What's So Great About Saint Gertrude?
The month of November is dedicated to Holy Souls in Purgatory, so it is fitting that the Feast Day of St. Gertrude the Great is honored during this month on November 16th. Saint Gertrude is the only female saint to be called Great -- so why is she?
The thirteenth century is one of the greatest centuries of the Church. From St. Albert and Thomas Aquinas, to St. Francis and St. Dominic, our Church was strengthened by the intellectual and spiritual lives of these and other great saints. It was during this time that Gertrude lived and wrote.
It is said that Gertrude was extremely intelligent and had a high aptitude and devotion for Latin and reading literature and philosophy. In time, as a Benedictine nun, she was left somewhat unsatisfied with these secular studies. In this way, one might draw a comparison with Saint Augustine, who was among the most learned in his time but yet remained restless in his heart.
Around her twenty-sixth year, she began to experience a series of revelations of which she recounts, "she became a theologian instead of a grammarian." Thus, her she set forth to apply her intellectual abilities to Scripture and theology, and began to seek interior perfection. Additionally, she recorded her visions and conversations with Christ, which are commonly known as “Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude”. Other preserved writings include “Herald of Divine Love”, and Gertrude’s “Spiritual Exercises”.
Gertrude was an early proponent of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, as she was permitted to see His heart and experience fully His divine love and charity. This preceded the experiences of St. Mary Alocoque.
Additionally, Gertrude developed a love for the holy souls in purgatory. There is a prayer associated with her. Tradition has it that Christ promised to release 1000 souls in purgatory every time it was recited. The prayer says,
Eternal Father, I offer Thee 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, for sinners in the Universal Church, for those in my own home and within my family. Amen.
Gertrude died in 1302 at the age of forty-six. She was highly venerated in her community; indeed, devotion to St. Gertrude grew over the centuries that Clement XII inserted her into the Roman martyrology in 1677. This process of declaring a Saint based on a long-lasting veneration by a community of believers is called equipollent canonization; it by-passes the formal canonization procedures and is personally declared by a Pope. Many saints, such as Stephen of Hungary, Wencelaus, and most recently, Hildegard von Bingen, have been canonized this way.
Saint Gertrude is Great because of her holy love of the Sacred Heart and the Souls in Purgatory. Her writings are regarded as “spiritual classics” have been revered by other notable saints such as Francis de Sales and Teresa of Avila.