"Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice…" (John 18:37)

St. Gertrude the Great

“Let the soul who is desiring of advancing in perfection hasten to my Sacred Heart.” Jesus Christ

Born: June 6, 1256, at Eisleben, Germany

Died: November 17, 1302

Canonized: 1677, by Pope Clement XII

Feast Day: November 16

Patronage: West Indies, gardeners, widows, recently deceased people, the sick, the poor, the mentally ill, and travelers in search of lodging.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, fountain of eternal life, Your Heart is a glowing furnace of Love. You are my refuge and my sanctuary. O my adorable and loving Savior, consume my heart with the burning fire with which Yours is aflamed.” St. Gertrude

 

Early Life

Gertrude was born on 6 January 1256, on the Feast of the Epiphany, but nothing is known of her parents nor of the place of her birth. Gertrude wrote that the Lord himself revealed to her the meaning of this first uprooting: “I have chosen you for my abode because I am pleased that all that is lovable in you is my work…. For this very reason I have distanced you from all your relatives, so that no one may love you for reasons of kinship and that I may be the sole cause of the affection you receive” (The Revelations, I, 16, Siena 1994, pp. 76-77).[1]

While not much is known about Gertrude’s early years of life, it is widely accepted that at just five years of age, she entered the rather strict Cistercian Monastery School of St. Mary at Helfta, in Saxony. As she grew in years, she became known for her intelligence combined with a deep knowledge of the Scriptures.

At the age of 25, in the year 1281, Gertrude experienced her first series of Visions from our Lord. She understood and processed these experiences in light of seeing herself, through grace, being born anew. From that time onwards, she found that her mind and heart were no longer drawn to secular ideologies, but rather towards theology and the Scriptures. She went on to become one of the greatest mystics of the 13th century.

She defined her new way of being in the world as having experienced what she referred to as a “Nuptial Mysticism in Christ.” She truly saw herself as being the bride of Christ. Her soul and that of our blessed Lord remained one throughout the course of her earthly life in that she experienced the blessedness of Visions right up until the day she left this world for her eternal reward in heaven.

“Two favours in particular were dearer to her than any other, as Gertrude herself writes: ‘The stigmata of your salvation-bearing wounds which you impressed upon me, as it were, like a valuable necklace, in my heart, and the profound and salutary wound of love with which you marked it.’

The Herald of Divine Love

‘You flooded me with your gifts, of such beatitude that even were I to live for 1,000 years with no consolation neither interior nor exterior the memory of them would suffice to comfort me, to enlighten me, to fill me with gratitude. Further, you wished to introduce me into the inestimable intimacy of your friendship by opening to me in various ways that most noble sacrarium of your Divine Being which is your Divine Heart…. To this accumulation of benefits you added that of giving me as Advocate the Most Holy Virgin Mary, your Mother, and often recommended me to her affection, just as the most faithful of bridegrooms would recommend his beloved bride to his own mother” (ibid., I, 23, p. 145).

She produced a number of writings over the years, the most famous being what is known as: “The Herald of Divine Love.” The work itself contains a great number of detailed descriptions with regards to her mystical experiences. Take for example that which she experienced on the Feast of Christmas one particular year:

“With insatiable avidity, therefore, I drank in, like deep draughts from a cup of nectar, divinely inspired words such as these:              Unde melita pocula talium verborum divinitus propinata insatiabili aviditate imbibebat:
“As I am the image [lit: figure] of the substance (Heb 1.3) of God the Father, through my divinity, so also will you be[come] the figure of my substance through my human [nature], (2.20) “Sicut ego sum figura substantiae Dei Patris (Heb 1.3) in divinitatae, sic tu eris figura substantiae meae ex parte humanitatis,
receiving in your deified soul the brightness of my divinity, as the air receives the sun’s rays suscipiens in tuam deificatam animam emissiones meae divinitatis, sicut aer suscipit solares radios; (cf. Benedict, RB Pr.9)
and, penetrated by this unifying [light] within your innermost depths, you will become capable of an ever closer union with me.” [2] quo unitivo medullitus penetrata habilitaris ad familiariorem mei unionem” (SC139, pp. 256-258)

The primary focus of her words in ‘The Herald’ surround veneration of the Sacred Heart of Our Lord. “His adorable Heart was shown to her as a rich treasury; at another time as a harp of the Holy Ghost, the melody of which ravishes all of Heaven. Then again It was shown to be a fountain of plentiful waters that refresh the Souls in Purgatory, that strengthen the just on earth, and fill the blessed in Heaven with delight.” [3]

Pope Benedict XIV gave her the title “The Great” – making her the only woman saint to bear this title of honour. During a General Audience at St. Peter’s Square on October 6, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI went on to say:

“She is one of the most famous mystics, the only German woman to be called “Great”, because of her cultural and evangelical stature: her life and her thought had a unique impact on Christian spirituality. She was an exceptional woman, endowed with special natural talents and extraordinary gifts of grace, the most profound humility and ardent zeal for her neighbour’s salvation. She was in close communion with God both in contemplation and in her readiness to go to the help of those in need.”

Although Gertrude was never formally canonized, she is the patroness of the West Indies and is often invoked for the souls in purgatory.

Month of November and Praying for the Dead

Given that the experience of losing a loved one through death touches us all, given that the experience of passing from this life to the next is one that awaits each of us at some point in the future, it’s important to recall how we are to understand our state of being in this world as believers. Having been baptized into Christ’s Mystical Body, which is the Church, we as members of His Body share in three different expressions of being:

  1. The Church Militant – that means all of us living here on earth, struggling on our way each day as we battle against the world, the flesh and the attacks of the Evil One.
  2. The Church Triumphant – which is composed of those souls who, as we speak, are in Heaven enjoying the Beatific Vision of God.
  3. The Church Suffering – that means all the souls who, upon dying, find themselves in purgatory. This is a state of being whereby a soul is assisted, through the mercy of God, to make atonement for their sins in light of God’s justice. In purgatory, the old self is inevitably left behind while holiness of being is embraced until one has reached perfection, much like gold is tested in fire.

For Catholics throughout the world, November is the time of year dedicated to remembering all who once lived dear to our eyes and have gone from this world to the next. During this month, we are to pray for those who lived good and holy lives, just as much as for those who lived a life far from God, from his sacraments and commandments. We are to pray for all peoples no longer walking this earth, knowing that our prayers in union with the saints in heaven have the power to affect God’s mercy upon their souls.

In his 2007 encyclical entitled: “Spe Salvi/ Saved in Hope,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death — this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today.” [4]

St. Gertrude and her Love for Souls in Purgatory

Back in 1545-1563, during the Council of Trent, a Decree was issued on the existence of Purgatory:

“Whereas the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has from the Sacred Scriptures and the ancient tradition of the Fathers taught in Councils and very recently in this Ecumenical synod (Sess. VI, cap. XXX; Sess. XXII cap.ii, iii) that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar; the Holy Synod enjoins on the Bishops that they diligently endeavor to have the sound doctrine of the Fathers in Councils regarding purgatory everywhere taught and preached, held and believed by the faithful” (Denzinger, “Enchiridon”, 983).[5]

Saint Gertrude had a deep empathy for the Church suffering, the Holy Souls in Purgatory. At every Holy Communion she beseeched Jesus for His mercy to be bestowed on them. During one Holy Communion she experienced the descent into Purgatory with Our Lord. She heard Him say: “At Holy Communion I will permit thee to draw forth all to whom the fragrance of thy prayers penetrates.” After Holy Communion Our Lord customarily delivered more souls than she had dared to ask for. [6]

Our Saviour taught Gertrude for whom she should most ardently pray. On the day when the community commemorated in common the death of their parents, Gertrude saw the happy souls ascend the darkness of Purgatory like sparks from a flame. She asked Our Lord if all these were relatives. He answered: “I am thy nearest relative, thy father and thy mother. Therefore, My special friends are thy nearest relatives, and these are among those whom I have liberated.”[7]

Purgatory and the Scriptures

The earliest reference we find in the Bible highlighting the importance of praying for the dead comes to us in 2 Maccabees, Chapter 12. There we hear about the exploits of Judas Maccabeus, a Jewish general who led his army into battle. When, on the following day, he and his soldiers returned to gather the bodies of fallen soldiers, they found that all the deceased soldiers were wearing pagan amulets underneath their tunics. Aware that these items should have been destroyed, Judas knew that these men had committed a grave sin. They also knew that these men were otherwise good people, “people who had died virtuously by courageously defending the law of God. They immediately offered prayers and sacrifices for these Jewish soldiers who died wearing pagan amulets. The Second Book of Maccabees states:

Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out…  He then took up a collection among all the soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind … Thus he [Judas Maccabees] made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from their sin (2 Maccabees 12: 42-43, 46).”  [8]

Our blessed Lord himself also alludes to the existence of purgatory in Luke 12:54-59, whereby he urges us to “come to terms quickly with our accusers, while we are still on the way to court.” He encourages each of us to seek atonement and reconciliation for our sins while we are still in this world. For once our souls separate from our earthly shell, should we bear the marks of sin, then He as the just Judge will hand us over to the guards, which are the ministering Angels of punishment, and they will throw us into prison, which the Church understands to be purgatory, and we will not get out until we have paid the last penny.

While that might seem harsh, the good news is that all who make it into the purifying love of purgatory will eventually get out, because there’s another place/another state of being that exists – heaven – and if we find ourselves there, we will never get out.

Prayer for Souls in Purgatory

According to Tradition, Our Lord revealed to St. Gertrude the Great that the following prayer would release 1,000 Souls from Purgatory each time it is offered up devoutly and from the heart:

Eternal Father, I offer thee the most precious blood of thy Divine Son,
Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the
holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the Universal Church,
those in my own home and within my family. Amen.”

Approval and recommendation: M. Cardinal Pahiarca at Lisbon, Portugal, March 4, 1936

During this month of November, please join me in offering up the aforementioned prayer on behalf of our deceased brothers and sisters from the heart each and every day.

St. Gertrude, pray for us.

Fr. Jerome Lavigne

 

Footnotes:

[1] https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20101006.html

[2] http://www.ldysinger.com/@texts2/1290_gert-gr/02_ger-txt1.htm

[3] http://www.catholictradition.org/Gertrude/saint-gertrude6.htm#1

[4] http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20071130_spe-salvi.html, 48

[5] http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12575a.htm

[6] http://www.catholictradition.org/Gertrude/saint-gertrude7.htm

[7] SAINT GERTRUDE THE GREAT: HERALD OF DIVINE LOVE, TAN BOOKS, p. 45.

[8] http://www.catholicstand.com/praying-for-the-souls-of-the-dead-a-catholic-tradition/

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