The Holy Face of Jesus
(Gen.22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Rom.8:31-34; Mk.9:2-10)
What did Jesus really look like? Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t tell us, and we have no 1st Century pictures of Him.
One guess is that Jesus looked ordinary (Is.53:2), and much like other Palestinian men of the time. That might explain why Judas had to point Him out in the Garden of Gethsemane (Jn.18:4-9).
Whatever Jesus’ appearance, though, we know from today’s Gospel that it changes there on Mt Tabor. For but a moment, Jesus is transfigured. His clothes become dazzlingly white, His ‘face shines like the sun’ (Mt.17:2), and the disciples briefly see Jesus as He truly is: the Son of God.
Ever since then, people have been fascinated by Jesus’ Holy Face. Today there are so many icons, paintings and statues of Jesus; most depict Him as tall, lean and handsome, with long hair and a beard. This image was heavily influenced by the Shroud of Turin, which was discovered in France in the fourteenth century. [i]
At about that time, a Eucharistic miracle occurred in Walldurn, Germany. A priest accidentally spilled the Precious Blood during Mass, and an image of the Crucified Christ mysteriously appeared on the corporal, surrounded by eleven identical faces of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns. Pope Eugene confirmed this miracle in 1445, and it spurred great devotion to Jesus’ Holy Face. [ii]
This devotion spread further in the 1840s, when a young Carmelite nun, Sr Marie of St. Peter, in Tours, France, reported receiving messages from Jesus. Jesus encouraged her to spread devotion to His Holy Face, and said to her: ‘Those who contemplate the wounds on my face here on earth will contemplate it radiant in heaven.’
Jesus also described to Sr Marie the pain he feels when people blaspheme against His Holy Name. He called it ‘a poison arrow’ that pierces His heart. Then He gave her a prayer called The Golden Arrow, and said that anyone saying these words would pierce Him delightfully, and would help to heal the wounds that have been inflicted on Him:
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 in Hell, 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.
In those days, Leon Dupont was a wealthy man living in Tours. He knew Sr Marie well and took great interest in her revelations. He dedicated his life to encouraging devotion to Jesus’ Holy Face, and when he died in 1876, his home was turned into the Oratory of the Holy Face. [iii]
Sometime later, St. Louis Martin, the father of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, visited that Oratory and enrolled his family as members. It had quite an effect, because when Thérèse joined the Carmelites, she formally adopted the name ‘Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face.’
Jesus’ image was everything to her. It inspired her to look for his hidden face everywhere, and she wrote many prayers expressing her love for him. In her Canticle to the Holy Face (1895), Thérèse wrote, ‘Jesus, your… image is the star which guides my steps… Your sweet face is for me heaven on earth.’
She also wrote, ‘Make me resemble you, Jesus!’ on a small card and put a stamp of the Holy Face on it. She kept it in a little box pinned near her heart.
In the 1890s, photos of the Holy Shroud of Turin were first published and interest in the Holy Face of Jesus grew even more.
At about this time, another child was born in Milan, and in time she, too, became very devoted to Jesus’ Holy Face. In 1913, she joined a convent and took the name Sr Maria Pierina de Micheli.
In 1926, she started getting visions of Christ in which He asked her to spread devotion to His Holy Face. He wanted reparation for all the insults He had suffered during His Passion, when He was slapped, spat upon and kissed by Judas, and for all the ways He is dishonoured today through neglect, sacrilege and profanity.
‘Whoever meditates upon Me, consoles Me,’ Jesus said, and He asked Sr Maria to have medals of His Holy Face made. She achieved that, and today these medals include an image from the Shroud of Turin.[iv] [v]
The transfiguration of Jesus is not just a historical event. It’s an invitation to each of us to get to know Jesus much better, by adoring His Holy Face.
And as we do that, remember that our adoration and prayers will help to heal His terrible wounds.
[i] Edward Lucie-Smith. The Face of Jesus. Abrams, New York. 2011:14-18.