MERCY IMAGE. Filmmaker Daniel diSilva with Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron with a copy of the original image. Courtesy of Daniel diSilva
Enter the simple room where Jesus appeared to St. Faustina. Then join a quest to follow the history of the original image of Divine Mercy — complete with escapes from the brutal Nazi and Soviet occupations and the abandonment from which divine Providence rescued the special image — until it was finally brought back to Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1987.
Filmed on location in Lithuania, Poland and the United States, The Original Image of Divine Mercy: The Untold Story of an Unknown Masterpiece presents information and insights every step of the way. Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, St. John Paul’s secretary, Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, Marian Father Michael Gaitley, the curator of “St. Faustina’s Home” in Vilnius, art historians, musician Harry Connick Jr. and others all present what Divine Mercy means to them.
California filmmaker Daniel diSilva doesn’t believe it is coincidental that his documentary was under way when Pope Francis announced the Year of Mercy.
He told the Register he believes this film and holy year are meant to magnify the devotion. “There’s something about this painting beyond the visual,” diSilva explained.
“If we consider the painting as a mystical painting, this painting uniquely has that quality. This is a painting rendered under the direction of a particular saint who saw a vision. The one Faustina witnessed being made should have a unique grace, not only in devotion of Divine Mercy, but in art history.”
DiSilva himself made a surprising discovery only after the film was finished and he watched its premiere on a huge screen. His favorite shot is the close-up of Jesus’ head. “I never realized how stunning it is on a large screen. I believe something mystical [was] going on there. The painting is now above an altar, behind glass, and I realized that’s as close as anyone can get to this painting.”
“This particular digital image is the most precise digital replication of the image available. The detail was all there,” he added.
Surprising details are part of the viewing experience, diSilva said. “Where in art do you see a purple halo [for Jesus]? I don’t think Faustina could have invented the purple halo. She saw something that was never seen before — and a yellow outline around the halo. The artist was very docile and obedient to her. To me, that’s another confirmation that what she saw was divine.”
The film brings out qualities that are integral to the devotion and unique to the original image, such as the height of Christ’s hand in the painting.
When the painting was done by Eugene Kazimierowski under St. Faustina’s supervision in 1934, the Church was very particular about liturgical gestures. In giving a blessing at Mass, priests were instructed to raise their hands no higher than the shoulder. DiSilva finds it interesting that Christ abides by the instructions he gave through his Church, raising his hand up to shoulder height, in the image.
And the black background is integral, too. When Faustina saw Jesus, there was nothing in the vision except him.
Also, Jesus’ eyes look downward because he was looking for us, in mercy, from the cross — among the qualities “that Father [Blessed Michael] Sopocko [St. Faustina’s spiritual director and promoter of Divine Mercy] made sure were in his canon that every artist thereafter should follow,” diSilva said.
Meaning and Message
The original Divine Mercy image — the only one that existed in Faustina’s lifetime — was displayed for the first time in 1935 on the first Sunday after Easter — now Divine Mercy Sunday — in Vilnius, when it was part of Poland, at the Gate of Dawn, the shrine of Mater Misericordia, Mother of Mercy.
This first exposition was part of the jubilee year of 1935.
Archbishop Grušas explained that the jubilee year was actually 1933-34. It coincided with the 1,900th anniversary of Jesus’ passion and death. But the Pope then extended the jubilee for a second year — 1935. And the image is also “highly linked to the Mother of Mercy.”
Faustina was at the Mass during that first public exposition and described how she saw Jesus’ hand move in blessing over the crowd and the city, with the red and white rays from his heart radiating out to the people gathered there.
Archbishop Grušas said this part of the painting is integral to the devotion because the light of Jesus comes into the world. “We’re all feeling how much we’re surrounded by the darkness in the world,” the archbishop explained. “The image helps you focus on the light that is Jesus.”
In this Year of Mercy, that gesture of Jesus’ hand is “not only of blessing, but of absolution — Jesus is forgiving our sins,” he added.
“The white and the red represent both the water and the blood; it is baptism and the Eucharist,” the archbishop said. “Through the devotion given to Faustina in the novena, Jesus very often speaks of the forgiveness of sins that comes to us from baptism and making a good confession.”
Tightly coupled with that view from the cross and with the sacraments, “you have all this theology in this image, with the darkness in the back that keeps your mind from wandering to other sights. It’s all there: very condensed theology in one icon — Jesus defeating evil through the sacraments, reconciliation and redemption.”
Archbishop Grušas added, “The image is an instrument to help us understand the depth of the message. It’s fundamental to understand the image gives us an icon of the revelation and helps us understand that mystery more deeply.”
The original image was restored to its pristine beauty in 2011. Our Lord promised that graces would flow through it (St. Faustina’s diary, 313). Since it was returned to Vilnius, the original image is enshrined in the city where, according to Father Sopocko, it must be. Today, it is permanently placed in the Church of the Holy Spirit.
The filmmaker wants the documentary readily available for parishes, groups and schools to host screenings during this holy year (DivineMercyFilm.com). Already, showings are booked in several states (for scheduling so far, see HolyYearofMercy.com/events). This is a film that will make viewers thirst to learn more about the Divine Mercy message and promises.
Archbishop Grušas explained that he takes divine Providence’s hand in this image very seriously, and he invites pilgrims to come and see for themselves.
“This is a great treasure of the Church,” he said, “and we have to prepare a way the people can make their way to Vilnius, for Jesus told Faustina that from this picture great graces will abound.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.