A Divine Coincidence?

By Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC

The sacred image of The Divine Mercy was commissioned by our Lord, who appeared in a vision to Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska on February 22, 1931. What Saint Faustina witnessed she described in her spiritual journal in these words: “In the evening, when I was in my cell, I saw the Lord Jesus clothed in a white robe. 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 Christ’s own words, “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” (§299). These represent the basic sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist which operate in believers the fruit of the paschal mysteries. Along with the vision came this command: “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” (§49).

The Face

There exists a hand-written letter in which a “Sister Julianna” recorded a conference on the origins of The Divine Mercy message, image, and devotion given by Saint Faustina’s spiritual director, the Servant of God Reverend Michael Sopoeko, in May of 1940. From it we learn that Sister Faustina was never pleased with the image, maintaining that it was ugly. But one day, after the artist had already repainted the face of Christ for at least the tenth time, she came to the studio and announced that Jesus said to leave the image in the state it was in. Quoting the Lord she added: “It isn’t good, but it will do; you don’t have to change it anymore.”

The reason for the strenuous effort that was required to depict the Lord’s face in this particular image would remain locked in mystery for two generations. For it was only recently [1996] that a larger image, printed from the 1931 photographic plates of the Shroud of Turin, was placed by chance on top of a comparably-sized poster of the Divine Mercy image painted in Vilnius in 1934 with the result that, when the superimposed images were unexpectedly backlit, they revealed a startling coincidence.

By an eminent photographer’s calculations, the face on the original Divine Mercy image was discerned to be smaller in size than that on the shroud. But, when the photo of the Divine Mercy painting was enlarged so that the outer line of the hair on the head matched the same line on the shroud image, the result was remarkable. It was found that on both images there is the same distance between the pupils; the nose is of practically the same length; the form of the lips is identical; the moustache and the beard are of the same cut; the hair falls at the sides in the same way. All these points allow for a practically perfect correspondence between the two faces.

It does not appear that the Vilnius artist had a copy of the photo of the Shroud of Turin taken in 1931, the same year Saint Faustina was granted her vision and the mission associated with it. His need continually to alter the countenance on the painting because of the visionary’s disapproval of his attempts would attest to that. How, then, could an image, completed in 1934 after repeated alterations to the face, have features that matched so well those of “the man of the shroud of Turin,” found on a burial cloth now known to be at least two thousand years old?

The Turin photographer, who verified this surprising match, felt that a composite photo of it would not be liked, because the eyes appeared to be directed downward Made aware of the fact that in her directions Saint Faustina insisted on the feature and that in her Diary our Lord is quoted as saying, “My gaze from this image is like the gaze from the cross,” he changed his mind and declared the divine mercy image “miraculous.”

This special image shows the Lord’s right hand raised in a gesture of blessing and absolution – priestly ministries. The eyes of the Lord in the painting and the composite image gaze upon us as from the cross, compassionately - “Father, forgive them…” Jesus offers us the life-giving and light-bearing rays of his mercy. They emerge from his wounded side and from his opened heart - so prominently evident on the shroud - to replace, to transform out hearts of stone. For the Savior offers to the recipients of his paschal sacraments on Divine Mercy Sunday the promised fruits of his passion and the glory of his resurrection – the complete remission of sins and punishment - at-one-ment with God, the assurance of his unending love for us.