16/11: Feast of St Gertrude the Great…

The following account of the life of St Gertrude the Great, is taken from website of Catholic Tradition

January 6, 1232 – November 17, 1291

Saint Gertrude, Virgin, Mystic, and Benedictine Abbess, was called by Our Lord Himself, “My chosen Lily”, and the Church has given her the title of “Great” although she is not counted among the Doctors of the Church, at least as of yet. She is the only woman Saint to have been accorded this honor. There [is]  more than one Saint named Gertrude, one of whom was the Abbott of the monastery when Gertrude entered there at five, so it is an added blessing that she is distinguished by the term Great, for our sakes, because there is one less opportunity for confusion. It ought to come as no surprise that she was born in that great age of Saints, the 13th century, among which are numbered St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and in the later years of which, both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic, the latter two being born in the 12th century. Not only was this century the “Century of Saints”, but the age of the most wondrous of Saints.

Our Gertrude the Great was born at Eisleben, Germany, the same town as that of the unfortunate heretic, Martin Luther. But when she was born there were no Lutherans or any kind of Protestants because all of Christendom was Catholic. The revolt and upheaval would begin a scarce two centuries later. Note that she was born on the Feast of the Epiphany, destined as she was by God’s providence to be one of the Stars in the Communion of Saints. Her parentage is unknown for certain, although it is thought that she was born a countess, but we do know that when she was five years old, she was placed in the care of the Benedictine nuns at Helfta in Saxony, where she became the pupil and close friend of St. Mechtilde. The nuns there were known for their thoroughness in training and study, which only served to augment the intellectual gifts that God had bestowed on Gertrude. Very early on she was versed in Latin, the Bible, and the works of the Fathers of the Church. Yet, compared to her capacity for loving God, they pale. While still a child she began to speak to the Heart of Our Lord, her chosen One. She already had the capacity and the readiness to withdraw as much as possible from worldly pursuits in order to spend time with Him. And Jesus did come to her; the Benedictine sisters were not slow to learn that she was favored by Heaven. One nun, who suffered the torment of terrible temptations, had a dream in which she was told to ask Gertrude for help, to ask for her prayers. And as soon as Gertrude began to pray for her, the temptations ceased. Another religious had a similar urgent need of help. She took a cloth which had been used by the Saint, applied it to her heart and she was instantly healed of her spiritual malady. [2]

Our Lord Himself conveyed to another favored soul that Gertrude “contains and perfects in her soul those five virtues which please Me above all others, and which I have placed therein by a singular liberality; she possesses purity, by a continual influence of My grace; she possesses humility, amidst the great diversity of gifts which I have bestowed on her — for the more I effect in her, the more she abases herself; she possesses a true benignity, which makes her desire the salvation of the whole world for My greater glory; she possesses a true fidelity, spreading abroad, without reserve, all her treasures for the same end. Finally, she possesses a consummate charity; for she loves Me with her whole heart, with her whole soul, and with her whole strength; and for love of Me, she loves her neighbor as herself.” [3]

St. Gertrude was elected Abbess of her monastery in 1294 when she was but thirty. And for forty more years she continued to guide her spiritual children, many of whom attained a high degree of sanctity. As superior she was known for her zeal, and for her charity. Whenever anyone was suffering, whether in body or in spirit, she could not rest. If repentance was required she prayed and wept until the person had repented. She preferred this approach to severe upbraiding. So fervent were her nuns because this approach that not only did they attain sanctity but a number of them received singular favors from Heaven.

By this time Gertrude’s mystical union with her Spouse, Our Lord, Jesus, was so ardent and intimate that even the thought of sudden death could not disturb her. In fact she expressed her desire to join her Spouse. But she surrendered her will to His in this matter, saying that she preferred His will and providence even to the Sacraments.

Her confidence, which we shall speak about later, was so pre-eminent that it is impossible to think that his Sacred Heart could refuse her anything. It was not always thus. Once she had been praying fervently for a favor, which He had not yet granted. When asked Him why the delay, He replied that it was because she was lacking in confidence of the effects of His Mercy.

Later, He told St. Mechtilde, “I have united My Heart so closely to her soul by the ties of My Mercy that she has become one spirit with Me. It is on this account that she obeys so promptly all the desires of My will . . .” [4]

One year, before the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, St. Gertrude, addressing Our Lord’s Five Wounds, repeated the following salutation five thousand four hundred and sixty-six times: “Glory be to Thee, most sweet, most gentle, most benign, most noble, most excellent, effulgent, and ever-peaceful Trinity, for the roseate wounds of my only Love!” As she repeated this salutation, our Lord Jesus appeared to her, more beautiful than the Angels, bearing golden flowers on each Wound, and saluted her thus, with a serene countenance and the tenderest charity: “Behold in what glory I now appear to you. I will appear in the same manner to you at your death, and will cover all the stains of your sins, and of those also who salute My Wounds with the same devotion.” [5]

Gertrude’s life became daily more supernatural and often she experienced ecstasies in which she not only enjoyed the company of Our Lord, but His Holy Mother as well. Even her favorite Saints came to visit her.

She also wrote with St. Mechtilde a series of prayers that became very popular, and because of this and her writing, devotion to the Sacred Heart began to spread. After numerous sufferings and an almost lifelong set of infirmities, she now neared her death. The Sisters were reading the Passion of Christ at her bedside where Jesus appeared to her with Our Lady at His right hand. The nuns pronounced the words, “And bowing His Head, He gave up the ghost,” Jesus leaned toward the Saint, opening wide His adorable Heart, pouring forth all His love while the Angels surrounded her bed; she beheld them inviting her to Paradise and heard then singing, “Come, come, O mistress! . . . Alleluia, alleluia!” [6] She died at Helfta on November 17 and although never formally canonized, Pope Clement XII in 1677 directed that her Feast [Originally November 17, but in this past century, the 16th] be a universal Feast in the Church. She is listed in the Roman Martyrology, which lists all the Saints and Martyrs.

She is the patron of the West Indies because of a petition to the Holy See made by the King of Spain.  To learn more about this great saint, click here

Comment: 

My beloved mother (RIP) was named Elizabeth Gertrude, but, unfortunately, she hated her middle name. While she disliked the name,  though, she loved the saint and would boast that her middle name patron was “St Gertrude the Great“…

Clearly, St Gertrude the Great was highly favoured, although cynics would question the visits from Our Lord and other mystical experiences.   Such experiences appear to have been not uncommon in those days.  It seems unlikely that they are as common today.   Feel free to share your thoughts on that, but also consider what – if anything – we might learn from a saint like St Gertrude the Great that would help us to become more pleasing (to God) Catholics. 

Jesus or the Church? 

New video in our series Thinking Through Catholic Truth (updated 18 July, 2018)

If you can think of other arguments to convince lapsed and non-Catholics about the divine roots of the Church, please share your thoughts below…