This month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus allows us the joyful duty of honoring this devotion’s foundress, a very important saint, who is not nearly as well-known as she should be. St. Gertrude the Great, a German Benedictine mystic of the 13th century, has drawn the admiration and love of many saints throughout the ages. She was especially beloved by St. Teresa of Avila and St. Francis DeSales, as well as by the great re-founder of French Benedictine monasticism, Dom Prosper Gueranger, wrote extensively and effusively in praise of her.
Gertrude entered monastic life in her native land at the age of five as a student and persevered in her consecration through years of suffering and depression. She was very intelligent and excelled in her studies. At the age of 26, she had a profound conversion experience in which Jesus revealed His Sacred Heart to her. After this, she abandoned all pursuit of created goods and sought with her whole heart to please God alone. She abandoned her study of the profane sciences to focus exclusively on theology, and “from being a grammarian became a theologian,” as her biographer put it.
Gertrude has been called the “theologian of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” and she promoted and plumbed the depths of this mystery centuries before the revelations to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Her spirituality of mystical marriage with Jesus Christ became the model for St. Teresa’s profound mysticism 200 years later. She was truly a trailblazer for the Church’s development in these vital areas of theology and spirituality, such that one could imagine her being named a Doctor of the Church.
Gertrude also had a profound love for the souls in Purgatory, based on her love for Jesus Christ. It was revealed to her by Jesus that He wished very much to free the souls from their just punishment in Purgatory, that He was only waiting for the souls to be recommended to him by His dear friends on earth. It was further revealed to her that the efficacy of our prayer for the souls in Purgatory depends upon the love in the heart of the one praying for them. Our Lord told her that her prayer was so pleasing to Him that a soul was released from Purgatory for every movement of her tongue in prayer!
As we make our own intercession for the suffering souls in Purgatory during the month of November, we have Gertrude, whose feast (November 16) is fittingly celebrated in that month, as our model and special helper in this beautiful work of love. She teaches us to have great sympathy and compassion for the poor souls, to pray and offer sacrifice frequently for them, and to do all of this entirely out of love for and union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.
St. Gertrude is the only female saint called “The Great” by the Church. She was truly a great theologian, a great disciple, and a great lover of God! We pray that she may she become better known and imitated in the Church today, especially in the minds and hearts of those who choose to embrace the mystical marriage of consecrated contemplative life. St. Gertrude the Great, pray for us!
Reverend Father Joseph Previtali