The visions of St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373) provide us with an extraordinary account of the lives of Our Divine Lord and His Blessed Mother. Among her celebrated visions is an account given by Our Lady to the saint of the appearance of her Son, the "most beautiful among the sons of men."
"Such as my Son is in Heaven you cannot behold. But hear what He was in body in the world. He was so beautiful of countenance that no one looked Him in the face without being consoled by His aspect, even if heartbroken with grief. The just were consoled with spiritual consolation; and even the bad were relieved from worldly sadness as long as they gazed upon Him. Hence, those in grief were wont to say: 'Let us go and see Mary's Son; we shall be relieved for that time.' In His twentieth year He was perfect in manly strength and stature. Amid those of modern times He would be large – not overmuch – but of considerable frame and build. His hair, eyebrows, and beard were of a light brown; His beard a hand's width long; His forehead not prominent or retreating, but erect. His nose moderate, neither small nor large; His eyes were so pure that even His enemies delighted to look upon Him. His chin was not prominent or over long, but graceful in beautiful moderation; His cheeks modestly full, His complexion clear white and red. His bearing was erect, and His whole body spotless" (Lib. iv, c.70).
Yet the beauty of Our Divine Lord's Holy Face was destined to be marred by the punishment due to our sins. The Four Evangelists and the Prophet Isaias give us a lengthy and detailed account of the sufferings inflicted on the Holy Face, and the Shroud of Turin not only confirms their account, but also reveals the awesome majesty of that Face, from which the Divinity was not separated even in death, in a way that no human artist will ever equal.
What the Evangelists Tell Us: Jesus in the Court of the Jews
"Then did they spit on His Face and buffeted Him, and others struck Him in the Face with the palms of their hands, saying: Prophesy, O Christ, who is he that struck Thee?" (Matt. 26:67-68). "And some began to spit on Him and to cover His Face and to buffet Him, and to say to Him: Prophesy" (Mark 14:65). "And the men that held Him mocked Him and struck Him. And they blindfolded Him and smote Him on the Face. And they asked Him, saying: Prophesy who it is that struck Thee? And blaspheming, many other things they said against Him" (Luke 22:63). "One of the servants standing by gave Jesus a blow, saying: Answerest Thou the high priest so?" (John 18:22).
The Prophet Isaias
The accuracy with which this prophet foretold the sufferings of the Messiah has merited for him the title of "the Fifth Evangelist." He tells us of Our Lord's sufferings: "From the sole of the foot unto the top of the head, there is no soundness therein: wounds and bruises and swelling sores. They are not bound up, nor dressed nor fomented with oil" (Isaias 1:6). "I have given My Body to the strikers and My cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away My Face from them that rebuked Me and spit upon Me" (Isaias 50:6). "Despised and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity; and His look was, as it were, hidden and despised, wherefore we esteemed Him not. Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows, and we have thought Him as it were a leper, and one struck by God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our iniquities and bruised for our sins" (Isaias 53:3-5).
The Holy Shroud
If we look at the positive image on the Holy Shroud, we see at once that it affords full confirmation of the words of the Four Evangelists and of the prophecy of Isaias. The Holy Face is covered with blood and wounds, the nose is bruised, the cheeks are swollen, the beard and hair, in disorder. In the dungeon of Caiphas where Our Lord was bound tightly, the ministers of Satan struck Him on the Face with all their might; during the scourging the Body of Our Lord was turned and His Face, which was exposed to the instruments of torture used to scourge Him, did not escape.
The image on the Shroud is an image that was transferred when the Face was cold in death and when the swellings had at least partially subsided. What appearance then must have that Face presented to Our Blessed Lady as she gazed upon it from beneath the Cross and watched the precious Blood trickling down from the wounds made by the Crown of Thorns!
The image on the photographic negative, which is really a positive, reveals the majestic appearance of the Holy Face of Jesus in death. A Spanish member of the Commission of the Holy Shroud writes as follows about that negative image: "All scientists who have studied the mystery of the Holy Shroud have been amazed at the extraordinary appearance of the countenance of the dead Figure over which, even in its terrible sufferings, there reigns a heroic and resigned patience, a serenity of aspect, a will to sacrifice and suffer, and complete resignation. There is no trace of anger or protest against the suffering inflicted. From that Holy Face, there radiates a sublime majesty as if something supernatural existed beyond it – something that sorrow and death have been able to reach, without, however, being able to efface its immortal presence."
It may be said that if we had only the accounts of the Evangelists and of the Prophet Isaias we could scarcely have imagined that the Holy Face would have presented such a mutilated appearance as the Holy Shroud reveals. The visions of contemplatives such as St. Bridget, however, tell the same story of the wounds inflicted on the Holy Face as the Shroud. They tell us that, in addition to the blows inflicted on Our Lord's Face in the dungeon of Caiphas, during the scourging, the Body of Our Divine Lord was turned round facing the executioners and His Face was scourged with rods or sticks; furthermore, they tell us that Our Lord fell more than three times under the Cross on the sorrowful way and that His Face was bruised and wounded by the rough stones on which He fell.
The Crowning with Thorns
The relics of the Crown of Thorns which are still preserved add further sorrowful details to these accounts. These relics consist of the outer framework into which the thorny brambles were woven, and which is kept in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Two of the actual thorns are kept in the Church of the Holy Cross in Rome, and several churches in Germany have enshrined relics of these thorns for centuries. The thorns are over an inch long and are extremely hard and sharp. Experts say that existing relics are only part of the thorn, and that the whole thorn which pierced the Head of Our Savior was all of two or three inches long. Long sharp thorns of this kind abound not only in Palestine but in all tropical and semi-tropical countries.
The image on the Holy Shroud confirms the Gospel account of the Crowning with Thorns and helps to prove that the thorns preserved in the churches mentioned above are genuine. Paul Vignon remarks that no ordinary thorns would have made such deep wounds as the Holy Shroud reveals; nothing less than big thorns like the relics preserved, if repeatedly struck, would account for he wounds. The marks of wounds of the Head on the Holy Shroud which are not confined to the brow and the back of the head, as Cordonnier remarks, show that the actual crown of thorns was not in the form of a circlet, as it is usually represented in art, but in the form of a cap or helmet which covered the entire Head. The marks of the wounds on the crown of the Head are not visible because the band that passed under the chin was tied on the top of the Head (as the image of the Holy Shroud shows), and prevented the Shroud from coming in contact with the top of Our Lord's Head. However, the rivulets of blood that flowed through the hair, the Face, and on the back of the Head are evidence that the innumerable thorns made wounds over the entire Head of the Messiah.
The Accounts of the Contemplatives of the Crowning with Thorns
St. Bridget of Sweden leaves us no account of the actual crowning with thorns, but she tells us that when the Crucifixion was completed, the crown of thorns was again placed on Our Lord's head: "This done, they replaced on His head the crown of thorns which they had taken off while affixing Him to the Cross, and fastened it on His most sacred Head. It so wounded His venerable Head that His eyes were filled with the blood that flowed down" (Rev. Bk. 7). The Venerable Maria of Agreda, the famous Spanish mystic, sees the Crowning with Thorns in her vision as follows: "The executioners brought Our Savior to the guardhouse, where they again stripped Him of His clothes in a most cruel and insulting manner. They put upon His shoulders a dirty torn purple mantle in order that thus clad as a mock King He may serve as an object of mockery and derision for them. On His Sacred Head they placed a network woven with thorns to represent a crown. This network was composed of big strong thorns with very sharp points and was pressed down with such force that many of the thorns pierced the skull. The pain from the crowning with thorns was one of the greatest that the Son of God suffered in His Passion." Her account then relates how the whole cohort of Roman soldiers then came and took part in the cruel mockery.
The accounts of the German mystics, Venerable Anna Katherine Emmerich and Teresa Neumann, while corresponding with the Gospel account, add many details. Sister Emmerich tells us: "The executioners were about fifty in number, mostly slaves or servants of the jailers and soldiers. A mob that gathered round the building was displaced by a thousand Roman soldiers who were drawn up in order and stationed there. The executioners tore off the garments of Jesus, thereby re-opening all His wounds. They threw over His shoulders an old scarlet mantle. They dragged Him to the seat prepared, having first placed the crown of thorns on His head. The crown of thorns was made of three branches plaited together, the greatest part of the thorns being purposely turned inwards so as to pierce Our Lord's Head. Having first placed these twisted branches on His forehead, they tied them tightly together at the back of His head... They put a reed in His hand. They then seized the reed from His hand and struck His head so violently that His eyes were filled with blood; they knelt before Him; derided Him; spat in His face and buffeted Him, saying at the same time, 'Hail, King of the Jews!'"
Teresa Neumann's account of the crowning with thorns is similar to Ven. Anna Katherine Emmerich's: "The crown of thorns which is now ready is placed on Our Lord's head like a helmet; it is not just a crown as we see it depicted in our pictures. One of the soldiers presses the crown of thorns firmly on His Head. The blood flows down His whole Face which shows signs of intense pain during this terrible treatment. Then the executioners put something like a staff in the hands of our dear Savior, on the upper end of which is a natural knob, very much like a corn cob, like those I have seen at Fockenfeld, only smaller. They now amuse themselves with it, making mock genuflections before Him. I was specially indignant about the contempt implied by this mockery of bowing the knee before Our Savior. They spit in His Face and give themselves up to uncontrollable laughter over the defenselessness of the Prisoner."
Let us Pray:
O Lord Jesus, Who by a singular prodigy didst leave for us upon Thy Holy Shroud the imprint of Thy Most Holy Body, so cruelly tortured and put to death for our salvation, together with the Image of Thy Most Holy Face, disfigured by wounds and blows of wicked men, grant us through the merits of Thy many sufferings that by venerating on earth the Image of Thy Holy Face, upon which the very Angels long to gaze, we may be made worthy to contemplate It forever in Heaven. Amen
Promises of Our Lord Jesus Christ to those Devoted to His Holy Face
These inestimable promises are drawn from the works of St. Gertrude, of St. Mechtilde and from the writings of Sister Maria de Saint-Pierre, a Carmelite, who died at Tours, in the odor of sanctity.
Our Blessed Lady to Mother Maria-Pierina: "Listen carefully, this devotion is an armor of defense, a shield of strength, a token of the love and mercy which Jesus wishes to give the world in these times of sensuality and hatred against God and His Church. Diabolical nets are thrown to wrench the true Faith from hearts, evils abound, true apostles are few. Among the powerful remedies to these evils is the Holy Face of Jesus. All who are devoted to the Holy Face, and make, if possible, every Tuesday a visit to the Blessed Sacrament in order to repair the outrages which the Face of my Divine Son Jesus received during His Passion, and receives every day in the Holy Eucharist, will be strengthened in faith, prompt to defend it, and to overcome all difficulties, internal and external. Further, they will have a peaceful death under the loving gaze of My Divine Son."
The role of Our Blessed Lady has not changed, nor has that of Christ. At every Holy Mass Mary places in the hands of the Priest of the New Law the same Incarnate Word. Christ is still the Victim as He was on Calvary, and His Mother still stands silently by. Because at Mass she is so silent and unseen, it may well be that she is too often forgotten or ignored. Priests should renew their consecration to Christ, the Light of the World, and to Mary, the Mother of Christ and the Mediatrix of All Graces, at every Mass that they offer. Above all, this should be done on the Feast of the Presentation (Feb. 2nd).
What peace, joy and blessings will not Mary obtain for her sons, God's anointed ones, as they hold the Lamb of God, her Divine Son, in their hands, if they but ask her! Is not the Heart of Jesus infinitely rich and merciful, and do not all graces come to us through Mary's mediation? Mary is the Dispensatrix of God's infinite love. What great power have the Priests of the New Law to procure for mankind unmeasured and unlimited graces, down to the end of time! How we should pray for Priests that they may realize and utilize their powers through Mary's mediation for the salvation of souls! Above all, this should be done at Holy Mass.
At Cana, the Blessed Virgin Mary showed her power of intercession with the Heart of Jesus, as well as her maternal solicitude for the needs of all men. But now, after Calvary and the words of her dying Son "Woman, behold thy Son!", designating St. John the Beloved and all of the redeemed – who can measure her power and her motherly solicitude? "Behold thy Mother!" See her humility and self-effacement at the Presentation, on Calvary, and at each Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. She is not officious nor jealous of the role of God's anointed ones. Rather she stands silently by at all times, and humbly pleads for us as our Mother and Mediatrix of All Graces.
Interior souls have always realized that "the beauty of the King's daughter is within"; that her Immaculate Heart is to be honored and loved. Thus Ven. Marie Petyt of St. Teresa, T. O. Carm. wrote: "On Wednesday and Thursday (Sept. 19-20, 1668) it pleased the goodness of God to make us understand more clearly the grandeur, the eminent dignity, the power and authority of our lovable Mother, and at the same time to see the incomprehensible and ineffable love which God bears Her. From this abyss of love remaining in His heart, God has drawn forth such a superabundance of graces, privileges, and prerogatives that it would scarcely be possible for Him, if one may so speak, to grant more to any creature than He has granted to Mary, or to make any creature more beautiful, exalted and noble than He has made Mary. And in this sense, the power, wisdom, and goodness of God could not produce any more pure, more lovely, more eminent creature than Mary, His Mother and ours.
"This is why the Archangel Gabriel spoke rightly in greeting Mary thus: 'Hail, full of grace!' She is, in truth, so filled with grace that the superabundance of it overflows upon us in this vale of tears. Her fullness waters the ground of our souls with an abundance of grace which inspires us, aids us, strengthens us, and enables us to persevere. This grace makes the soil of our soul fertile, makes it able to produce virtuous and meritorious works, both necessary and useful for the salvation of our souls."
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