The Feast of Mater Admirabilis (“Mother most admirable”) on 20 October is an important celebration for the Society of the Sacred Heart and a special day for prayer and reflection.
The Mater Admirabilis fresco in the Trinità dei Monti was painted in 1844 by a young postulant to the Society, Pauline Perdrau. It depicts a young, contemplative Mary with a distaff and spindle, an open book at her feet. Pauline’s aim was to convey calm and purity, but when she first finished the painting, it was not quite what she intended. Because fresco colors fade significantly as they dry, Pauline was advised to paint the fresco in very bright colors. It being her first fresco painting, she was mortified when she saw the garish, shocking colors, and she was only made to feel worse when the presiding Superior saw the fresco and ordered that it be erased. However, a local craftsman recommended that they cover the fresco with a cloth and wait for it to fully dry before passing judgement. Sure enough, as time passed, the colors faded to the soft pinks and blues that we see today, and the face expresses a peacefulness that has been difficult to fully replicate. In 1846, Pope Pius IX came to visit the Society at the Trinità dei Monti. Upon seeing the beautiful fresco, he declared it “Mother Most Admirable!”, and from then on, the painting was referred to as “Mater Admirabilis”.
As we celebrate her feast day this year, with many of us entering into the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps we can reflect upon the hidden process that brought out the essence of this painting of Mater Admirabilis. What are the processes that we may be going through, as we face our deepest fears about our mission, about our health, about the economy, and about an uncertain future? Are there some essential truths, now invisible, that the pandemic may reveal to us? What is the work we need to do within ourselves to ensure that we have the wisdom to discern them and the courage to act on them when they emerge?