16 November 2009

Ad Centum: Saint Gertrude, virgin

16 NOVEMBER 2009. Today is the feast day (optional memorial) of Saint Gertrude of Helfta.

Saint Gertrude of Helfta is the most celebrated of several Saints of the same name, and for this reason tradition refers to her as Saint Gertrude the Great. She was born on 6 January 1256. We know nothing of her parents, so several sources say that Saint Gertrude was probably an orphan. Placed with the Benedictines of Helfta at the age of five, Saint Gertrude was known for her pursuit of academic studies. When she reached the appropriate age, Gertrude became a Benedictine nun. The sister of Saint Gertrude's abbess was Saint Mechtilde of Hackeborn, who became close friends and a trusted spiritual advisor of Saint Gertrude.

Saint Gertrude learned Latin in her youth, as was the custom for women religious in those days, and wrote Latin with unusual elegance and force. She also had an uncommon knowledge of Holy Scripture and of all the branches of learning having religion as their object; but one day Our Lord reproached her for being too dedicated to her studies. Afterwards she could find in them nothing but bitterness; but soon Our Lord came to instruct her Himself. One of the great mystics of the Church, Saint Gertrude had visions of Our Lord and the Holy Virgin throughout her life--these visions are recorded in her written works, Revelation, which are still in print today.

Saint Gertrude had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In her writings we learn that during one of her visions of Christ, He invited her to rest her head on His chest to listen to the beating of His heart. Saint Gertrude is also known for her tender compassion for the souls in purgatory, and is often invoked in prayer for souls in purgatory. According to legend (because it is not found in Saint Gertrude's writings), Our Lord told Saint Gertrude that 1,000 souls would be released from purgatory each time the following prayer is said:
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus Christ, 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, for those in my own home and within my family. Amen.
The prayer was extended to cover living persons as well.

Saint Gertrude died on 17 November 1302, at the convent of Saint Mary's of Helfta, Saxony. Although never officially canonized, Saint Gertrude the Great received an equipotent canonization and Pope Clement XII declared a universal feast day in her honor in 1677.

It is also notable that Saint Teresa of Avila (St. Teresa of Jesus) had great a devotion to Saint Gertrude.

Saint Gertrude the Great, pray for us!

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