The picture of the Merciful Jesus has been one of the most well-known images of the crucified and risen Christ in the history of the Church and in the contemporary world. This is an unusual picture not only because of the fact that it is the most popular one but, above all, because the Lord Jesus Himself is its coauthor. On the 22th February, 1931, in a cell of the convent of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Płock, He appeared to Sister Faustina – she saw Him just as He is represented in the image and He commanded her to paint His picture according to the vision. She wrote about this in her 'Diary’: “In the evening when I was in my cell, I saw Jesus clothed in a white robe. One of His hands was raised in a gesture of blessing, and with the other He was touching the robe on His chest. There were two big rays, one red and the other pale, emerging from a fold in the robe on His chest. …After a while Jesus said to me, «Make Me a picture of this image in the form that you see, with the inscription Jesus, I trust in You. I want this picture venerated first in your chapel, and in the whole world»”(Diary 47).
Thus, the image was painted because Jesus Himself had desired that. The picture is both a sign and a visual synthesis of the whole Divine Mercy message, which He conveyed by Sister Faustina: on the one hand it reminds us of the mystery of God’s merciful love for man revealed in the Holy Scriptures, it exhorts us to form the Christian attitude of trust towards Him and mercy towards neighbour and, on the other hand, it is a vessel for drawing graces to which He attached many promises. A general promise of all possible graces and rewards in this world (provided that they are in accordance with God’s will) as well as specific promises: the grace of eternal salvation, great progress on the path of Christian perfection and the grace of peaceful death – these are the promises Jesus attached to a prayer said in front of the image on condition that it is said with trust and that it is conjoined to deeds of mercy towards neighbour.
In 1934 the first image of the Divine Mercy was painted under Sister Faustina’s direction in the studio of a Vilnius artist, Eugeniusz Kazimirowski. Since that time many different versions of the image of the Merciful Christ according to Sister Faustina’s vision have been painted. They can be found in churches and chapels all over the world. The picture which is displayed in the convent chapel of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Cracow-Łagiewniki and which is renowned for the graces received by means of it, holds a special place in this iconography and in the Divine Mercy devotion: although it is neither the first picture painted under Sister Faustina’s direction nor the first image displayed in the chapels of her Congregation, Jesus’s will: “I want this picture venerated first in your chapel, and in the whole world” (Diary 47) has been fulfilled by means of this picture. This image of Christ is greatly honoured by the faithful, it is renowned for many graces and its copies as well as reproductions can be found everywhere, on all the continents.
Pattern of the image
The Lord Jesus revealed the pattern of the image to Sister Faustina during her vision in Płock, on the 22nd February, 1931 (Diary 47). Jesus is wearing a white garment. His right hand is raised in the gesture of blessing, the left one is touching the garment at the breast. From beneath the garment two large rays are emanating: one red, the other pale. At the bottom of the image there are the following words: Jesus, I trust in You.
The risen Christ is clothed in a white garment. He is raising his right hand in the gesture of blessing. The description of the vision of the image does not state how high the hand is to be raised in the gesture of blessing. In the picture which was painted by Eugeniusz Kazimirowski and for which Rev. Sopoćko posed, Jesus’ right hand is raised only up to the shoulder due to the fact that this rite of blessing was in use at that time. As regards the 'Diary’, it does not matter at all if the hand is raised up to the shoulder or higher. What is important is that the right hand is raised in the gesture of blessing (Diary 47).
In 1934, during a few revelations in Vilnius when in Eugeniusz Kazimirowski’s studio the first picture was being painted under Sister Faustina’s direction, according to the vision in Płock, the Lord Jesus additionally explained what some elements of this image meant. When asked about the meaning of the rays, Jesus said: “The two rays stand for blood and water. The pale ray stands for the water which justifies souls; and the red ray stands for the blood which is the life of souls… These two rays emerged from the innermost depth of My mercy when My dying heart was opened up on the cross by the spear” (Diary 299). Therefore, it seems to be incorrect to paint the rays in such a way as if they were a light spreading out in all directions, also upwards. These rays are “emerging from a fold in the robe on His chest”, in the region of the heart, however, in the picture Jesus’ heart is not to be seen.
Another detail of the image is Jesus’ gaze. In the 'Diary’ Sister Faustina noted down the following words of the Lord Jesus: “My gaze from this picture is like My gaze from the cross” (Diary 326). Some people – including Rev. M. Sopoćko – have taken the words literally. In their opinion, like from the Cross means that Jesus is looking down from the Cross. Others have claimed that the meaning must be interpreted in a spiritual way and that the words should not be taken literally. “My gaze from this picture is like My gaze from the cross” means that the gaze is merciful and concerned about man. The gaze is in search of man and it was precisely on Christ’s Cross that it was revealed most fully.
One of the essential elements of the image are the words: „Jesus, I trust in You”. This is an integral part of the image which is to be found at its bottom. Sister Faustina’s confessor from Vilnius, who made efforts to have the first image painted, asked her if the words of the inscription could be different, for instance if they could be: 'Christ, King of Mercy’ (Diary 88) and she wrote in the 'Diary’: “Jesus reminded me, as He had told me the first time, that the words «Jesus, I trust in You» must be in the inscription. I understood that Jesus wanted the whole formula put in the inscription” (Diary 327).
What is vital to the Divine Mercy message, which Jesus conveyed by Sister Faustina, and what is also essential to the Divine Mercy image, was noted down in the 'Diary’ – we are assured of this by what Jesus said to Sister Faustina at the end of her life: “Rest assured, daughter, this work of mercy is wholly Mine, not yours at all; I’m pleased that you are faithfully carrying out what I have asked of you, and that you’ve neither added nor taken away a single word” (Diary 1667).
Thanks to such detailed instructions it is clear how the picture of the Merciful Jesus should be painted, however, despite that, a number of incorrect images have been created. Most frequently they are without the inscription at the bottom: „Jesus, I trust in you”. In some images there is Jesus’ Heart or a crown on His head – they are there in order to emphasize that the rays have been emanating from the Heart and that Jesus shown in the picture is the King of Mercy. There are also reproductions of Jesus’ countenance solely, with the inscription Jesus, I trust in you at the bottom. Apart from painted pictures of the Merciful Jesus there are also sculptures, bas-reliefs or images made by means of various modern techniques. However, it is painted pictures that should be venerated because the Lord Jesus spoke about this way of presenting His image: “Make Me a picture of this image in the form that you see, with the inscription Jesus, I trust in You” (Diary 47).
Theological meaning of the image
Rev. M. Sopoćko associates the theological meaning of this image with the Lord Jesus’ wish: He desired that the image be blessed and publicly honoured on the first Sunday after Easter. Ever since the Council of Trent, on that day a passage of the Gospel according to John has been read – it is about the appearance of the Lord Jesus to the Apostles in the Upper Room and about the institution of the sacrament of Penance. Thus, the image shows the risen Christ, who brings peace, the remission of sins and who also brings all graces – at the price of His Passion and death on the Cross. The Passion has left marks on His Body and He is showing them to the disciples as a sign of His identity. The streams of blood and water gushing forth from the pierced Heart (which is not visible in the image) as well as the wounds received in the hands and feet remind us of what happened on Good Friday. The two rays: red and pale, are characteristic of the image. When asked about their meaning, the Lord Jesus said: “The two rays stand for blood and water. The pale ray stands for the water which justifies souls; and the red ray stands for the blood which is the life of souls…” (Diary 299). Thus, the two rays symbolize holy sacraments, the Holy Church born of Christ’s pierced side as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit – whose biblical symbol is water. The Lord Jesus said: “Happy is he who shall live in their shadow, for the just hand of God shall not reach him” (Diary 299).
According to Sister Faustina’s spiritual director from Cracow, the interpretation of the image is broader because it does not only refer to the Paschal events in Christ’s life but it is also a sign of God’s merciful love for man. This love of God has been revealed most fully in Jesus’ way of life, miracles and teaching and especially in His Passion, death and resurrection. As the Rev. Professor I. Różycki noted, the image shows the mercy of the entire Holy Trinity, therefore, it is referred to as the Divine Mercy Image or the Image of the Merciful Jesus, because He has revealed this mystery to man most fully.
The image is a visual synthesis of the Divine Mercy devotion because it does not only show the Divine Mercy mystery, which has been revealed in Christ’s life, death and resurrection most fully, but it also shows how man should respond to the Lord God when he comes to know this mystery of the faith. At the bottom of the image there is the inscription: Jesus, I trust in You. These words are about man’s first, basic response to Merciful love, with which God loved him first: trust.
In Saint Faustina’s works 'trust’ denotes a lifelong attitude of man towards God which is conditioned by: faith, hope, love and, as regards the moral virtues: by humility and repentance. Therefore, this is an attitude of a child towards the loving father – the child entrusts himself to the father unconditionally. The attitude of trust towards God, which is mentioned in the Divine Mercy devotion, is neither a pious feeling nor intellectual acceptance of truths of faith, but it is a very concrete attitude which finds its expression in fulfilling God’s will – in the commandments, the obligations of our state in life and discerned inspirations of the Holy Spirit. A human being who trusts God knows that God’s will is mercy itself for him, therefore, he makes an effort to accept it and fulfil it with love in his life.
The image reminds us of a basic Christian duty, that is, of the active love of neighbour. „Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’ (Luke 6:36) – said Jesus to His disciples. Thus, the Divine Mercy image also reminds us of the Gospel call – to become 'the image of God’ by performing acts of mercy towards neighbour. The Lord Jesus said to Sister Faustina, and, in this manner He conveyed this message to all who venerate the Divine Mercy: the image is to be a reminder of the demands of His mercy, “for even the strongest faith will be of no avail unless it is accompanied by works” (Diary 742). He said: “I require you to make acts of mercy, which are to come from your love for Me. You are always and everywhere to show mercy unto your neighbours; you may not withdraw, excuse or absolve yourself from this. I am giving you three ways of performing mercy to your neighbours: first, by deed; second, by word; and third, by prayer; these three levels cover the full scope of mercy, and it is unshakeable evidence that a soul loves Me. This is how the soul praises and honours My mercy” (Diary 742). Jesus desires that His worshippers perform at least one act of mercy towards neighbour out of love for Him per day.
Thus, the veneration of the Merciful Jesus image consists in a trusting prayer conjoined to acts of mercy. The Lord Jesus attached great promises to the veneration of the image understood in this manner. As early as in the first vision of the picture He asserted that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish (Diary 48), thus, He promised eternal salvation. He also promised great progress on the path of Christian perfection, the grace of peaceful death as well as all other possible graces and rewards in this world which merciful people will ask of Him with trust. He said to Sister Faustina: “I am giving people a vessel with which they are to come to the fount of mercy for graces. That vessel is the picture with the inscription ‘Jesus, I trust in You’ ” (Diary 327). “Through this picture I shall dispense many graces to souls, and therefore let every soul have access to it” (Diary 570).
As early as during her life, the Lord Jesus gave Sister Faustina an assurance that the image would draw many souls to God and that the Divine Mercy acts in souls through it (cf. Diary 1379). In 1938, in April she wrote in her 'Diary’: “Today, I saw the glory of God that comes from this picture. Many souls are receiving graces, though they do not speak about them in public. Though the story of the picture has taken a winding path, God is being glorified through it, and the efforts of Satan and evil people are coming to naught. Despite Satan’s fury, Divine mercy will triumph over the whole world, and it will be worshipped by every soul” (Diary 1789).
Sr M. Elizabeth Siepak ISMM
See also: Mercy » History of the Devotion to the Divine Mercy » Image
Translated by Iwona Franceschini