“I promise that the soul that will venerate this Image will not perish.”
“I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy. That vessel is this Image with the signature; Jesus, I trust in You.”
“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.”
– words of the Merciful Jesus recorded in the Diary of Saint Faustina
St Faustina tells us how the Image of Divine Mercy came about, following the appearance of the Most Merciful Jesus on 22 February 1931 in her cell at the convent in Plock, Poland;
“In the evening, when I was in my cell, I saw the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand was raised in 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 whole world.“
Much later, another Sister gave testimony which noted that on this occasion, children standing in the street across from the Convent saw rays of light coming from a window – it was the window of St Faustina’s cell.
The creation of the Image became a great trial for the young nun; despite repeated requests from the Lord, it would be three years before the Image would finally be painted by a local artist, Eugene Kazimierowski, the work paid for by Blessed Fr Michael Sopocko, who was Confessor and Spiritual Director to St Faustina.
The image depicted on this page is the original Image of Divine Mercy which was painted under the direction of St Faustina ‘according to the pattern’ she alone saw and saw repeatedly – the Lord was careful to ensure that the Saint was completely familiar with ‘the pattern’ she saw. It is often referred to as ‘the Vilnius Image’.Although there are now many representations of the Divine Mercy Image, this is the only one seen by St Faustina, the only one painted under her own direction, and the only one on which the Lord later commented to the Saint – ‘Not in the beauty of the colour, nor of the brush, lies the greatness of this Image, but in My grace’.
The red and pale rays represent the Blood and Water which flowed from the pierced Heart of Christ upon the Cross on Good Friday. The pale ray denotes the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation, ‘which makes souls righteous’, while the red ray denotes the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the ‘life of souls’.
The Image is intrinsically and intimately linked to the life of the Church and to Her Sacraments, and in a very real way, to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as – like the entire Devotion – it calls us to take up our Baptismal roles of priest, prophet and king in response to the demands of the Most Merciful Jesus, to join our sacrifice to His, and to be merciful as God is merciful.
The original Image would eventually be placed publicly at the Ostra Brama Gate by Father Sopocko and would be venerated there for three days, throughout the Easter Triduum of 1935. Since that date, the Image has multiplied throughout the world and is venerated in many places and by many people, not least of all on the Feast of Mercy each year.
“This Image is to be a reminder of the demands of My mercy, because even the strongest faith is of no avail without works.”
This Image is indeed a reminder of the demands of the Most Merciful Jesus as revealed in the devotion given to St Faustina and it crystallises the essentials of the devotion, as well as being a conduit of grace. Note that we venerate the Image as something holy, but we do not adore or worship it; rather, we adore and worship the One represented in this Image, He Who is Divine Mercy.
In his excellent book ‘A Divine Mercy Resource: How To Understand The Devotion To Divine Mercy’, Richard Toretto gives a much fuller and more profound explanation of the Image itself, it’s history and the symbolism surrounding it, as well as looking fairly exhaustively at every aspect of the Divine Mercy devotion as revealed to St Faustina. For anyone wishing to learn more about the devotion generally, and particularly for Priests and those who will speak about the Devotion, I highly recommend this book.
The Old Covenant
In the Jewish tradition, the Holy of Holies was the most sacred of places, found in the innermost part of the Temple, beyond the Holy Place. In it was found the Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets upon which were written the Ten Commandments as given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. The lid of the Ark was made of pure gold and was called the Mercy Seat. The Holy of Holies was separated from the remainder of the Temple and from the Holy Place by the Veil of the Temple. It was considered to be the place where God resided, His glory having entered there. The light of the glory of God was the only light in the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was so sacred that only the High Priest was allowed to enter there, and only on one day of the year – the Day Of Atonement, known as Yom Kippur.
The Day Of Atonement was a day or repentance and atonement and it fell at the end of the Days Of Awe. The Jewish people would offer prayers of forgiveness for their sins against God and against each other. During the Days Of Awe, God would inscribe the names of the people in the Book of Life and on the Day Of Atonement, the verdict would be sealed as to whether or not their names remained inscribed there.
To prepare for this Day of Atonement, the High Priest had to be properly prepared and sanctified. He would remove his usual ornate robes, replacing these with a simple garment of white linen, tied at the waist. Entering the most holy place, he would sprinkle the blood of sacrificial animals (a goat and a bull) upon the Mercy Seat and beg the forgiveness of the Almighty and Holy God, in his name and in the name of all the people.
Throughout the Gospels and the New Testament, the Person of Jesus is represented as the personification of the Holy of Holies – He is the spotless lamb, slain to take away the sins of the world. His Death on the Cross is the moment at which the Veil of the Temple is torn in two. And at the moment of His death upon the Cross, the lance of the soldier opens the Wound in His Sacred Heart, from which Blood and Water flows forth; this Heart is the Source or Fountain of all mercy and grace.
He is the fulfilment and completion of the Old Law, and He is the institution of the new and eternal Covenant. He is both the High Priest and the Sacrifice.
He alone stands between the Eternal Father and mankind – now, the Father sees mankind only through the Wounds of the Crucified, His Son, Whose death atones for the sins of the world. He is the reparation and atonement of the Day Of Atonement.
The New Covenant
In the Divine Mercy image, Jesus is depicted as the risen and glorious Lord – this is the Lord Who appears to the Apostles after the Resurrection, blessing them and granting them His peace, that peace ‘which surpasses all human understanding’. He is dressed simply, in a white garment tied at the waist.
In His Hands, there are the Wounds of the Crucifixion – now a sign of life, not of death. HIs right Hand is raised in blessing, while His left Hand draws aside His garment at the area of His Heart. And from that Heart (which is not seen), two rays stream forth; the first ray is red, the second is pale. These are the Blood and Water which flowed from the Heart of Christ upon the Cross, as It was pierced by the lance of Longinus. At that moment, torrents of mercy and grace flowed out upon the whole world. Also at that moment, the Veil of the Temple was torn in two, as the Gospel account of the Crucifixion tells us.
The expression of the Lord is one of peace, and His eyes are cast slightly downwards – the expression of Christ on the Cross, looking down upon all of humanity represented by the Beloved Disciple, the Mother of the Lord and the others gathered at the foot of the Cross.
The lower portion of the Image of the Lord is darker than the upper section – reminding us that, as in the Holy of Holies, the only light is that of the Lord God, Who the Creed tells us is ‘Light from Light’.
The Foot of the Lord is placed forward, as though He were stepping out of the Image towards us. This reminds us that our adoration of His mercy is not the first action, but a response on our part; the first action is His – offering us that Divine Mercy in the first place, although entirely undeserved.
The Latin word for ‘mercy’ is ‘misericordia’ – this means, the movement of a heart toward misery. The Heart of God is moved by human misery and reaches out in tenderness and infinite compassion toward each of us; not because we deserve it, but because we do not deserve it. Mercy is love which is undeserved, but which is given freely nonetheless.
In this Image, the Lord is the personification of the New Covenant. He is both High Priest and living and eternal Sacrifice.
By inviting us to adore His mercy and to reflect it in our own lives, we are reminded of our Baptismal roles as priest, prophet and king; with Him, we are invited to ‘be merciful as your Father in Heaven is merciful’, to offer our sacrifice in union with His and, as St Paul describes it, to ‘make up what is lacking in the Body of Christ, which is the Church’.