St. Therese and her devotion to the Holy Face

Above, a depiction of the Holy Face of Jesus as Veronica’s veil, by Claude Mellan, c. 1649. St. Thérèse wore an image of the Holy Face on her heart.

Thérèse entered the Carmelite order on April 9, 1888. On January 10, 1889, after a probationary period somewhat longer than the usual, she was given the habit and received the name Thérèse of the Child Jesus. On September 8, 1890, Thérèse took her vows. The ceremony of taking the veil followed on the 24th, when she added to her name in religion, “of the Holy Face”, a title which was to become increasingly important in the development and character of her inner life.  In his “A l’ecole de Therese de Lisieux: maitresse de la vie spirituelle, “Bishop Guy Gaucher emphasizes that Therese saw the devotions to the Child Jesus and to the Holy Face as so completely linked that she signed herself “Therese de l’Enfant Jesus de la Sainte Face”—Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face. In her poem “My Heaven down here”, composed in 1895, Therese expressed the notion that by the divine union of love, the soul takes on the semblance of Christ. By contemplating the sufferings associated with the Holy Face of Jesus, she felt she could become closer to Christ.

The devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus was promoted by another Carmelite nun, Sister Mary of St. Peter, in Tours, France in 1844. Then by Venerable Leo Dupont also known as the Apostle of the Holy Face who formed the “Archconfraternity of the Holy Face” in Tours in 1851. Thérèse, who was a member of this confraternity, was introduced to the Holy Face devotion by her blood sister Pauline, known as Sister Agnes of Jesus.

Her parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, had also prayed at the Oratory of the Holy Face, originally established by Venerable Leo Dupont in Tours.  Thérèse wrote many prayers to express her devotion to the Holy Face. She wrote the words “Make me resemble you, Jesus!” on a small card and attached a stamp with an image of the Holy Face. She pinned the prayer in a small container over her heart. In August 1895, in her “Canticle to the Holy Face,” she 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.”

Thérèse emphasised God’s mercy in both the birth and the passion narratives in the Gospel. She wrote,

He sees it disfigured, covered with blood!… unrecognizable!… And yet the divine Child does not tremble; this is what He chooses to show His love.

She also composed the “Holy Face Prayer for Sinners”,

Eternal Father, since Thou hast given me for my inheritance the adorable Face of Thy Divine Son, I offer that face to Thee and I beg Thee, in exchange for this coin of infinite value, to forget the ingratitude of souls dedicated to Thee and to pardon all poor sinners.

Thérèse’s devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus was based on painted images of the Veil of Veronica, as promoted by Venerable Leo Dupont fifty years earlier. However, over the decades, her poems and prayers helped to spread the devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus.

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