In this month of November, which is dedicated to the Souls in Purgatory, we are reminded of the Church’s call for us to pray for the Holy Souls. One of the saints of November, St. Gertrude the Great, is famous for her shining example in assisting the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Much of what we learn through St. Gertrude the Great can help us to have refreshed zeal for November’s liturgical theme.
Her feast day is November 16, right in the heart of the month. And this is a saint who helps us put more of our heart into our faith, whether it’s through our devotion to the Sacred Heart or our heartfelt charity offered to those suffering in Purgatory.
There is a multitude of beautiful ways to do just that.
Born in 1256, St. Gertrude the Great entered a monastery school at about four or five years old (either due to the death of her parents or because she was a child oblate offered by her parents as the Bible’s Hannah offered Samuel) and she was famously brilliant. The education she achieved was unprecedented for a woman of her times. She became proficient in everything from philosophy to painting.
Although she was born about 400 years before the famous “Apostle of the Sacred Heart,” (St. Margaret Mary Alacoque), St. Gertrude the Great was an early devotee of the Sacred Heart. She was a nuptial mystic who considered herself a bride of Christ. She had a famous vision of St. John the Beloved. He told St. Gertrude the Great that when he rested his head upon the chest of Jesus Christ on the night of the Last Supper, he had learned secrets and devotions that he did not record in Scripture as they had to be reserved for later generations when the world’s love had grown cold. The writings of St. Gertrude the Great helped set the stage for the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to bloom across the world.
Gertrude’s famous prayer
But what St. Gertrude the Great is perhaps most famous for is the prayer that bears her name, which is known as “The Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great for the Souls in Purgatory.”
It is said that Jesus promised St. Gertrude that every time the prayer is prayed devoutly, He would release 1,000 souls from Purgatory. That very thought should give us a good idea of what a plethora of souls are in Purgatory! And yet, as a holy priest I recently heard reminded in a homily, we too seldom hear about our duty to our departed loved ones: to pray them home!
We must remember that the Church teaches (even if its pastors don’t always remind) that those in Purgatory are dependent on our aid. They are eager to pray for those who pray for them. Each soul you free from Purgatory with your prayers is one more friend and advocate waiting for you in heaven!
What are we waiting for? Imagine how many souls will be freed from Purgatory if each person reading this article pauses for a moment to pray:
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.
“It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins” (2 Maccabees 12:43-46) Some of these Holy Souls, doubtless, are people who crossed our path in life. Others are friends we never met but will someday find waiting to pray for us in the moment of our greatest need.
Inspiration from Gertrude
Here are three quotes from St. Gertrude the Great that serve as guidance for us in our own prayer lives and a special inspiration this November:
1) “Every time we look at the Blessed Sacrament, our place in heaven is raised forever.”
Once again, St. Gertrude is reminding us of our eternal life, that what we do here on earth matters significantly for our life after death. To live out the guidance of this quote, we should make every attempt to attend Mass frequently, not just on Sundays.
2) “Gratitude for suffering is a precious jewel for our heavenly crown … Man should always firmly believe that God sends just that trial which is most beneficial for him.”
Catholic parents have, throughout the centuries taught their children to “offer it up” for the Holy Souls when a difficulty came their child’s way. And great saints and popes have affirmed this practice. Let us offer our suffering for the assistance of others and for the good, ultimately, of our own souls. If we are noble about our earthly sufferings, chances are good we will face less time in Purgatory.
3) “O Lord, I offer thee this work through thy only Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the praise of Thy eternal majesty.”
St. Gertrude prayed this regularly; she was taught by Our Lord that whatever action was offered with this prayer would have a high worth in the eyes of God. With St. Gertrude’s help we recognize that we should waste no chance, however seemingly small or mundane, to offer all for God’s glory.
To celebrate the influence of St. Gertrude the Great this month, and follow her devout example, we can add the Holy Souls prayer to each decade of our Rosary this month; share her beautiful prayer with a friend and encourage them to pray it with you; visit a cemetery and pray for those with no one to pray for them, get an at-home Holy Hour devoted to assisting the Holy Souls; and pray all month through the intercession of St. Gertrude.