This Holy Face of Jesus devotion dates back to Sister Marie of St Peter, a Carmelite nun in Tours France who in 1843 reported visions of Jesus and Mary in which she was urged to spread the devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus, in reparation for the many insults Jesus suffered in His Passion. The devotion was further spread from Tours by the efforts of the Venerable Leo Dupont (also known as the Apostle of the Holy Face) who prayed for the establishment of the devotion for 30 years, burning a lamp before a painted image of Jesus. Pope Leo XIII approved the devotion in 1885.
Mother Maria Pierina was privileged, from the age of twelve, with graces of intimacy with Our Lord, who invited her to contemplate His Holy Face. During the night adoration of the First Friday in Lent in 1936, Jesus after having made her participate in the mental sorrow of the agony in the Garden of Gethsemani, with His Face covered with blood and profoundly sad told her: "I wish that my face, which reflects the deep pains of my soul, the sorrow and love of my heart, be better honoured: who contemplates me consoles me.”
On the Tuesday following Passion Sunday, Jesus returned to her and said, "every time my face is contemplated, I will pour out my love into the heart of those persons and by means of My Holy Face the salvation of many souls will be obtained."
On the First Tuesday of 1937, while she was at prayer "after having instructed me on the devotion to His Holy Face—she writes—He told me: "Perhaps, some souls fear that the devotion to my Holy Face will diminish that to My Heart. On the contrary, it will be a completion and augmentation of that devotion. Souls contemplating My Face participate in my sorrow. They feel the necessity of love and reparation. Is not this the true devotion to My Heart?"
On the evening of 31 May 1938, as Mother Maria Pierina was praying, a beautiful Lady presented herself to her on the altar steps, in a blaze of light. She was holding in her hand a scapular made of two pieces of white flannel held together by a cord. One piece bore the image of the Holy Face of Jesus with the inscription, "Illumina Domine Vultum Tuum super nos"; the other piece bore the image of a radiant Host with the inscription, "Mane nobiscum Domine."
The Lady approached Mother Pierina and said, "Listen well and refer this to your Father Confessor. This scapular is an arm of defence, a shield of might, a token of mercy that Jesus wants to give the world in these times of sensuality and of hatred toward God and the Church. True apostles are few. A divine remedy is necessary, and this remedy is the Holy Face of Jesus. All those who will wear a scapular like this one, and who will visit, if possible, the Blessed Sacrament on Tuesdays to make reparation for the outrages that the Holy Face of my Son Jesus received during His Passion, and receives every day in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, will be strengthened in the faith, made ready to defend it, and to overcome all difficulties inward and outward. They will, moreover, have a serene death, beneath the loving gaze of my Divine Son."
By now Sister Pierina was very anxious to have the scapular made, and spread devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus. With help from her Spiritual Director, she was able to arrange for copies of photographs of the Holy Shroud to be used in the casting of a medal. The designs of the two panels of the scapular were used for the front and back of the medal.
The exact sum of money needed for the work appeared miraculously on her desk one day, in an envelope from out of nowhere. Getting the medal cast was the best she could do, though she worried because it was not a scapular as Our Lady had requested.
The devil, maddened at this, fell upon this soul to frighten it and prevent the distribution of the medals: he threw her down in the corridor and down the steps: he tore the images and pictures of the Holy Face, but she bore up everything. She tolerated and sacrificed all in order that thus the Holy Face may be honoured. She was worried because she got medals made instead of scapulars. She turned to Our Blessed Lady to obtain peace of mind in the matter. On the 17th of April 1943 the Blessed Virgin appeared to her and said: "My daughter, be calm, the Scapulars have been substituted by the medal with the same promises and favours—it only remains to be distributed widely. Just now my heart is set on the feast of the Face of My Divine Son. Tell the Pope that it preoccupies me." She blessed her and departed.
The very first medal was presented to Pope Pius XII, who at once welcomed and approved the devotion and the medal.
The medal has now spread all around the world. Countless cures, miracles and conversionsare constantly reported through the wearing of it and the practise of devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus.
Our Blessed Lord also requested that a special feast be instituted to honor His Holy Face on Shrove Tuesday.