A handful of Saints within Catholicism have been given the title “Great.” Most recently canonized is Pope St. John Paul the Great, but there’s also St. Albert the Great, St. Gregory the Great, St. Leo the Great, St. Basil the Great, and St. Bartholomew the Great (just to name a few). The title is bestowed upon a person whose intellectual influence within the Church was so profound that it’s impact continues to echo for generations after their death.
One such individual—and the only female to have this title associated with her name—is St. Gertrude, whose feast we celebrate today.
St. Gertrude + Visions of Love
A brilliant mind, Gertrude began her convent years far more interested in her academic studies than in the spiritual practices which accompanied life in the habit. Her focus transformed drastically when she began receiving visions of Christ at the age of twenty-five (a gift that was first and foremost meant to spark her conversion, and then aid the life of the universal Church).
There were two prominent motifs that spanned across the entirety of her visions.
Firstly and most importantly, she was granted the grace of seeing the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. No joke, she was given a vision in which she gazed through Christ’s open side and peered upon the Divine, beating Heart (roughly 300 years before devotion to the Sacred Heart was made popular by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque).
Secondly, she received multiple visions of Purgatory, which seems slightly extraneous considering the topic of her primary visions. However, with God, nothing is random. These visions were purposefully paired together.
What first appears to be a hodge podge of happenstance was actually God’s way of revealing His heartfelt love for those souls being purified in fire. Beyond that, He wanted to recruit our assistance in alleviating their suffering.
The Good Father
In the book of Hebrews, God is compared to a parent disciplining a child.
My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. …God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? -Hebrews 12:5-7
Now, Purgatory is not a punishment for sin, but it is a consequence. A consequence that God upholds for our own benefit. However, as any parent, teacher, or child care-taker would tell you, holding them accountable and letting them deal with the consequences of their actions is no fun for anyone. It brings no satisfaction and often causes pain for the person in charge of upholding the standard.
God’s relationship with His children in Purgatory is no different. In a vision to Gertrude, He confided that He longs for the faithful on earth to plead for mercy for the suffering souls. He uses the metaphor of a king who imprisoned a friend for justice’s sake, but internally hopes that someone will beg for mercy for his friend.
Sin does require justice, but God desires to be merciful … and quickly!
A Pearl Exchange
The Sacred Heart longs to be merciful and thus wishes people to pray often for the souls in Purgatory. He 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. This holds true no matter how brief the petition.
Jesus 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.
Christ is so eager to be reunited with those souls He saved that even the most minute prayers will do.
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Obliging the Sacred Heart
As is the case with all hearts devoted to another, Gertrude found herself loving those things the Sacred Heart loved. In her case, she became devoted to offering prayers and supplications for souls stuck in Purgatory.
At every Mass, she offered her Eucharist for their souls. In thanksgiving, Christ granted her a vision of all the souls that were realized because of a single reception. It was so numerous that Gertrude was left stunned.
In another vision, Jesus gave her a prayer and a promise that each time it is prayed, He would release 1,000 souls from Purgatory. Gertrude used the prayer herself and also wrote it down.
Eternal Father, I offer You 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, those in the Universal Church, in my home, and in my family.
A Three-Fold Benefit
In praying for our Church Suffering, there is nothing to be lost and only good things to gain.
First of all, it benefits the souls themselves. Whether your prayers merit them Heaven or simply alleviate the suffering they face, the souls are grateful. So grateful, in fact, that they turn around and offer prayers for you!
That’s the second benefit of praying for these souls—it brings more Divine Grace into your life as they offer their sufferings for you and your intentions.
We Will See Them
Lastly, and most importantly, it is a great comfort to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus who desires an end to their suffering more than anyone. Venerable Fulton Sheen (soon to be beatified!) once said, “As we enter Heaven we will see them, so many of them coming towards us and thanking us. We will ask who they are, and they will say, ‘a poor soul you prayed for in purgatory.’”
I’ve always loved this imagery, and am looking forward to this moment greatly.
However, now thanks to learning more about the revelations of St Gertrude, I can’t help but imagine Christ in the mix, making His way to the front of the group and embracing me in gratitude for the small ways I helped to reunite Him with all the souls He loves.
Have you ever heard of this prayer of St. Gertrude for the souls in Purgatory? Let’s all take a moment and pray it today!St. Gertrude + the Souls in Purgatory #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Grace Bellon is a regular contributor to the BIS blog. She’s a lover of bearded men, rich coffee, cheesy puns, cuddly doggies, and Catholicism. You can find out more about her here (warned ya she liked cheesy puns).