Holy Face of Jesus: February 2007 Archives

Who Are the Saints?

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Saturday of the Sixth Week of the Year I
Mark 9:2–13

Jesus Alone With His Friends

Who are the saints? The saints are those who allow themselves to be taken by Jesus “up a high mountain apart by themselves” (Mk 9:2). The saints are those who accept the invitation of the Master to go with him to a place of solitude and to remain with him there. The saints are those who, leaving behind what is familiar and reassuring, choose the company of Jesus alone — a wondrous and fearful thing — amazed that Jesus has chosen to be alone with them. “It is not you who seek my company,” he says, “it is who seek yours.”

Those to Whom God Speaks Face to Face

The saints are the blessed companions of Moses to whom “the Lord used to speak face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex 33:11). They are the friends of Elijah fed by an angel in the wilderness (1 K 19:5-7): Elijah to whom God spoke not in a great wind, nor in an earthquake, nor in fire, but in “a still small voice” (1 K 19:13).

Seekers of the Face of God

The saints are those in whom the prayer of David is a ceaseless murmur by day and by night: “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me” (Ps 26:8-9). The saints are those before whom Jesus shows himself transfigured, “his garments glistening, intensely white” (Mk 9:3), his face “shining like the sun” (Mt 17:2) — and this as “in a mirror darkly” (1 Cor 13:12). The saints are those who, having caught a glimpse of “the fairest of the sons of men” (Ps 44:2) cannot detach their gaze from his face, those who live with their eyes fixed in his.

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Local sanctuaries and regional pilgrimages abound in Italy. At the origin of most of them is a miraculous event or special grace. The foundational event is kept alive in the collective memory of the people by means of yearly festivals, processions, and other celebrations. Given that this blog is dedicated to the Vultus Christi, the Holy Face of Christ, I want to recall today the anniversary of just such an event and the shrine that grew out it.

Flora Romano De Santis (1899–1969) and her husband Ernesto De Santis, a devout couple living at Capodimonte in Naples, subscribed to a number of Catholic periodicals. On the cover of an issue of Crociata Missionnaria (Missionary Crusade), Flora noticed a beautiful image of the Face of Christ, a reproduction of a painting by the artist Rina Maluta. It was nothing more than a magazine cover, but Flora and her husband were strangely moved by the divine beauty of the Face. Flora cut out the image, framed it, and gave it a place of honour in her bedroom. This is not the first time that a common, printed reproduction of a popular image has become a means of grace. It pleases God to make use of things that are humble and quotidian.

On February 10, 1932, Flora was praying the rosary in front of the image of the Face of Christ. The day was cold and grey. Flora had just finished cooking and serving dinner for the poor and abandoned old people of her neighbourhood.

All of a sudden the room was filled with an immense light shining from the framed picture of the Holy Face. As Flora gazed at the image, it came to life before her eyes. Our Lord, looking at Flora, said, "Flora, behold this Face so offended and insulted; love it and make it loved."

From that moment forward, Flora dedicated herself to obeying these words of Christ. For thirty–five years she devoted herself to loving the Holy Face of Christ and making it loved, all the while seeing that same adorable Face in the faces of the poor, especially of orphans and of the elderly.

Signora De Santis became Madre Flora to countless people who knocked at her door wanting to pray before the miraculous image. Madre Flora was graced with all sorts of charisms: locutions, prophesies, visions, and especially, the gifts of wisdom and of counsel. She was given the secret of opening hearts to prayer, and of leading people to the contemplation of the Face of Christ and to the sacraments.

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The De Santis home became a shrine of the Volto Santo, the Holy Face of Christ. Padre Giacinto Ruggieri, a Friar Minor of the Province of Naples, was Madre Flora's spiritual director and her representative to the authorities of the Church. In 1965, His Eminence Cardinal Alfonso Cataldo, Archbishop of Naples, authorized the daily celebration of Holy Mass in "the house of the Holy Face."

Madre Flora died on May 31, 1969. For ten days, crowds of people mourned her passing and venerated her remains. By popular decision, later legitimized by the competent civil and ecclesiastical authorities, Madre Flora was interred in the little chapel of her own home.

On February 25, 1990, His Eminence Cardinal Michele Giordano blessed the first stone of a spacious new sanctuary of the Holy Face, and on March 10, 1996 the same prelate celebrated the opening of the church to the faithful. Pilgrims from Campania and from every part of Italy continue to bear witness to the flood of graces obtain through confident prayer before the Holy Face of Jesus and the intercession of Madre Flora.


Saint Veronica

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In some martyrologies, today is the feast of Saint Veronica, the woman of courage and compassion commemorated in Catholic piety at the Sixth Station of the Cross. It is the feastday of my niece Veronica Kirby and of Mère Véronique, prioress general of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified. This painting of "The Veronica" by the Master of Flémalle (ca. 1375–1444) depicts the Holy Face on a finely woven and transparent cloth, exactly like the Holy Face of Manoppello.

On March 24, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger offered the following meditation and prayer during the Via Crucis in the Colosseum:

From the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. 53:2-3

He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

From the Book of Psalms. 27:8-9

You have said, "Seek my face". My heart says to you, "Your face, Lord, do I seek". Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Cast me not off, forsake me not, O God of my salvation.

Meditation

"Your Face, Lord, do I seek. Hide not your Face from me" (Ps 27:8-9). Veronica Bernice, in the Greek tradition embodies the universal yearning of the devout men and women of the Old Testament, the yearning of all believers to see the Face of God. On Jesus' Way of the Cross, though, she at first did nothing more than perform an act of womanly kindness: she held out a facecloth to Jesus. She did not let herself be deterred by the brutality of the soldiers or the fear which gripped the disciples. She is the image of that good woman, who, amid turmoil and dismay, shows the courage born of goodness and does not allow her heart to be bewildered. "Blessed are the pure in heart", the Lord had said in his Sermon on the Mount, "for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8). At first, Veronica saw only a buffeted and pain-filled Face. Yet her act of love impressed the true image of Jesus on her heart: on his human Face, bloodied and bruised, she saw the Face of God and his goodness, which accompanies us even in our deepest sorrows. Only with the heart can we see Jesus. Only love purifies us and gives us the ability to see. Only love enables us to recognize the God who is love itself.

Prayer

Lord, grant us restless hearts, hearts which seek your Face. Keep us from the blindness of heart which sees only the surface of things. Give us the simplicity and purity which allow us to recognize your presence in the world. When we are not able to accomplish great things, grant us the courage which is born of humility and goodness. Impress your Face on our hearts. May we encounter you along the way and show your image to the world.

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Just yesterday I found this prayer to the Holy Face printed on the back of a reproduction of the Volto Santo in the Chapter Room of the Cistercian monastery of Santa Susanna:

Holy Face of my sweet Jesus,
living and eternal expression of the love
and of the divine martyrdom suffered for the redemption of mankind,
I adore Thee and I love Thee.
Today and for always
I consecrate to Thee my whole being.
By the most pure hands of the Immaculate Queen
I offer Thee the prayers, actions, and works of this day,
in expiation and reparation for the sins of poor creatures.
Make me Thy true apostle.
May your gentle gaze be ever present to me
and, at the hour of my death,
grow bright with mercy.
Amen.

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I am profoundly grateful to Mother M. Clare Millea, A.S.C.J. for making possible a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Holy Face of Jesus at Manoppello in the Province of Pescaro, Abruzzo. Manoppello is the very place visited by Pope Benedict XVI last September 1, the same day on which I inaugurated this blog dedicated to the Vultus Christi, the Holy Face of Christ.

Mother Clare and Sisters Barbara Matazzaro and Mary Grace Giaimo are all Connecticut natives. We left Rome early on the morning of Tuesday, 9 January with Sister Mary Grace at the wheel, praying the rosary (Mysteries of the Holy Face) as we rolled eastward towards the Adriatic The weather was clear and crisp. We had coffee when we arrived at Manoppello. I couldn't wait to enter the church to see the Holy Face. "Thy Face, O Lord, will I still seek; hide not Thy Face from me" (Ps 26:8-9).

There was no one else in the church when we entered it. There, high above the altar, was the Holy Face of Manoppello. "Lift up, O Lord, the light of Thy Face upon us" (Ps 66:1). Approaching the Holy Face was an indescribable experience, one clearly willed and arranged by Divine Providence. We were greeted by Father Carmine Cucinelli, the Guardian of the Capuchin community at Manoppello, and by Sister Blandina Paschalis Schlömer, a German Trappistine nun and iconographer now living at Manoppello.

Father Carmine arranged for us to have Holy Mass in the church: a Votive Mass of the Holy Face of Christ. What a joy for me to offer the Holy Sacrifice in this place that I have I wanted to visit for so long. I said with particular intensity the invocation that I pray silently every day when I elevate the Sacred Host: "Illumina, Domine, Vultum tuum super nos -- Lift up, O Lord, the light of Thy Face upon us." The proper texts of the Mass were exquisite. The Preface of the Mass praised God for giving us the image of the Face of His Son in this temple. I only regret that I did ask for a copy of the Collect and the Preface of the Mass.

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The Holy Face is a very finely woven veil stretched between two panes of glass. It appears to be made of an ancient sea-byssus fibre, a precious "marine silk" also found inside some sarcophagi of the Egyptian pyramids. This would be the "fine linen" mentioned forty-six times, neither more nor less, in Sacred Scripture.

The cloth measures cm 17 x 24 (6,70 x 9,45 inches). The fabric is so thin that the image is visible before and behind and so transparent that a newspaper, put behind it, could be read even at a distance. It is the effigy of a long-haired man with a broken nose, a wispy beard and a short forelock on his bloodstained forehead (Mk 15:17; Mt 27:29); his half-open mouth seems to be about to utter something.

In the dim light of a candle, the contrasting shades of brown seem to recede, allowing the darker bruises covering his the Face to become visible. His cheeks are dissimilar: one, rounder than the other, appears considerably swollen (Jn 18:22; 19:1-3). Dr. Donato Vittore and Dr. Giulio Fanti have, after examining the image under ultra-violet rays, confirmed that no paint is found on the veil.

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His eyes look upward, allowing the white of the eye under the iris to be seen. His gaze is one of wonder or amazement, but it is also benevolent and consoling. It expresses the love of Jesus for us even after His bitter Passion, reminding us that He said to the disciples, "Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age" (Mt 28:20).

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Sister Blandina Paschalis spent about two hours with us, explaining her original scientific research on the Holy Face. Sister Blandina is intensely devoted to the Face of Christ. When she kneels in prayer before the Holy Face of Manoppello, one senses the grace of contemplation given to those who seek and adore the Face of Christ.

By placing exact photo slides of the Holy Shroud of Turin and the Holy Face of Manoppello one upon the other, Sister Blandina discovered that their transparent data-points fit together perfectly. The Face of Christ in death is given us on the Shroud of Turin, and the Face of the rising Christ -- Christ at the moment of His holy resurrection -- is given us on the Veil of Manoppello.

Dr. Father Heinrich Pfeiffer, S.J., professor of iconography and history of Christian art at the Pontifical Gregorian University here in Rome, affirms that the Veil of Manoppello was, in times past, considered to be an image not made by human hands. This sacred Image was the model for the later representations of the Holy Face.

The Jesuit scholar also asserts that Our Lord gave us not only his Word by means of the Holy Scriptures, but also his Image formed in the tomb when a supernatural radiant energy illumined the "fine linen" soaked in aloe and myrrh, photosensitive "spices" (Jn 19:40), leaving divine evidence of the Passion, Resurrection and everlasting Glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Mt 28:7; Lk 24:51; Ac 1:9).

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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