This is the second talk in a 3-part series, Saints of the Sacred Heart, on St. Gertrude the Great. The video is a replay of a live talk on Crowdcast with the speaker’s notes provided below. Watch the first talk on Sister Josefa Menendez here.
St. Gertrude, is one of the greatest saints in the Church. She is the only female saint honored with the title “the Great.” A woman of the Middle Ages, St. Gertrude the Great lived in the 13th century, the golden century of the medieval age, when the Church was rich in both scholars and mystics, including St. Albert the Great, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Clare of Assisi.
Gertrude was born in Germany on the Feast of Epiphany, January 6, in the year 1256. Records of her origins are very minimal, and it is said she may have been orphaned at an early age. At the age of five, she was placed with the Benedictine nuns at their abbey in Helfta to be raised and educated. She was described as a lovable, quick-witted child by the nuns of Helfta. During her academic studies, St. Gertrude stood out for her intelligence and became accomplished in philosophy, literature, singing, and miniature painting.
The community was governed by the wise and devout abbess, Gertrude of Hackeborn (with whom St. Gertrude is often confused). In the abbey, St. Gertrude was confided to the care of St. Mechtilde of Hackeborn, the sister of the abbess; St. Mechtilde exerted a deep influence on St. Gertrude and the two became intimate friends, both beloved by God. When she reached the proper age, Gertrude joined the community as a Benedietine nun.
She continued her intellectual pursuit, and around the age of twenty-four, she wrote that she began to find the daily routines of her community monotonous and experienced a lack of meaning in her accomplishments, as well as feelings of anxiety and depression. However, at age 26 she received the first of many visions, also described as revelations, from the Lord which transformed her. He called to her saying “I have come to comfort you and bring you salvation.” She then changed her views and priorities in life, seeking comfort in Jesus alone. I will talk more about her beautiful and poetic visions below.
This great saint died at Helfta on November 17 of either 1301 or 1302, at the age of 45 or 46. In the year 1677 Gertrude’s name was inserted in the Roman Martyrology, the official catalog of saints honored by the Church. The entry for her reads as follows: “On the 17th of November, in Germany [the Feast] of St. Gertrude, Virgin, of the Order of St. Benedict, who was illustrious for the gift of revelations.” Today, we celebrate St. Gertrude’s feast day on November 16th and she is known as the patroness of the dead because of her special devotion to the souls in purgatory.
Her First Vision
As I previously mentioned, when Gertrude was 26 years old (one year older than me right now) she received the first of the many visions of Our Lord which she experienced in her lifetime. This first vision came after a month-long period of affliction of soul which Gertrude had undergone; she states that this had been a preparation for Our Lord’s visit.
As she describes in her Revelations, the vision occurred in the evening. In accord with monastic custom, Gertrude had bowed to an elderly religious woman she passed. Upon arising, she beheld not the nun, but Our Lord, who appeared to her as a youth “more beautiful than all the children of men.” He spoke to her in words full of tenderness and sweetness:
Thy salvation is at hand; why art thou consumed with grief? Hast thou no counselor, that thou art so changed by sadness?”Jesus to St. Gertrude
Then Gertrude found herself transported in spirit to the choir, where the nuns were accustomed to offer their daily prayers, and Our Lord continued: “I will save thee, I will deliver thee; fear not.” He placed His hand in Gertrude’s as if to ratify the promise. Then He said, “You have licked the dust with My enemies, and you have sucked honey amidst thorns; but return now to Me–I will receive you, and inebriate you with the torrent of My celestial delights. Gertrude’s heart melted within her, and she desired to approach Our Lord, but she saw a great hedge, which she assumed to represent her “faults and crimes,” separating her from Him. But Our Lord in His great kindness reached her His hand, and Gertrude found herself instantly by His side.
By this and other “illuminations,” God enlightened and softened her mind, detaching her from her love of literature and all vanities, which no longer appealed to her. From now on, God alone was pleasing to her soul, and the yoke of Our Lord became to her sweet, and His burden light, whereas before, Gertrude says she had found them hard, and almost unbearable. She praised God for bringing about this wonderful transformation in her soul, by “composing a beverage suitable to my temperament.”
The Bride of Christ
St. Gertrude was blessed with a loving relationship with the Lord as the Bride of Christ. In her writings they often refer to each other as “spouse” or “beloved”. In her most known revelation, she is laying on Christ’s bosom with St. John the Apostle. The Lord and St. John appears to Gertrude, who feels unworthy, and the Lord wishes for John and Gertrude to establish an intimate friendship. St. John then speaks to Gertrude saying, “Come, Spouse of my Master, together let us lay our heads on the most tender bosom of the Lord, in which all the treasures of Heaven and Earth are enclosed”.
The two lay on either side of the Lord, Gertrude on the right, John on the left, hearing the beating of His Heart. Gertrude, rejoicing in the sound, asks the apostle why he never shared in the gospels the “loving secrets of the Heart of Jesus Christ”. He responds saying his mission at the time was to record the Divine Word of Jesus “words of deep meaning upon which human intelligence might meditate forever, without ever exhausting their riches; but to these latter times was reserved the grace of hearing the eloquent voice of the Heart of Jesus. At this voice the time-worn world will renew its youth, be roused from its lethargy, and again be inflamed with the warmth of Divine Love”.
He then asks the same of Gertrude, telling her, “It is the love of My Heart which has inspired your writings; I wish them to be for later ages the evidence of my love, to draw souls to My Heart”. Sharing His Love with Gertrude He says, each time someone merely looks upon a crucifix with devotion, the mercy of God looks down upon their soul. Then they must remember these tender words,
My Heart is so passionately enamored of thee that, were it necessary in order to save thee, I would again willingly endure, for thee alone, all that I have suffered for the salvation of the whole world” The Lord shares countless times the desires of His Heart, not just for Gertrude but for all peoples.Jesus to St. Gertrude
His Sacred Heart
During her life St. Gertrude received many other spiritual favors from Our Lord, who took great delight in dwelling in her soul. Our Lord granted Gertrude a most tender familiarity with His Sacred Heart.
In one of her visions Jesus, holding His Heart in His hands, presented it to Gertrude, saying:
Behold My most loving Heart, the harmonious instrument whose tones enrapture the Holy Trinity; I give it to thee, and as a faithful and ready servant, it will be at thy command to supply for thy weaknesses.’ Make use of My Heart, and thy works will be pleasing to the sight and the ear of God.”Jesus to St. Gertrude
Gertrude hesitated to do this. Jesus, however, overcame her fears, and spoke to her in a way she could understand relating to her passion for singing saying: If there was a man who had to sing in front of distinguished audience, but had a voice that was horse and shrill, and you (Gertrude) were with him, and you have a well-trained and brilliant voice, and you desire to sing in his place. The man knows of your talents and desire, so wouldn’t you feel indignant if he were to refuse your proposal? In the same way I (the Lord) “know your misery, and My Heart can supply for it. It wishes to do so most earnestly for it would find therein real joy, All that it asks is that thou trust all to its care, if not by word at least by some sign of thy goodwill”
One day Gertrude was unable to attend mass due to illness, and she told the Lord how she would love to hear the sermon if she wasn’t sick. The Lord replied “Wouldst thou, My beloved, like me to preach to thee myself?” Gertrude said “most willingly” and the Lord drew her near to His Heart, where she heard two sweet beatings.
He told her, “one of these beatings works the salvation of sinners, the other the sanctification of the just. The first speaks without intermission to My Father, in order to appease His justice and draw down His mercy. By this same beating I speak to all the Saints, making excuse to them for sinners, with the zeal and indulgence of a good brother, and urging them to make intercession for them. This same beating is the incessant appeal I mercifully address to the sinner himself, with so unspeakable a desire to see him come back to me, that I never weary of awaiting his return. The second beating I continually say to my father how deeply I rejoice in having given my blood for the ransom of so many just souls, in whose love I take such manifold delight.”
Mercy for Souls in Purgatory
Gertrude had many visions of the souls in purgatory and devoted every mass she celebrated to these souls. Because the desires of Christ’s Heart were shared with her, she too felt the Heart’s longing to show mercy to the souls. The Lord revealed to St. Gertrude that each and every prayer prayed on behalf of the Church Suffering appears as a valuable pearl on a magnificent golden table in Heaven.
The Lord told Gertrude: “I accept with highest pleasure what is offered to Me for the poor souls, for I long inexpressibly to have near Me those for whom I paid so great a price. By the prayers of thy loving soul, I am induced to free a prisoner from purgatory as often as thou dost move thy tongue to utter a word of prayer.”
Our Lord told her to share these desires of His Heart, which she did through writing, and also through her wise and holy counsel. St. Gertrude faithfully prayed for everyone. She exclaimed to Our Lord, “O my Savior, I wish to bring to Thee every soul, that Thou mightest take delight in each.”
My Reflection on St. Gertrude
I’ve never known St. Gertrude until the beginning of this year, 2022. Our founder, Lisa, gifted me a book Love, Peace, and Joy: Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus according to Saint Gertrude by: Fr. André Prévot. I started reading it and immediately fell in love with the conversations and writings between Jesus and St. Gertrude. Being an English major, and in love with poetry, their words spoke to my soul.
The first chapter of the book opens with the story of her vision with Jesus and St. John. Upon reading the line said by St. John “Come, Spouse of my Master, together let us lay our heads on the most tender bosom of the Lord, in which all the treasures of Heaven and Earth are enclosed” I felt a connection with Gertrude.
Not only did I love how eloquently the words were said, but especially loved the words themselves. My place of comfort is in the Lord’s arms, I imagine myself just as Gertrude is in this vision, laying on the Lord’s chest curled up in His arms. I feel as if Gertrude and I share the same visions of the Lord, we see Him in a deep and personal relationship, as His beloved.
We share a spirit of gratitude in all things, and the Lord shares with Her that when we (humanity) pray with deep gratitude He is most pleased with us. I wish to grow as Christ’s beloved just as Gertrude, and grow close to Christ’s Heart.
Pray with St. Gertrude
Catholic tradition says that Jesus promised St. Gertrude that 1,000 souls would be released from purgatory every time the following prayer is recited with devotion:
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.
St. Gertrude has truly been the “Herald of Divine Love” and a true Bride of Christ. May she continue to bring many souls to the Heart of Jesus.
Love, Peace, and Joy: Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus according to Saint Gertrude by: Fr. André Prévot
St. Gertrude the Great by: Given
St. Gertrude + The Souls in Purgatory by: Blessed is She