The Holy Face: A Brief History
The Holy Face is a devotion within Carmelite Spirituality. It came to prominence in the mid-1800s in the Discalced Carmelite Convents of France. It is an image, of the suffering face of Jesus shaped by His journey to Calvary. It is shown on the veil of Veronica, who cared for the face of Jesus on His journey. The devotion, is still maintained throughout many Carmel’s around the world, but, in my opinion, it has fell out of fade in our recent times. Why? Because, it is tied into making acts of reparation for blasphemers. In a way, the theology of reparation is still looking for its voice in the post Vatican II Church. The idea of reparation is deep and rich, and thus, a topic that must be left for another time.
Even though this devotion lost its place in the Church’s mainline consciousness, its impacts are still felt today. My time in the novitiate is one such example. What is the novitiate? The novitiate is the key time in the life of any person joining a religious institution in the Catholic Church. It is usually 1-2 years long and is a period of intense prayer and study for the person. The person withdraws from institutional studies and/or full time active ministry, to learn the full and rich charism of the religious intuition that the Lord called them to join. Usually, during this time they receive the habit (or part of it) and now have a formal relationship with the religious institution. For me, as a Carmelite, it was time of learning our history, saints, spirituality, rule, constitution, charism, silence, and learning about myself in relationship to these things. All this study, prayer, and silence, prepared me to say yes to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Given the Holy Face of Jesus
When did the Holy Face of Jesus impact my novitiate time? One the very last day of my novitiate year, when I made my vows to God, before His body the Church. During that morning before my novitiate class made our vows, we gathered together in silence in our community chapel. The Novice masters had placed on the altar a medal of the Holy Face of Jesus. There was one medal for each, soon to be, new Carmelite brother. They spoke to us, blessed these medals, and draped us in them. As we left the novitiate, we now carried the Holy Face of Jesus upon us.
Religious are not Their Own
I never asked my former novice masters why they did this, but many times since then my mind has gone back to that morning. The Church teaches that a consecrated person within the Church, is an eschatological sign that points to the life promised to us in the Kingdom of God. Does this point exhaust the Church’s understanding about Her members that are consecrated? No! Yet, this is a fundamental aspect to the vocational state of a Religious within the Church. I believe, the Carmelite devotion to the Holy Face may help a person to understand the life of the Kingdom. In what way? Religious, through their life, shaped by the vows lived out in ministry and prayer, make known through their being and actions the life, joy and love of God promised in His Kingdom! The Holy Face reminds us the cost of God’s love, joy, and life He offers to us.
Growing in Gratitude
By knowing the cost of these gifts, the Holy Face devotion, offers us a way of growing in gratitude of these gifts and the gift Giver who gives them. Not only did Christ suffer, die, and rise from the dead for us, but for YOU! The spit that covers His face is from YOU. The droplets of blood shown on His holy and suffering face is for YOU. The tears that cover His cheeks are a gift for YOU. Those tears are a means for your soul to see His love for YOU if you merely rest your eyes upon them. I believe my novice masters placed the Holy Face image on us, new Carmelites, to remind us, that the life we are given to live, was won for us through Christ’s suffering. As Carmelites we can never turn from the suffering of Christ given to us through our lives. We carry His Holy Face, thus we must embrace it in all its forms, given to us by people within the world, and let it permeate our hearts. Why? So, the Carmel of our hearts, God’s vineyard, can grow the necessary grapes, to feed and nourish all those that come across it. Hence, they may know by those Carmels, the life, love, and joy of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, Your ineffable image is the star which guides my steps. Ah, You know, Your sweet Face is for me Heaven on earth. My love discovers the charms of Your Face adorned with tears. I smile through my own tears when I contemplate Your sorrows. ~ St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face