Faith through art: The Divine Mercy image is a visible prayer
By Norman Farmer
On April 20, 2000, when St. John Paul II canonized Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska, he announced that the Octave of Easter would henceforth be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday throughout the church. Thus, “Faith through Art” reflects upon the now famous image of The Divine Mercy that Professor Eugene Kasmierowski painted in 1934 precisely as St. Faustina, accompanied by her confessor Father Michael Sopocko, described the details of her miraculous vision of Jesus.
“In the evening [22 February 1931], when I was in my cell, I saw the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand [was] raised in the gesture of blessing; the other was touching the garment at the breast. From beneath the garment, slightly drawn aside at the breast, there were emanating two large rays, one red, the other pale. In silence I kept my gaze fixed on the Lord; my soul was struck with awe, but also with great joy. After a while, Jesus said to me, “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You. I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and [then] throughout the world,” St. Faustina writes in her diary. (Marian Press, 2008)
Subsequently, St. Faustina reports, “I heard these words within me: ‘The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls ... These two rays issued forth from the very depths of my tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. Those rays shield souls from the wrath of My Father. Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him.’ ‘Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy.’ ‘Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. All the works of My hands are crowned with mercy.’”
This is the only known image of Jesus composed at the direct request of the Lord himself through an authenticated vision. Thus, no meaningful purpose is to be gained by viewing it as “art.” Consider this: When the young novice at the Congregation of Sisters of our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw, having but three years of education and absolutely no idea about painting, reported these things to her confessor, she was assured that she might indeed “paint God’s image in [her] soul.” But Jesus would have none of that, insisting “that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over its enemies already here on earth, especially at the house of death. I myself will defend it as My own glory.”
Then he added: “My image is already in your soul. I desire that there be a Feast of Mercy. I want this image, which you will paint with a brush, to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy.”
If not “art,” then, what? Plainly, simply, this is a visible prayer. God’s name, Jesus taught us to say, is “hallowed.” So too is this image –– not the physical painting in a frame positioned above the altar in Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Vilnius –– but the visual image that infuses the minds and hearts of those who see it.
“I said to the Lord,” St. Faustina writes in her diary, “who will paint You as beautiful as You are? Then I heard these words: ‘Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in My grace.’” Many, moreover, note the similarity between the image Jesus told Faustina to describe and images that appear upon The Shroud of Turin and the Veil of Manoppello. As Paul Badde writes in “The True Icon: From the Shroud of Turin to the Veil of Manoppello,” “The cloths are the work of man; the ‘images’ on them, the work of God ... The event in which they came about was not natural. It burst the bonds of nature and death. That is why they too remain as inexplicable as life itself.”
St. Romauld of Ravenna (951-1027) once said that “He who gave you the desire for the prayer of the heart will give you that prayer itself.” And that is precisely what the Son of God gave to St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, “By means of this image I shall be granting many graces to souls; so let every soul have access to it.”