For most across the Catholic world, today’s significance lies in relation to what comes tomorrow—the beginning of our Lenten fast on Ash Wednesday. As a result, it is a day known by many names. It is affectionately called “Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday” or “Carnevale, Removal of Meat,” to denote the feasting that commonly takes place today before the fast begins tomorrow. It is also referred to as “Shrove Tuesday,” because many wish to go to Confession on this day as a final act of preparation for the penitential season that is upon us.
Too few are aware, however, that today is also known by another name: the Feast of the Holy Face. The lack of awareness of this observance and the devotion behind it is much to the Church’s detriment because it answers a great need of our times.
Devotion to the Holy Face is rooted in the small act of loving compassion Saint Veronica showed Our Lord as he bore the Cross. As she looked upon the suffering Christ, she was seized with the impulse to show him pity. Removing her veil, she knelt down and wiped the face of Jesus, bringing him relief from the bloodied sweat, the dust from the road, and the spittle of indignation that were all stinging his wounds and eyes. A marvelous reward was granted to her when the countenance of Jesus’s Holy Face was impressed upon the veil she used. Yet the image of his face on Veronica’s veil that is at the center of the Holy Face devotion, is not one that is beautiful, healthy and ravishing, but a face that is beaten, suffering, and disfigured.
In this we can see a veiled prophecy for Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, in our own day.
By taking up devotion to the Holy Face we can console Jesus in the midst of the societal breakdown, chaos, and even apostasy taking place today. As Western Civilization continues to neglect and even attack its Christian roots, our devotion to the Holy Face can make reparation for the many blasphemies against God while at the same time asking for his mercy upon our world.
Since the Protestant Reformation, the Christian character of Western Civilization has been in decline. God willed that devotion to his Holy Face be heightened in the midst of the turbulent nineteenth century. It was a century marked by social upheaval and political revolutions, during which Christian governments were overthrown and replaced with secular democratic republics. In the midst of all this, the Lord Jesus imparted to a Carmelite nun named Sr. Mary of St. Peter (1816-48) what he called “the most beautiful work under the Sun,” which would be a spiritual remedy that would answer these offenses against him as well as the ones that would soon come. The year Sr. Mary of St. Peter died in 1848, the most widespread revolutionary wave in European history began and Karl Marx published The Communist Manifesto.
On several occasions while Sr. Mary of St. Peter was in prayer at her monastery in Tours, France, the Divine Will was made known to her by what can be called “interior visions.” The Lord made known his desire for reparation through devotion to His Holy Face for sins against the first three commandments, which all pertain to God’s honor: the denial of God, blasphemy, and the profanation of Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. Since the revolutions of 1848 and the dissemination of Marx’s godless ideals, violations of these commandments have gripped the Western world.
Just as Veronica eased the suffering of Our Lord Jesus on His way to Golgatha, devotion to his Holy Face appeases the dishonor our Lord receives for the wide-scale violations of these commandments in our own day. These interior visions granted to Sr. Mary of St. Peter began in 1843 and lasted until 1847. The Lord asked for his “outraged honor” to be appeased by the establishment of confraternities throughout the word to promote this devotion. He promises to all who defend his honor by acts of reparation through this devotion that he will defend them before his Father at the moment of their judgment.
Less than a century later, God’s Will to further devotion to his Holy Face continued to be made known when visions were granted to a religious sister of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Immaculate Conception in Milan. Maria Pierina de Micheli had been devoted to the Holy Face since childhood and she took the religious name, Pierina, after the great Carmelite nun from Tours who had gone before her in promoting this devotion, named Sr. Mary of St. Peter—or in French, Sr. Maria de Sainte-Pierre.
On the first Friday in Lent in 1936, Sr. Maria Pierina de Micheli, received a vision from the Lord in which he said: “I will that My Face, which reflects the intimate pains of My Spirit, the suffering and the love of My Heart, be more honored. He who meditates upon Me, consoles Me.” She received further visions from Our Lord, one urging that a medal of the Holy Face be made and disseminated far and wide, and another vision of heaven’s desire for a feast in honor of the Holy Face the day before Ash Wednesday. Pope Pius XII gave formal approval for both the Medal and today’s Feast in 1958. Sr. Pierina was declared a Blessed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
Devotion to the Holy Face is greatly needed in our times. It is a work of reparation and as Pope Blessed Pius IX said, “Reparation is a Work destined to save society.” Just about every faithful soul in the pew on Sunday knows the pain of having family members who are far from the Lord. Violation of the first three commandments pertaining to God’s honor is, of course, widespread. Through this devotion we can actually do something truly productive in the supernatural order to help save many souls by making reparation for these offenses. Sr. Mary of St. Peter wrote: “Our Lord made me understand that He intended by this Work of Reparation to appease Divine Justice and to grant mercy to sinners for their salvation.”
We have it in our power to ease the dishonor given to Our Lord just as Veronica did when she braved the angry mob and dared to provide him relief in the midst of his excruciating Passion. Jesus endured such sufferings out of love for us in order to redeem us. By taking up devotion to the Holy Face we can make a return of that love. As the great devotee of the Holy Face, the Little Flower, St. Thérèse, wrote: “Whoever gazes upon the Holy Face of Jesus, cannot but be moved to repay our Lord’s infinite love…”
O Bleeding Face, O Face Divine, be every adoration Thine! Amen.
I have been personally impacted by the Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Brooklyn, New York who are zealous in spreading devotion to the Holy Face. Besides their daily prayers and sacrifices at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and St. Joseph, these nuns have an apostolate of fostering this needed devotion for our times. Their website provides further information on how to take up this devotion including all the prayers given by Our Lord to Sr. Mary of St. Peter and Bl. Maria Pierina de Micheli. By writing to them and with a modest donation in support of their monastery, you may also acquire the Chaplet and Medal of the Holy Face.
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