When Venerable Pope Pius XII granted that the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus be observed on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, he fulfilled the desire of Our Lord that His sorrowful Holy Face be contemplated in reparation for our sins. The history and tradition of venerating His Holy Face began on the day of His crucifixion and continues through the centuries with the help of holy men and women chosen by Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother to propagate this devotion.
The bloodied, bruised, disfigured face of Jesus was imprinted on a veil as St. Veronica comforted Christ by wiping His face on the road to Calvary. The original veil is kept at St. Peter’s Basilica and is displayed every Passion Sunday. The image of the face on the Shroud of Turin provides another opportunity of veneration of the Holy Face.
Throughout the centuries, holy men and women have been chosen by Our Lord to spread this devotion. St. Augustine, St. Bernard, St. Gertrude the Great, and St. Mechtilde were the first to encourage the devotion.
Our Lord promised St. Gertrude: “All those who meditate frequently on the vision of My Divine Face, attracted by the desires of love, shall receive within them, through My Humanity, a bright ray of My Divinity, which shall enlighten their inmost souls so that they shall reflect the light of My countenance in a special manner throughout eternity.”
Sister Mary of St. Peter was a young Carmelite nun in Tours, France. In the 1840s she received a series of revelations from Our Lord. Through her, He wished to spread a powerful devotion to His Holy Face in reparation for the outrages of Communism, atheism, cursing, and the profanation of Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. He revealed to her that each time a blasphemy is committed His Sacred Heart is wounded by a poison arrow. Our Lord gave to Sister Mary of St. Peter the Golden Arrow Prayer in reparation for the sins of blasphemy. He promised that priests who propagated this work of reparation would be defended by Him before His Father in Heaven. He also gave her eight promises for all those who honour His Holy Face.
At the age of thirty-three, Sister Mary died a painful death from tuberculosis and an ulcerated throat. After her death, Leo Dupont, a lawyer of Tours and a friend of Sister Mary, continued to spread the devotion. A replica picture of the Holy Face touched to the true relic of the veil of Veronica hung in his home, a votive candle constantly burning beside it. People came to pray before the image and many miraculous healings were attributed to it.
Pope Leo XIII established the Archconfraternity to the Holy Face in 1885. So great was his belief in the urgency of this devotion that he established it immediately for the whole world. Among the members of the Archconfraternity of Reparation to the Holy Face at Tours, France was the family of St. Therese of Lisieux.
St. Therese had a great love for the Holy Face of Jesus. She was taught by her older sister, Pauline “that the disfigured face of the Saviour must encourage her to live in humility, to remain well hidden, and to become progressively the ‘enclosed garden’ in which the Lord could take delight, a ‘little Veronica’ who would console Him.” On the day she received the habit, 10 January 1889, she began signing her name as Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. As she lay dying in August 1897, a picture of the Holy Face was hung in the infirmary so that she could contemplate it.
At the investigation into the cause for her canonization, one of her novices, Sister Marie of the Trinity, testified: “Sister Therese of the Child Jesus had a special devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus. She saw in it the reflection of the humiliations and sufferings Jesus underwent during his Passion. The sight of that divine Face awakened in her soul a passionate desire to be like Him which she constantly spoke about to me. She was proud to bear its name.”
Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother began appearing to Blessed Maria Pierina de Micheli from the age of seven on her First Communion Day in 1898. Called to be a religious Sister, she entered the Order of the Daughters of the Immaculate Conception in 1913. Jesus would often appear to her with a bloodied sorrowful face. On the First Friday of Lent, 1936, He said to her: “I wish that my face, which reflects the intimate sorrow of my soul, and the suffering and love of my Heart, be forever honoured. He who contemplates me consoles me.”
In 1938, He appeared to her with a disfigured face and said: “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 make reparation with me, joining together and sharing in my sorrow.”
On 17 April 1958, Venerable Pope Pius XII approved the observance of the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Our Lord made the following promises to those who honour His Holy Face:
- All those who honor My Face in a spirit of reparation will by so doing perform the office of the pious Veronica. According to the care they take in making reparation to My Face, disfigured by blasphemers, so will I take care of their souls which have been disfigured by sin. My Face is the seal of the Divinity, which has the virtue of reproducing in souls the image of God.
- Those who by words, prayers or writing defend My cause in this Work of Reparation I will defend before My Father, and will give them My Kingdom.
- By offering My Face to My Eternal Father, nothing will be refused, and the conversion of many sinners will be obtained.
- By My Holy Face, they will work wonders, appease the anger of God, and draw down mercy on sinners.
- As in a kingdom they can procure all that is desired with a coin stamped with the King’s effigy, so in the Kingdom of Heaven they will obtain all they desire with the precious coin of My Holy Face.
- Those who on earth contemplate the wounds of My Face shall in Heaven behold it radiant with glory.
- They will receive in their souls a bright and constant irradiation of My Divinity, that by their likeness to My Face they shall shine with particular splendor in Heaven.
- I will defend them, I will preserve them and I assure them of Final Perseverance.
Golden Arrow Prayer
May the most holy, most sacred, most adorable, most incomprehensible and unutterable 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.
Prayer of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face to the Holy Face of Jesus
O Jesus, who, in Thy cruel Passion didst become the “reproach of men and the Man of Sorrows,” I worship Thy divine Face. Once it shone with the beauty and sweetness of the Divinity; but now, for my sake, it is become as “the face of a leper.” Yet, in that disfigured Countenance, I recognize Thy infinite love, and I am consumed with the desire of making Thee loved by all mankind. The tears that flowed so abundantly from Thy Eyes are to me as precious pearls that I delight to gather, that with their worth I may ransom the souls of poor sinners. O Jesus, whose Face is the sole beauty that ravishes my heart, I may not see here below the sweetness of Thy glance, nor feel the ineffable tenderness of Thy kiss, I bow to Thy Will—but I pray Thee to imprint in me Thy divine likeness, and I implore Thee so to inflame me with Thy love, that it may quickly consume me, and that I may soon reach the vision of Thy glorious Face in heaven. Amen.
Canticle to the Holy Face
(by St. Therese of Lisieux)
Jesus! Thy dear and holy Face
Is the bright star that guides my way;
Thy gentle glance, so full of grace,
Is my true heaven on earth, today.
My love finds out the holy charm
Of Thy dear eyes with tear-drops wet;
Through mine own tears I smile at Thee,
And in Thy griefs my pains forget.
Oh! I would gladly live unknown,
Thus to console Thy aching heart.
Thy veiled beauty, it is shown
To those who live from earth apart.
Fain would I fly to Thee alone!
Thy Face it is my fatherland;
It is the sunshine of my days;
My realm of love, my sunlit land,
Where through the hours I sing Thy praise;
It is the lily of the vale,
Whose mystic perfume, freely given,
Brings comfort, when I faint and fail,
And makes me taste the peace of heaven.
Thy face, in its unearthly grace,
Is like the divinest myrrh to me,
That on my heart I gladly place;
It is my lyre of melody;
My rest—my comfort—is Thy Face.
My only wealth, Lord! is thy Face;
Naught ask I more than this from Thee;
Hidden in the secret of Thy Face,
The more I shall resemble Thee!
Leave on me the divine impress
Of Thy sweet, patient Face of love,
And soon I shall become a saint,
And draw men’s hearts to Thee above.
So, in the secret of Thy Face,
Oh! hide me, hide me, Jesus blest!
There let me find its hidden grace,
Its holy fires, and, in heaven’s rest,
Its rapturous kiss, in Thy embrace!
Descouvemont, P., Loose, H.N. (1996). Therese and Lisieux. Toronto: Novalis.
Gaucher, G. (2006) The Passion of Therese of Lisieux. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company.