“Now this is the message that we have heard from Him and proclaim to you; God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”(John 1:5)
In 2012 I first made a pilgrimage to the Basilica Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello, Italy, to see for myself the ancient, mysterious relic that is the veil of the Holy Face. I took no pictures at that time as it was my sole intention to pray, and not be distracted by snapping photos. At the time, it was a sacrifice. But God blessed the small sacrifice with an unforgettable experience of prayer. Fortunately for me, and by God’s Providence, Paul Badde, who is an art historian, journalist, and champion of the Holy Face, had taken thousands upon thousands of amazing photos which he has generously permitted me to share over the years. I come back to them again and again to ponder this mysterious miracle of light which causes the Face of Jesus Christ to appear on the gossamer-thin transparent veil. Why has Our Lord chosen to show Himself by means of light?
As St. John wrote: “God is light,” and so it is fitting that God, who has revealed to us His human face in Jesus Christ, has left us this precious gift of a true icon of His Holy Face written in light – the Holy Veil of Manoppello. God knows our human weaknesses; the need to see and touch. He gives us lights to illumine our minds and hearts: the light of reason, of grace, and in heaven He will illumine our souls completely by the light of glory – the Beatific Vision – when we will see Him face to face. All these lights are the same Divine Light emanating from the Face of God. God has made us in His image and likeness, we have a capacity to know and love Him. We are made to resemble Him by knowing and loving Him, to participate in the Divine Light that shines into our souls when we turn to His Face, and to reflect that light to others.
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”2 Cor. 3:18
To “behold His Face as in a mirror…” This is how I saw the Holy Veil of Manoppello as I knelt before it prayer. In that miraculous mirror the Face of Jesus turned toward me. When you love someone you want to see them more and more, but like Peter, James, and John on the mountain of the Transfiguration, we must descend the mountain and obey Jesus’s command to “Follow me” to the Cross. Though we are following, we can remain “turned to His Face,” where God perfects us by His Divine Gaze. We do this by prayer, reading the Scriptures, by living the Beatitudes, which is Jesus’s “self-portrait.” We remain under His gaze as we contemplate His Face in the Eucharist, in His images, especially as they relate to His Passion, or as we encounter Jesus in the poor, sick, and needy — in Jesus’s words, “Love God, and love our neighbor.” And here is the heart of this devotion to the Holy Face; it is charity. God has created us with a deep longing to see Him, and charity, is the means He has given us. This is what the light shimmering on the Holy Veil of the Face of Jesus says to me — Love is the light by which you will see God’s Face.
Update: Please take a look at Raymond Frost’s Manoppello Blogspot to read an special article by Paul Badde which is tremendously helpful in understanding the origins, and presence of the Holy Veil in Manoppello, Italy: “The Latest Transformations of Devotions to the Holy Sudarium of Manoppello” by Paul Badde.
Below is a video taken by Agatha and Angelo Rytz of the Transfiguaration celebration in Manoppello, including the Solemn Mass, procession and fireworks: