

The Golden Arrow

May the most Holy, most Sacred, most Adorable, Most Incomprehensible and Ineffable Name of God Be always Praised, Blessed, Loved, Adored and Glorified, In Heaven, on Earth and under the Earth, By all the Creatures of God, And by the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ, In the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Amen.

You can read about the life of and revelations given to Sr. Mary of St. Peter by reading "The Message of Sr. Mary of St. Peter" in this site's Catholic Library.

At around the time Sister was receiving her visions, into Tours from Martinique moved the saintly Monsieur Leo Dupont (1797-1876), a man whose young wife had died and whose daughter God also took in this interesting way: she'd begun moving about in "fashionable circles" and taking on a worldly air that caused M. Dupont to worry about her eternal welfare, so much so that he prayed, "My God, if You foresee that my daughter will part from You, I ask you to take her with You so that she will not be separated from You." His daughter soon died of typhoid. Though tormented by his temporal loss, he kept his faith in God and nurtured it.

He soon heard of Sr. Mary of St. Peter's efforts to spread devotion to the Holy Face and, inspired by the Holy Ghost through her example, decided to dedicate his life to this work. He kept an oil lamp burning continuously before an image of the Holy Face, and his home became a center of pilgrimage when people began to gather to pray before the image, with many receiving miraculous cures through the application of his lamp's oil to their skin. He went on to establish the Archconfraternity of the Holy Face, and was later recognized by the Church as a "Venerable." He is now known familiarly as "The Holy Man of Tours."


Late 19th Century:
St. Therese of the
Child Jesus and of the Holy Face

Image of Christ based on the image on Veronica's VeilSt. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face

About the picture she venerated -- a picture based on the image of
St. Veronica's Veil -- St. Therese said, "How well Our Lord did to
lower His eyes when He gave us His portrait! Since the eyes are the
mirror of the soul, if we had seen His soul, we would have died from joy."

In yet another sense, devotion to the Holy Face inspires us to know how to imitate Him best, teaches us how to "put on Christ." What did people see when they saw Our Blessed Lord? The Prophet Isaias tells us:

Isaias 52:14, 53:2-3
As many have been astonished at thee, so shall His Visage be inglorious among men, and His form among the sons of men... And He shall grow up as a tender plant before Him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground: there is no beauty in Him, nor comeliness: and we have seen Him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him: Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and His look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed Him not.

It is this sense of the Holy Face devotion -- meditating on the despised, suffering Countenance that hid His Divinity from those who had no eyes to see -- that inspired the spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux, "The Little Flower" whose religious name was "St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face." Contemplating His "hiddenness" and the Mystery of His having humbled Himself as He did by becoming a Child and by suffering for us is the source of St. Therese's "Little Way" -- her method of spiritual discipline that teaches us we don't need to be great in the world's terms in order to become a Saint. No matter where we are, no matter our talents or intellect, we can love. Hidden away herself, in her Norman convent, she wrote of the Prophet's words

These words of Isaias: "He was without splendor, without beauty, His Face was hidden, as it were, and His person was not acknowledged”; one finds in them the whole foundation of my devotion to the Holy Face, or to say it better, the foundation of all my piety. I also desire myself to be without splendor, without beauty, to tread alone the wine in the press, unknown by every creature.

And later:

Jesus set the book of nature before me and I saw that all the flowers He has created are lovely. The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. I realized that if every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness and there would be no wildflowers to make the meadows gay.

It is just the same in the world of souls -- which is the garden of Jesus. He has created the great saints who are like the lilies and the roses, but He has also created much lesser saints and they must be content to be the daisies or the violets which rejoice his eyes whenever He glances down. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being that which He wants us to be.

St. Therese did no one particular thing that one would point at and say, "See? Clearly she is a great Saint!" Her greatness was not in what she did so much as how she did it: with humility, with acceptance of suffering, and all for the love of Christ. She died of tuberculosis at the age of 24, telling a Sister a few months before her death that she would spend her Heaven doing good upon the earth, and that it will be like "a shower of roses." She left behind her autobiography ("Story of a Soul") -- which you can read in this site's Catholic Library --  and poetry and prayers, among which are her Canticle and Prayer to the Holy Face:

Canticle to the Holy Face
12 August 1895

Jesus, Your ineffable image
Is the star which guides my steps.
Ah, You know, Your sweet Face
Is for me Heaven on earth.
My love discovers the charms
Of Your Face adorned with tears.
I smile through my own tears
When I contemplate Your sorrows.

Oh! To console You I want
To live unknown on earth!
Your beauty, which You know how to veil,
Discloses for me all its mystery.
I would like to fly away to You!

Your Face is my only homeland.
It's my Kingdom of love.
It's my cheerful meadow.
Each day, my sweet sun.
It's the Lily of the Valley
Whose mysterious perfume
Consoles my exiled soul,
Making it taste the peace of Heaven.

It's my Rest, my Sweetness
And my melodious Lyre
Your Face, O my Sweet Savior,
Is the Divine Bouquet of Myrrh
I want to keep on my heart!

Your Face is my only wealth.
I ask for nothing more.
Hiding myself in it unceasingly,
I will resemble You, Jesus
Leave in me, the Divine Impress
Of Your features filled with sweetness,
And soon I'll become holy.
I shall draw hearts to You.

So that I may gather
A beautiful golden harvest,
Deign to set me aflame with Your Fire.
With Your adorned mouth,
Give me soon the Eternal Kiss!

St. Theres's Prayer to the Holy face

O Jesus, Who in Thy bitter Passion didst become "the most abject of men, a man of sorrows," I venerate Thy Sacred Face whereon there once did shine the beauty and sweetness of the Godhead ... but now it has become for me as if it were the Face of a leper! Nevertheless, under those disfigured features, I recognize Thy Infinite Love and I am consumed with the desire to love Thee and make Thee loved by all men.

The tears which well up abundantly in Thy Sacred Eyes appear to me as so many precious pearls that I love to gather up, in order to purchase the souls of poor sinners by means of their infinite value. O Jesus, Whose adorable Face ravished my heart, I implore Thee to fix deep within me Thy Divine Image and to set me on fire with Thy Love, that I may be found worthy to come to the contemplation of Thy glorious Face in Heaven. Amen.

Early 20th Century:
Sister Maria Pierina De Micheli

Sister Maria Pierina was inspired through visions of Our Lord and Lady to take up the work of spreading devotion to the Holy Face. Lord Christ told her, "I will that My Face, which reflects the intimate pains of my Spirit, the suffering and the love of My Heart, be more honoured. He who meditates upon Me, consoles Me."

An image of a scapular bearing the likeness of the Face on the Holy Shroud was revealed to her by Our Lady, who told her, "This Scapular is an armour of defense, a shield of strength, a token of the love and mercy which Jesus wishes to give the world in these times of lust and hatred against God and His Church. Diabolical nets are thrown to wrench the Faith from hearts, evils abound, true apostles are few, and the remedy is the Holy Face of Jesus." Our Lady said that all those who piously wear the image, make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament every Tuesday, if possible, to make reparation for the assaults against the Holy Face, and receive the Holy Eucharist every day will have a happy death under the loving gaze of her Son.

Sister Pierina set about to cast the image in the form of a medal, and after some struggle in gaining permission, found she had no money to have the medals cast. This last problem was remedied apparently miraculously: she found an envelope with the exact sum of money needed on her desk, seemingly from nowhere. After the medals were cast, the Evil One made known his displeasure. How could he not despise an image of the image left behind when Jesus walked away from His burial shroud? Enraged, Evil Spirit flung the medals around the room, and physically assaulted Sister Pierina. But he was defeated, and the practice of wearing the medals spread all over the world.

The obverse side of the medal bears the image of the Holy Face, as revealed by the Shroud of Turin. Surrounding it are the words of Psalm 66:2, "Illumina Domine Vultum Tuum super nos" ("Shew the light of Thy countenance, O Lord, upon us."). On the back of the medal is a Sacred Host inscribed with the monogram of the Holy Name ("IHS"), surrounded by rays and the words, "Mane nobiscum Domine" ("Stay with us, O Lord").


Sister Pierina died in 1945, a few years after having written in her diary, "I feel a deep longing to live always united to Jesus, to love Him intensely because my death can only be a transport of love with my Spouse, Jesus."

The Human Face of Lord Christ

For your adoration, I provide you with a series of pictures of the Shroud of Turin: the Shroud as it appears to the naked eye, the Shroud as it appears in photgraphic negative, and an exquisite painting of Christ based closely on the Shroud's image and painted by the Armenian artist, Ariel Agemian. I position these pictures so you can see them side by side, and then present the painting, englarged, so you can "look into the eyes of Christ."

Beneath these pictures are the Shroud image and the Agemian painting on either side of an image of what the 12-year old Christ may have looked like as determined by the Italian police whose artists, in A.D. 2004, took the image of the Shroud and subtracted 20 years with methods used in police investigations.

In all of these images, you will see that, despite the Prophet's words that "there is no beauty in Him, nor comeliness," there is great beauty and comeliness indeed in the sweet and Holy Face of our Savior!

See also the Novena to the Holy Face.

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