Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
When we think of the Passion of our Lord or make the Stations of the Cross, one image that should come into our mind’s eye is the Sixth Station — St. Veronica wiping the face of Jesus to comfort him. Because Jesus left an image of his face on her veil, surely Veronica — and who knows how many others with her — would venerate that image of his Holy Face countless times over the years.
Her act was like the gospel’s tiny mustard seed that grew into a tree. While it was always there in some way over the centuries, the devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus did not come into mature size and full leaf until the mid-19th century.
St. Therese of Lisieux had an intense devotion to the Holy Face. Her monastery had a copy of the relic of Veronica’s Veil at the Vatican (more later), and she would exclaim, “Oh, how much good that Holy Face has done me in my life!”
Most people forget that her complete religious name was St. Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face.
Her sister Céline had something essential to say about Therese’s devotion. She wrote, "Devotion to the Holy Face was, for Therese, the crown and complement of her love for the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord. The Blessed Face was the mirror wherein she beheld the Heart and Soul of her Well-Beloved. Just as the picture of a loved one serves to bring the whole person before us, so in the Holy Face of Christ Therese beheld the entire Humanity of Jesus. We can say unequivocally that this devotion was the burning inspiration of the Saint's life...Her devotion to the Holy Face transcended, or more accurately, embraced, all the other attractions of her spiritual life."
By the way, Céline’s own full religious name was Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face.
“Until my coming to Carmel,” explained Therese, “I had never fathomed the depths of the treasures hidden in the Holy Face.”
One of the nuns testifying during her canonization process said that “however tender was her devotion to the Child Jesus, it cannot compare to that which Sister Therese felt for the Holy Face."
“Those who contemplate the wounds on my Face here on earth shall contemplate It radiant in heaven.” So Jesus told Sr. Mary of St. Peter in 1844. She was a nun in the Carmelite of Tours, France.
“This begins the modern revelations about devotion to the Holy Face,” explains Father Stanley Smolenski, director of the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina/Mother of Joyful Hope in Kingstree, South Carolina.
The nun began receiving visions of Jesus and our Blessed Mother from 1844 to 1847. She also reported a vision where she saw St. Veronica wipe spit and mud from Jesus’ face with her veil, plus the contemporary sacrilegious and blasphemous acts adding to the spit and mud St. Veronica wiped away on that road to Calvary.
Jesus made a major request for reparation for the sin of blasphemy, outrages against the Holy Name of Jesus and the profanation of Sundays. The nun revealed that the Lord told her, “You cannot comprehend the malice of this sin. Were my Justice not restrained by my Mercy, it would instantly crush the guilty.”
He said these blasphemies were like a “poisoned arrow” constantly wounding his heart, but he gave her the remedy to make reparation and heal the wounds — the “Golden Arrow” prayer. He himself gave her the prayer and said, “This Golden Arrow will wound My Heart delightfully, and heal the wounds inflicted by blasphemy.”
Our Lord revealed many things to the good nun, such as “Through this Holy Face you will obtain the conversion of many sinners. Nothing that you ask in virtue of the Holy Face will be refused you. Oh, if you only knew how pleasing is the sight of My Face to My Father!"
Jesus attached several promises to this prayer. Now was the time for spreading this prayer and devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus.
Beyond Monastery Walls
Her superior told a holy gentleman in Tours about it — Venerable Leo Dupont.
In 1849, on the Epiphany, as usual the Vatican exposed the relic of “Veronica’s Veil” for public veneration. This time, on the exposition’s third day, the face of Jesus that had become hardly discernable, appeared to be alive and bathed in a soft light. The Veil also became colorful. All this happened as many witnesses looked on. Bells rang to call people to see the face of Jesus.
“The expression on the Holy Face was one of profound sorrow and of love,” reports one source. Some copies of the image were made and touched to the relic of Veronica’s Veil. The prioress of the Tours Carmel gave Dupont two images on Palm Sunday. He kept one, and on Wednesday enthroned it in his room burning before it a votive lamp. Later during Holy Week he piously used the oil in the lamp to pray for two people with physical difficulties. Both were healed. That began countless healings and graces of all kinds over the next 25 years as he promoted the devotion to the Holy Face.
He turned his room into the Oratory of the Holy Face which it still remains, and Dupont began the “Archconfraternity of the Holy Face.” Is it any wonder that St. Therese’s father, St. Louis Martin, not only went to the Oratory in Tours but also enrolled his entire family in the archconfraternity?
The Archbishop of Tours approved. Blessed Pius IX said, “This salutary reparation to the Holy Face of Jesus is a divine work, destined to save modern society.” In 1885 Pope Leo XIII also endorsed the devotion and established an Archconfraternity of the Holy Face for the world.
The Holy Face of Jesus devotion has its roots from the birth of the Lord. His Mother Mary was the first to contemplate his face, and then St. Joseph also. Later the shepherds too. Imagine on how their devotion continued as Jesus grew. And who can begin to realize the depth of Our Lady’s pain as she watched the face of Jesus during his Passion and crucifixion.
“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,” explains Father Smolenski. He refers many prominent Scriptural references. A sample among them are: Psalm 119:135 asks, “Make thy face shine upon your servant, and teach me thy statutes.” Psalm 67:1 begins, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.”
Matthew, Mark and Luke emphasize Jesus’ face at the Transfiguration — “his face shone like the sun.” And Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:6, that God brings to light “the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Christ.”
Fast forward to icons looking much like Veronica’s Veil — remember, the name Veronica comes from “Vera Icon,” meaning true image. There’s a tradition from earliest Christianity that tells the story of an image of the Holy Face of Christ “not made by human hands.” Father Smolenski explains it’s claimed to have been made when Jesus pressed the cloth to his face to give to King Abgar IV of Edessa for his cure. The Eastern Church preserves this tradition. Hence, the icons by that name.
Leaping over what saints said about a devotion to the Holy Face over the centuries takes us to the Shroud of Turin on which the image of Jesus came to be seen in a major way once photography came on the scene. Again, interest in Jesus’ Holy Face began to spread.
St. Therese’s sister Céline, an accomplished artist, painted a Holy Face using the Shroud of Turin.
Second Nun Sees Jesus
“Each time my Face is contemplated, I will pour my love into hearts and through my Holy Face the salvation of many souls will be obtained.” So Jesus revealed to a Daughter of the Immaculate Conception nun in Italy in 1926 regarding the Holy Face. Her name: Blessed Maria Pierina De Michelis. She was familiar with the Shroud.
“I wish that my Face, which reflects the intimate sorrow of my soul, and the suffering and love of my Heart, be better honored. He who contemplates me consoles me,” Jesus told her.
During Holy Week Jesus told Sr. Maria Pierina, “Each time my Face is contemplated I will pour my love into hearts and through my Holy Face the salvation of many souls will be obtained.”
On the first Tuesday of 1937, Jesus assured her this devotion would not interfere with others honoring him. “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 the true devotion to my Heart?”
The Blessed Mother showed Blessed Maria a scapular medal of the Holy Face, approving it. And Jesus told her he wanted his Holy Face honored in a special way on Tuesdays and a feast preceded by a novena “in which the faithful make reparation with me, joining together and sharing in my sorrow,” celebrated on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
Venerable Pius XII approved this feast and a Mass for it in 1958.
Christ has given us many reminders to honor his Holy Face, a major one coming to light near the end of the 20th century. Although known for centuries, it wasn’t until recent years that the knowledge of the Veil of Manoppello has become widespread, thanks in large measure to the magnificent book by Paul Badde.
“The Sorrowful Face on the Turin Shroud and the Living Face of Manoppello have produced the Holy Face in the context of the Paschal Mystery,” says Father Smolenski.
In 2006 on his first trip outside Rome, Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff in over 400 years to venerate the Holy Face on the Veil of Manoppello in church in the town of the same name. Many believe this is the Veil of Veronica, the image of the resurrected Christ.
On his visit he said, “Seeking the Face of Jesus must be the longing of all of us Christians; indeed, we are 'the generation' which seeks his Face in our day, the Face of the 'God of Jacob'. If we persevere in our quest for the Face of the Lord, at the end of our earthly pilgrimage, he, Jesus, will be our eternal joy, our reward and glory forever.”
Then in 2016, for the first time in 808 years, townspeople came from that shrine to Rome for an ancient custom of a procession using a replica of the Holy Face of Manoppello.
Archbishop Georg Gänswein speaking at it said that “the face of Christ is the first, the most noble and most precious treasure of all Christendom, even more: of all the earth.”
Marian and Eucharistic Dimension
St. John Paul II brought out the Marian dimension in honoring and contemplating the Holy Face, the Face of Christ, and the major priority to do so. In On the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he wrote, “To contemplate the Face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the program which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium…”
St. John Paul II noted another aspect of this devotion in Ecclesia de Eucharistia. “The Eucharistic Face of Jesus makes the historic Holy Face of Jesus present in all its mysteries in sacramental form.”
And recently Pope Francis explained in his letter declaring the Holy Year — The Face of Mercy — that “Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy…Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (John 14.9)” The Church knows her primary task, “is to introduce everyone to the great mystery of God’s mercy by contemplating the face of Christ.”
Isn’t Holy Week the perfect time to begin honoring the Holy Face of Jesus?
May the most holy, most sacred, most adorable, most incomprehensible and ineffable Name of God be forever 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.
(A booklet explanation of the devotion is available.)
This article originally appeared at the Register on April 14, 2017.