Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Seeking His Face

One day more, as the song says, and Lent will be upon us.  Today is the traditional day to celebrate before the fast begins: Mardi Gras or Carnevale in the Latin tradition, or Shrove Tuesday here in Ireland and the UK.  As the Latins have parties, we have pancakes - there's a difference in culture for you.

But today sees another celebration: the feast of the Holy Face of Jesus. In 1958 Pope Pius XII approved the observance of the feast on this day, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and a Mass was approved for use in what is now the Extraordinary Form.  As today is a ferial day in the Ordinary Form we can observe the feast, though there is no votive Mass proper, as of yet.  I know the Sanctuary of the Holy Face in Manoppello have a votive Mass used there, but the texts are quite specific to the Sanctuary.  It would be great if the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments would approve a more generic text, drawing on the rich Biblical texts which speak of the Face of God and the Incarnation.

Devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus has been growing for a number of years, and the recent expositions of the Shroud of Turin have intensified people's interest in the devotion.  The glorification of two devotees of the Holy Face, St Gaetano Catanoso and Blessed Maria Pierina De Micheli has also drawn the faithful's attention to the devotion.   And of course Pope Benedict's visit to the Sanctuary of Manoppello in 2006 brought the mysterious cloth imprinted with an image of the Face of Jesus to the attention of the world.  With another exposition of the Shroud next year I'm sure the devotion will continue to grow.

What did Jesus look like?  That is a question people have been asking for centuries.  We have in our mind a particular image of the Lord, and while that image is often subjective, it may well be based on ancient images, some of which are, it has been suggested, based on the mysterious image of the Lord on the Shroud and the Veronican towel.  Traditional icons of the Lord bear a remarkable similarity to the image of the Shroud.


A few years ago a project based on the Shroud of Turin sought to create a 3D image of the face of the man imprinted on it to see what he looked like.  The project yielded the image at the top of this post (and see the video below).  Is this the face of the Lord?  Whether it is or not, the project reveals the desire of all the disciples of the Lord: to see his Face, to gaze upon him whom we love.  This is the longing of the Saints, it is also part of the Beatific Vision - to see God face to face, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and taking Jesus' words to heart, "When you see me, Philip, you see the Father", we long just to catch a glimpse.

Jesus told St Thomas, "You believe because you have seen me, but blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe".  We have not seen yet we believe, and yet we also long to see.  Ultimately, on this earth, we shall see him through the eyes of faith, and we live his way so one day that faith will yield to the eternal vision of him.  This is what devotion to the Holy Face seeks to inspire: a virtuous life lived in imitation of Christ so that one day we will gaze upon his glorious Face.  A devotion which also urges us to see the Face of Christ, the wounded Face of Christ, in our wounded and poor brothers and sisters: for what we do for them is done for Christ.

And of course we will also see him, through the eyes of faith, in the Holy Eucharist.  In his last encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia Blessed John Paul II spoke of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus.  So when we spend time in adoration and gaze on the Sacred Host, we gaze upon the Face of Jesus; yes hidden, but there.  As we gaze on him he gazes back at us.

Happy feast day.

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