Sister Nancy Lee Smith, IHM

Venerable Catherine McAuley saw Divine Mercy as a stream of compassion for the world flowing from the side of Christ on the cross. She said the Thirty Day Prayer to Jesus Crucified at each mission or house that she founded before departing from it. She felt that it assured the spiritual and temporal welfare of the mission there, as well as charity within the house.

Catherine envisioned the compassion of Christ covering the entire globe. She desired each sister to be an expression of that compassion in the least activities and contacts.

In the icon, Catherine holds the whole world in her hands as foundress and presents it to the crucified and emptied-out Christ for mercy. She also gives out the compassion of the Crucified One to the entire world, as a personal conduit. She did this through her sisters as well.

Her full, frontal position designates herself as a woman of authority. The gold leaf background situates her in sacred space, in the beatific gaze. She is in full repose and rest.  All strife is ended. There is a tooled Celtic knot woven into her halo, representing her Irish roots. The halo extends into the upper border, showing thereby, that love cannot be contained, it will always break borders. For the same reason, her eyes are open at the corners. All the light in an icon comes only from the eyes of the figure. It depicts the life and love of God as seen in the eyes of the saint, the windows to their soul.

Although her physical eyes in life were blue, an icon always assigns the color brown to them. Since an icon is not a representation of what a person actually looked like, with specific physical features, it strives instead to portray symbolically who they are now. This refers to them as looking at God and God looking at them in the heavenly vision. 

Simultaneously, the viewer is gazing at the saint through the four sides of the frame of the icon. These represent the four directions, and act as a window or door through which one sees the saint, but is being seen by the saint at the same time. Leonid Ouspensky says that one gazes at the icon until one sees oneself being seen with the eyes of love.

That raised border frames a more shallow area, called the covcheg, meaning, coffin. It is where the body or image is laid.  It represents the discipline and purity of striving for perfection and virtue, in order that Christ’s Image may be seen on the surface of what each person presents to others and to the world, much as Venerable Catherine did. 

The Catholic Encyclopedia explains in its section on Icons that the saint inhabits, as it were, the vehicle of the icon and is actually present through it, in the same way that a saint is present in their relics, quoting John of Damascus’ treatise on icons. That is why miracles are performed in the presence of icons.  They are considered, further, to be on a par with Scripture. That is why they are received by being blessed, placed on an altar for a time, and venerated.  Hence, this icon of Venerable Catherine can be a locus for her very presence among her followers.