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While Mardi Gras revelers celebrate excess next week, others will honor the day before Ash Wednesday as the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus.
Pope Pius XII officially added the feast to the Church's liturgical calendar in 1958 in response to a series of supernatural events that linked increasing disregard for Our Lord's sacrifice on the Cross to the spread of communism.
The pontiff could no doubt see, as Ven. Fulton Sheen would say less than a decade later, "[The choice] is either true brotherhood in Christ or comradeship in anti-Christ."
Devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus is a gift to the Church, thanks to a cloistered Carmelite nun who lived in mid-19th-century France. It has become known as a powerful weapon in combating the advances of communism.
During the 1840s, Sr. Marie of St. Peter, from within a cloistered convent in the city of Tours, received divine revelations. They alerted her to the gravity of the sins emanating from, and coinciding with, the spread of communism throughout Europe.
The French priest-writer, M. Labbé Janvier, a contemporary of the nun who compiled her writing, said of the times:
Secret societies [Freemasons], the scourge of the French people and the sworn enemy of the Church of God, had long been plotting their destructive machinations. The entire world has been more or less poisoned by the pernicious influence of both political and religious sects, diametrically opposed to all law and order.
France, unhappily, has been the center and the most active agent in the formation and encouragement of these diabolical institutions.
It is from her midst — Paris especially — that the revolutionary and anti-social spirit has spread all over Europe, assuming different names ... styling themselves as Socialists, then Liberals, and again Nihilists.
In this context, God revealed to Sr. Marie the nature of the evil dynamic confronting the world, its origins, and the means to counteract it.
The sins that were consistently revealed to Sr. Marie as inflicting great pain on Our Lord and contributing to the rise of communism included the denial of His existence, the blasphemy against His holy Name, and the desecration of Sundays and holy days.
It was made clear to the nun that these sins disrespect the sacred face of Jesus in exactly the same way as the scoffing crowds who spat on him as he ascended to Calvary.
The nun grew to understand that these sins exhibited the contempt with which Jesus and His Sacrifice were held and how they promoted the atheistic communist agenda. This agenda was being devised at the time by Karl Marx and decades later by Vladimir Lenin. She came to understand that she — and anyone who would listen — must engage the communists who were operating both inside and outside the Church.
God has imposed on me a new mission. ... He has commanded me to cross swords with the communists, who, as he told me, were the sworn enemies of the Church and of his Christ. He gave me to understand that the greater number of these renegades were born in the bosom of the Church, of whom they now declare themselves the most bitter enemies.
God clarified through His revelation:
[I]t is the communists who have dragged me from my tabernacles, profaned and destroyed my sanctuaries and have even dared to raise their hands to the anointed of the Lord [violence against priests]. ... This knowledge shall not remain sterile in your soul, for I give it to you to help you in combat.
Sister Marie's revelation from Heaven is considered the first in which communism is explicitly named. In these revelations, Our Lord commanded the nun to establish a worldwide fraternity that would reconfirm God's existence, revere His holy Name and honor Sundays as the Lord's Day.
Our Lord also gave her a prayer called The Golden Arrow, promising that whoever would recite it would make reparation for the wounds inflicted on Jesus' divine personhood. The prayer reads,
May the most holy, most sacred, most adorable, most incomprehensible and unutterable Name of God be always praised, blessed, loved, adored and glorified in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth, by all the creatures of God, and by the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Reciting this prayer, she was told, would counteract the "poisoned arrow continually wounding his divine Heart" due to the prevalence of his name being blasphemed and slandered.
Our Lord also made a number of promises to those who honor His Most Holy Face, one of which reads,
As in an earthly kingdom, the subjects can procure all they desire by being provided with a piece of money stamped with the effigy of the monarch, so shall you be able to obtain all that you desire in the kingdom of Heaven on presenting the impress of my sacred humanity, which is my Holy Face.
But the nun was made to understand that chastisements would come for lack of reparations.
God told Sr. Marie that acts of divine justice could be seen in natural disasters that befall men, including the unprecedented flooding of the River Loire plaguing France at the time.
Divine justice could also be seen, she was told, in the "malice of revolutionary men" — the evildoing of the communists as they destroyed souls and society.
Our Lord said that "only reparation could disarm the justice of God because the guilt of men had provoked His anger."
Sr. Marie was not able to establish a worldwide fraternity to the Holy Face during her life. After her death, however, two phenomena converged to advance her heavenly mandate.
One concerned Leo Dupont, a man who lived in Tours, who was familiar with Sr. Marie's visions. He picked up the nun's unfinished work and formed the Archconfraternity of the Holy Face in the city to promote the devotion. He also published pamphlets outlining the "Work of Reparation" that Sr. Marie was told was needed to combat communism.
Dupont, declared venerable by Pope Pius XII, shared the nun's views on the dangers of communism and how to fight it. He predicted that communists would one day enslave people — that is, "close up their churches, and make them slaves of the state ... unless reparation is done, unless men come before the Face of their Savior to ask His forgiveness and His help!"
Another phenomenon involved the Veil of Veronica, housed in the Vatican and believed to be the actual scarf Veronica used to wipe the blood and sweat from the face of Jesus. Embattled and in exile in 1849, Pope Pius IX, from his sanctuary in Castle Gaeta in southern Italy, called for three days of prayer.
On the third day, the Veil of Veronica was brought out for public veneration. The image of Jesus' face on the ancient cloth, which had faded over the centuries, became miraculously visible to all who were present. Priests rang the bells of St. Peter for people to come and bear witness to the miracle.
In the days before photography, artists came and painted what they saw. Their reproductions were spread across Europe. One found its way to Dupont's home, where he displayed the image before an oil lamp that was continually lit.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, then Therese Martin, and her family, who lived in a French town, were one of the first to join the Archconfraternity of the Holy Face. The devotion became so beloved by Therese that when she entered the Carmelite convent she was inspired to take the name "Sr. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face."
She also pinned over her heart an image of the Holy Face with these words: "Make me resemble you, Jesus!"
In 1895, in the "Canticle to the Holy Face" the saint wrote, "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."
The first 30 beads recall the 30 years of Jesus' nonpublic life. They are divided into five sets of six beads. Each set represents one of the five senses of Jesus — touch, hearing, sight, smell and taste — which were wracked with agony. The last three beads recall the three years of public life of Our Savior and intend to honor all the wounds of His adorable face. The Gloria is repeated seven times in honor of the seven statements Jesus made upon the Cross.
While the lives lost and destroyed by communists and communist regimes may truly be incalculable, one account tabulates the death count at nearly 160 million.
Order a Holy Face of Jesus Chaplet from the Church Militant store.