The Catholic Defender: St. Gertrude the Great
Our story begins in the village of Helfta, Germany. A little girl, barely five years old entered a Benedictine convent, a community filled with holy cloistered nuns whose whole life was the Lord. They knew and believed that the Lord was as truly present in the Blessed Sacrament as He was in Heaven and so they spent much of their lives on earth adoring Him. From this fountain of faith flowed a desire to praise him morning, day and night, praying the Divine Office. Gertrude grew in holiness and when she came of age, she became a Bride of Christ.
In 1281, 25-year-old Gertrude experienced her first series of visions that would continue until the day she passed away.
Her Bridegroom Jesus appeared to her when she was twenty-six years old. During Advent, she had been filled with a restlessness and longing to be closer to Jesus. The more she meditated, the more she began to have a disdain for the things of the world. One evening, she was about to retire, when Our Lord appeared to her as a very handsome young Man. He said: "Thy salvation is at hand. Why are you so consumed by sorrow?" She had received her first vision!
Jesus spoke to her:
"I will save and deliver you. Fear not."
Our Lord opened His Arms wide to embrace her. She tried to approach Him, but a hedge, made thick with long menacing thorns barred the way, looming between them, separating her from Him. As she knew that the hedge and thorns were the times she had sinned and displeased the Lord, she began to weep. The Lord extended His Hand, and as if some unseen force had lifted her, she was beside Him. He invited her to rest her head on His Precious Chest. Her eyes went from His pierced Heart to His Hands and Feet; and there before her were His five Wounds, bleeding out of love for her and us "the radiant jewels of His Sacred Wounds."
Her visions altered her life and she saw this moment as her new birth. Our Lord's mandate to St. Gertrude was to herald devotion to His Most Sacred Heart. She came to us in the Thirteenth Century, a time of rampant heresy and glorious victory. The Lord promised that His Church, although besieged by persecution, would triumph in the end; We know that Jesus brought about the Miracle of the Eucharist at Bolsena to dispel the heresy of Berengarianism in this century,
St. Gertrude tells us that after this she was converted, not that she had been anything but virtuous. She had always been a good student, excelling in Latin, History and other worldly subjects. But after this, she had eyes only for the Word of God in Holy Scripture and the works of such Church Fathers as Saints Augustine, Gregory and Bernard.
Six centuries before, in around the year 720, His children were being led astray, innocent lambs being led to slaughter by some "judas goats," and so God in His Mercy gave His little ones a Miracle of the Eucharist in the Form of a Human Heart! Then six centuries later, He sends a Saint to herald devotion to His Most Sacred Heart, to let us know how much He loves us, how we can find refuge and strength in the Mercy of His Sacred Heart. Is this book not about His Mercy? God could not have shown more Mercy and Compassion than to give us an opportunity to be made ready for Him by gracing us with Purgatory.
St. Gertrude lived to love Jesus alone; pleasing Him was her sole objective in life. She sought and found Him everywhere, but most especially in the Eucharist. Jesus was consistently in her mind and on her heart; she took to heart His words, when Our Lord said:
"I delight so much in her, I have chosen to dwell in her. All that others see and love in her is My work; and whoever loves My work in her, loves Me. I have decreed that she stand alone, without friends or relatives, that none may love her from ties of relationship, but that I Myself may be the sole cause of her being loved and esteemed."
Jesus told her:
"It is impossible that anyone should not receive all that he has believed and hoped to obtain. It gives Me great pleasure when men hope great things from Me and I will always grant them more than they expect."
She turned to Jesus, as she would to an earthly father, with the complete trust of a child. No petition was too small or too great. On one occasion, when she had lost a needle in a pile of straw, she asked the Lord to find it for her:
"It would be in vain that I would search for this needle and so very much a waste of time. If You would be so kind, find it for me!"
She turned her head, groped with one of her hands and immediately found the needle. Our Lord delighted in her simplicity and innocence, and always rewarded her faith in Him with gifts affirming that faith.
Jesus gave us Miracles of the Eucharist, whenever we were in danger of losing our faith. Why? Because He wanted us to know that He is with us, reachable and waiting for us, coming to dwell in us during the ongoing Sacrifice of the Cross, the Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus told St. Gertrude stated, "You can find Me in no place where I delight more, or which is more suitable for Me, than in the Sacrament of the Altar."
This reaffirms a theme that runs through our books on Visionaries, Mystics and Stigmatists, Saints, Angels, Mother Mary and Miracles of the Eucharist that no one, nothing is more dear and precious to the Lord than us sharing in the Sacrifice of the Cross.
You will read throughout this book how the most powerful arrow that can pierce the loving Heart of God the Father, moving Him to have mercy on us, is Our Lord's Passion, Death and Resurrection, that ongoing Sacrifice of the Cross - the Sacrifice of the Mass.
The sisters were reading the Passion when they pronounced the words: "And bowing His Head, He gave up His Spirit," Jesus opened His Heart welcoming her within. The Angels began singing Alleluia, and the next thing you know, one of the sisters heard the Lord say:
"Behold you are united to Me and to become My own forever....I will present you to My Father by the close embrace of My Heart."
You can be sure that there was a Heavenly Court made up of all the Souls who had been released from Purgatory through her intercession, also awaiting her in Heaven with big signs welcoming her Home!
Her priorities turned away from secular teachings and focuses more on studying Scripture and theology. Her life became full with this awakening and she was an enthusiastic student, writing for the spiritual benefit of others.
Gertrude once had a vision on the feast of John the Evangelist, described in Gertrude's writings. As she rested her head near Jesus' wound on his side, she could hear the beating of his heart. She asked St. John if he, too, felt the beating of Jesus' Divine Heart on the night of the Last Supper. He told her he was saving this revelation for a time when the world needed it to rekindle its love.
She went on to become one of the great mystics of the 13th century. Along with St. Mechtilde, she practiced what is known as "nuptial mysticism," seeing herself as the bride of Christ. She embraced charity for both rich and poor, she was a simple woman with a deep solidarity with those not yet ready for the beatific vision, who are still being purified in the state of repose known as purgatory.
Gertrude assisted at the deathbeds and mourned for the loss of both Abbess Gertrude of Hackeborn in 1291 and her dearly loved St. Mechtilde in 1298. Gertrude's health began to deteriorate, but she continued to only show her love for the Lord.
"Until the age of 25, I was a blind and insane woman... but you, Jesus, deigned to grant me the priceless familiarity of your friendship by opening to me in every way that most noble casket of your divinity, which is your divine Heart, and offering me in great abundance all your treasures contained in it".
On November 17, 1301, Gertrude passed away a virgin and joined her Bridegroom forever.
The Herald of Divine Love is composed of five different books.
Book two is the core of the work, and was written solely by Gertrude.
It is a notable piece of writing, because it includes detailed descriptions of Gertrude's visions and a veneration of Christ's heart. The other four books are believed to have been composed by other nuns.
When Gertrude was 27, she was given the stigmata by God, physical proof that God recognized Gertrude's piety and devotion. The stigmata, which represent the five wounds received by Christ during His crucifixion, were emblazoned on her heart. In May of 1292, Gertrude had her first prophetic experience.
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.
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.
Although Gertrude was never formally canonized, Rome approved a liturgical office of prayer and readings in her honor. To separate her from Abbess Gertrude of Hackeborn, Pope Benedict XIV gave her the title, "the Great," making her the only woman saint to be called, "the Great."
St. Gertrude the Great is the Patroness of the West Indies and she is often invoked for souls in purgatory. Her feast day is celebrated on November 16.