The Holy Name of Jesus and the Holy Face

HolyFace-large.jpgDeus, qui unigenitum Filium tuum constituisti humani generis Salvatorem et Jesum vocari jussisti: concede propitius; ut, cujus sanctum nomen veneramur in terris, ejus quoque aspectu perfruamur in caelis.

O God, who didst constitute Thine only-begotten Son the Saviour of mankind, and didst command that He should be called Jesus: mercifully grant that we who venerate His Name on earth may also enjoy [the contemplation of] His countenance in heaven.

The Collect for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus ingeniously brings together the Name of Jesus with a reference to His Holy Face. While the latin aspectus (used in the Collect above) can refer to one’s  sight or appearance, it can also refer to one’s countenance or to the expression of his face.

Friendship with Our Lord Jesus Christ
Nothing is more personal than one’s name and one’s face. Knowledge of another person is insignificant until we can put a name to his face, and a face to his name. So too, friendship with our Lord Jesus Christ is not significant until we have begun, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, to associate the Holy Name of Jesus with His adorable Face, and His adorable Face with His Holy Name.

This was the very grace given in superabundant measure to the Carmelite of Tours, France, Sister Marie de Saint-Pierre (1816-1848) and to her saintly friend in the world, the lawyer, Monsieur Léon Papin Dupont (1797-1876). How did the Carmel of Tours, and the salon of Monsieur Dupont become centres of devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus?

The Benedictine-Carmelite Connection
In the spring of 1851 the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Monastery of Arras, daughters of Mother Mectilde de Bar, already being devoted to the Holy Face through the influence of Saint Gertrude the Great, gave the Carmel of Tours several reproductions of the image of the Holy Face venerated in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. (From the Carmel of Tours the devotion would reach the Carmel of Lisieux where it became a profound influence on Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, Doctor of the Church.) This particular image of the Holy Face became famous after an astonishing miracle that took place in January 1849, during the exile of Blessed Pope Pius IX at Gaeta.

The Roman Miracle of the Holy Face: Epiphany 1849
It was customary on the feast of the Epiphany to expose for the veneration of the faithful the “Veronica’s Veil” preserved with other sacred relics in the Vatican Basilica. The “Veil” was darkened by age, and the features of Our Lord’s sacred countenance were no longer visible. On the third day of the exposition of the relic, before the eyes of numerous witnesses, the “Veil” took on vivid colours and, in the midst of an unearthly light, the Divine Countenance became clearly visible, and this for three hours. The expression on the Holy Face was one of profound sorrow and of love. Alerted to the prodigy, the Canons of Saint Peter’s ordered the bells rung, summoning the faithful to see the miraculous sign. A Notary Apostolic was called to take the depositions of the eyewitnesses; he drew up a document attesting to the miracle, which was then placed in the archives of the Vatican Basilica.

leon_dupont_1.jpgEnter Monsieur Dupont, the Holy Man of Tours
Once news of the miracle spread, people everywhere began requesting reproductions of the Sacred Countenance of Our Lord as seen on the Holy Veil of Saint Peter’s Basilica. A number of these were printed on silk and linen, marked with a red wax seal of authenticity, and distributed from Rome. Several of these reproductions were sent to the Benedictine nuns of Arras in France; they in turn sent some of them to the Carmel of Tours. On Palm Sunday 1851, the prioress of the Carmel of Tours gave two of the reproductions to Monsieur Léon Papin-Dupont. Without losing any time, the next day, Holy Monday, he entrusted the two images to a workman in order to have them suitably framed. He gave the more elegantly framed of the two to the Men’s Confraternity of Nocturnal Adoration in Tours; the other he kept for himself. On Holy Wednesday, Monsieur Dupont hung the framed image in a recess to the left of the chimney in his room. On a chest in front of it, he placed a burning oil lamp. Listen to Monsieur Dupont explain what happened:

After having had framed this terrible proof of the ravages of sin, I placed this Holy Face in my room, to the left of my chimney in the recess, just above a little chest suitable to receive a lamp. Several pious images found place there as well. It was Holy Wednesday. No sooner I had installed it, than I was struck interiorly by a sudden sentiment rising from the bottom of my heart. “Can this image of the Divine Face of the Saviour of men be exposed,” said I to myself, “in the house of a Christian during this great week of the Passion, without an outward sign of respect, adoration, and love being given to it? No, certainly not, it shall not be so.” And this is how I had, all of a sudden, the thought to light this lamp before the Holy Face, with the intention of leaving it burning only for the rest of Holy Week. Immediately I carried out my thought; but soon there came to me another. This room was the one in which I was accustomed to receive all those who came to visit me, or who needed to speak to me. It was there that I had installed my desk. “Everyone,” I thought, “will ask me why there should be a lamp burning in daylight. I will respond, it is to teach those who come to my house that when the affair for which they came has been addressed, they have only to withdraw or speak of God.” And I was of a mind to write these words as a kind of commentary on a card that I would place on my desk to show when the need would arise: “One is free in one’s own home. In my home, after treating of the affair for which one came, one must either leave or speak of the things of God.”

That day and the day after passed without anyone asking me a question. Some paid no attention. Others thought a very pious idea had befallen me. On Good Friday a traveling salesman, having forced my door to propose some Bordeaux wines, had my response, and was so surprised by it that I had to repeat to him twice. There was my opportunity to speak to him of religion. He stayed listening to me for over an hour. Having come into my house indifferent, at best, he left it, very nearly converted, taking away with faith some water from La Salette.

The next day, that is Holy Saturday, Our Lord began to make His intentions known, and this is how He did it. I received the visited of a very pious person whom I knew, a Miss X. She suffered from an affliction of the eyes; entering my room, she complained loudly of a lancing pain in her eyes due to the cold wind that was blowing and filling the air with dust. She was coming to see me about business. Being occupied in writing, I invited her to pray to the Holy Face while waiting to see me. She took advantage of the opportunity to ask for her healing. In a moment I had joined her. I knelt down and we prayed together. Upon getting up, it occurred to me to say to her, “Put a little of the oil of this lamp on your eyes.” She dipped her finger into the oil, rubbed her eyes with it and, taking a chair to sit down, said in astonishment, “My eyes no longer hurt me.”. At end of her visit, I had to give her a little oil from the lamp to take home because she was leaving for Richelieu, her usual place of residence.

Cures and Graces
From that day forward the life of Monsieur Dupont became an uninterrupted flow of miracles, healings, and graces attributed to the Holy Face of Jesus, and to the pious use of the oil that burned in the lamp before it. He recounts that on the following Easter Tuesday a young man of the town came on an errand; one of his legs was injured, he walked painfully and limped. Monsieur Dupont thought that if he applied some of the oil burning in the lamp, and prayed to the Holy Face of Jesus, the young man might obtain some relief. This he did. Immediately the young man was healed and began to run around the garden with the greatest ease.

The Lamp Burns On
Monsieur Dupont  originally intended to keep the oil lamp burning before the Holy Face only during Holy Week, but after these experiences, he couldn’t bring himself to remove it. Soon thereafter it was Our Blessed Lady’s month of May, another reason to keep the lamp burning. After that came June, the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and July, the month of the Most Precious Blood. Monsieur Dupont knew that it would not at all do to allow the lamp to go out during months dedicated to the mysteries of the Redemption. Graces and favours began to abound. More than twenty persons were healed after having prayed to the Holy Face of Jesus, and used oil from the lamp. A movement of devotion to the Holy Face was born. The faithful would gather in front of the image of the Holy Face, together with Monsieur Dupont, to recite the Litanies of the Holy Face composed by Sister Marie de Saint-Pierre, cloistered in the nearby Carmel.

In the Healing Radiance of the Holy Face
Prodigies began to multiply. Healings of all sorts took place: from cancers, from ulcers both external and internal, from deafness, from cataracts, and from sprains. By December 2, 1852 Monsieur Dupont had distributed more than eight-thousand little vials of oil from the lamp. Crowds began coming to his door. On certain Saturdays more than three-hundred people crowded into his reception room. The greatest wonder of all was that, for all of these people, their devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus was crowned by a good Confession and fervent Holy Communion. Miracles continued to abound. Until his death in 1876, Leon Papin-Dupont noted each miracle worked by the Holy Face of Jesus in a register kept for that purpose. To his great confusion, letters would sometimes arrive addressed “To the Wonderworker of Tours” or “To the Holy Man of Tours.” Like the Curé of Ars hiding behind the intercession of Saint Philomena, and like Saint André Bessette hiding behind that of Saint Joseph, Monsieur Dupont sought only to disappear into the glory of the Holy Face of Jesus. Today, Monsieur Dupont’s room, having been transformed into the Oratory of the Holy Face (8 rue Bernard Palissy, 37000 Tours, France) remains a place of pilgrimage and of prayer. Dominican Fathers of the Province of France, now living in the home of Monsieur Dupont, are charged with the pastoral care of pilgrims to the Oratory of the Holy Face.

A Devotion Confirmed by the Sacred Liturgy
For Monsieur Dupont and for Sister Marie de Saint-Pierre, devotion to the Holy Face was inseparable from love for, and faith in, the adorable Name of Jesus. The layman and the Carmelite demonstrated in their piety the very association made by the Church in the Collect for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.