The painting “Divine Mercy” is venerated by Catholics around the world. Pope John Paul II admired the painting so much that in 2000 he proclaimed that the second Sunday of Easter would be called Divine Mercy Sunday by the church throughout the world. Sister Faustina, who commissioned the painting, was canonized in a formal Mass that very day, becoming St. Faustina. The day also marks the anniversary of the first public display of the painting over the Ostra Brama gate, which fronts the city of Vilnius, Lithuania. The original painting was created according to strict instructions given by St. Faustina in accordance with her vision.
Helena Kowalska was born into a devout Catholic Polish family on August 25, 1905. She expressed a desire to enter the convent at age 16, but her father would not give his approval because he felt she was too young to make such a choice. In 1925, she began her religious life, joining the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy under the name Faustina, which means “fortunate.” Faustina’s visions and prophecies were not understood or appreciated by the other sisters, and when she approached the sisters with the tale of an important vision she had received while in her cubicle on February 22, 1931, no one gave credence to her story. In the vision, Jesus came to her and commanded her to “paint an image.” Faustina finally convinced her confessor, Father Michael Sopocko, to find an artist to paint the subject of the vision.
Father Sopocko commissioned artist Eugene Kazimirowski to recreate Faustina's vision. Kazimirowski began work on the painting January 2, 1934. Although he had painted religious figures before, he found this image to be particularly difficult. Sister Faustina was dissatisfied with the painting, but wrote in her diary that Jesus spoke to her, saying "not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush is the greatness of this image, but in my grace." The painting was soon sanctioned by the church and quickly became a holy icon of divine protection and mercy.
The painting depicts Jesus Christ, bright in a white, belted robe against a dark background. He appears to be walking toward the viewer, his right hand raised in a gesture of blessing, his left hand holding open the robe to expose the heart. From the heart center stream forth two translucent rays of light, one red and one white. The two beams of light together form a pyramid shape and seem to be directed out and down from the canvas.
The image is intended to depict the purity and grace of Christ’s divine mercy. Sister Faustina asserted anyone who displayed this image in their home or city would receive protection and mercy. It is the rays in the image that carry the message of mercy. Sister Faustina testified that the red and white transparent rays represent the blood and water, and with it the tender mercy, that gushed forth from the heart of Jesus when the soldiers pierced him with a spear as he hung on the cross. While many people believe the spear was only thrust into the side of Jesus, Roman soldiers were indeed trained to thrust the spear upwards, between the ribs and into the heart to ensure the victim was truly dead. Would Faustina have known that? The church considers the “Divine Mercy” a holy mystery, along with the Eucharist, Incarnation and the Holy Trinity.
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