St. Gertrude the Great, Abbess and Virgin
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

The Roman Martyrology commemorates, today, the virgin St. Gertrude, who is to be distinguished from another virgin of the same name, whose life is recorded in the month of March. The Breviary relates of her, as follows: Gertrude was born at Eisleben, in Saxony, the same place where, two hundred years later, the unhappy Luther came into the world. When hardly five years old, she went into the Benedictine convent at Rudersdorf, to consecrate herself entirely to the service of the Most High. From that time, she despised all that was worldly, and striving only after virtue, led an almost heavenly life. The meditation of the divine mysteries, to which she was much devoted, served her as an incitement to virtue and perfection. In all her actions, she sought only the honor of God. Her conversations on our Lord and His holy life were most edifying, and her devotion to the Holy Eucharist, and the bitter passion and death of Christ was so fervent, that she frequently shed floods of tears in contemplating them. The Virgin Mother, whom in a vision, Christ had given her as mother, she venerated with filial affection. She daily offered all her prayers and other good works for the souls in purgatory, many of whom she freed from their sufferings.

When thirty years of age, she was chosen abbess or superior, and successively governed two convents, with so much mildness, wisdom and zeal for the maintenance of the Rule, that the houses under her charge were justly regarded and praised as true dwellings of religious perfection. Although the holy virgin, as superior, stood above all, she would be the least of them, and endeavored to show those under her all possible kindness. The Almighty favored her with extraordinary gifts. She had many visions of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and other Saints. The revelations which she had of secret and future events were almost numberless. She often went into ecstasy during her prayers and continued in it a considerable length of time. But notwithstanding these and other divine gifts, she was so humble that she frequently said that one of the greatest miracles of divine goodness was the fact that God suffered her to serve Him.

Quite different was the judgment of heaven; for, to say nothing of many other proofs of the favor with which she was regarded, we will only relate, that Christ Himself revealed to another holy person, that He had chosen for Himself a most lovely dwelling in the heart of Gertrude. God made the hour of her death known to her; and the nearer it approached, the more her zeal in the Lord's service increased; until a happy death called her home, in 1292. She was during her life, venerated as an example of all virtues, among which her love of God was the brightest. This love was so great, that her death was caused rather by its ardor than by the sufferings of her malady. Before and after her death, God wrought many and great miracles by her intercession.



PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS.

The nearer the hour of her death approached the more zealous St. Gertrude became in the service of God. Many persons are aware when their lives are drawing to a close, either because they are very old, or because they perceive that their strength leaves them, or because God visits them with a mortal sickness. If these persons wish to act sensibly they will endeavor to employ the time left to them to the best advantage. They ought to prepare themselves carefully and in time for death; bear the pains they suffer patiently, in the spirit of penance, and offer them to the Almighty; practice good works daily; repent daily and hourly of the sins of their past life, in order to atone, at least in some measure, for their former negligence, and yet gather some treasures for eternity, during the few days of life that still remain.

"Work while it is day," admonishes the Lord; "the night cometh when no man can work." (John ix.). The laborers in the gospel who did not begin to work until the eleventh hour, received the same wages as those who had worked longer, because in their zeal they had done as much in the last hour, as the others during the whole day. St. Chrysostom says: "At the eleventh hour are called those who are advanced in age. This parable is intended to encourage those who do not reform until they are old, that they may not think that their happiness in heaven will not be as great as that of others." But Christ gave this parable to comfort not only the aged, but all those who have been negligent in the service of the Most High. Such people especially when they feel that their end draws near, should employ all their strength to serve the Lord, in order to repair, in a short time, what they have neglected. They will surely gain eternal life by acting thus. St. Chrysostom says: "The older we are or the nearer we are, for other reasons, to eternity, the more eagerly must we run along the way to Heaven."

The special devotion of St. Gertrude to the passion and death of our Lord, prompts me to say a few words more. Harder than a stone must you be, if, considering not only who He was who suffered and died for your sake, but also, how He suffered in soul and body and how painful a death He died--harder than a stone, I say, must you be, if, considering all this, you are not moved with love and devotion towards your Savior. But you must prove your gratitude and love, especially, by earnestly repenting of your sins, which were the cause of Christ's sufferings and death.

"He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins," says the Prophet. (Isai. liii.) "See, O man!" says St. Bernard, "the greatness of your wounds, in the awful suffering of the Lord." And if you recognize the enormity of sin, tell me, how can you dare to sin again? "The son of God died for our sins;" says Origen: "and canst thou, O Christian, delight in sinning?" You know that Christ, true God and Man, sweat blood for your crimes, in the garden of Olives; that He was made a prisoner, was derided, scourged, crowned with thorns, and finally crucified; and you dare to sin anew? Is then hell itself enough to punish such abominable wickedness? The holy Apostle curses all those who do not love our Lord Jesus Christ. What then does he deserve who even dares to offend Him anew? "If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha." (1 Cor. xvi.)



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Hymn of St. Gertrude

O Gertrude, shrine of the Divinity, united to the Spouse of virgins; grant us to celebrate the chaste love of thy espousals.

Scarcely hadst thou completed thy fourth year when thou wast espoused to Christ, and didst flee to the shelter of the cloister. Thou didst put from thee the breast of thy nurse, and seek the divine kiss of thy Spouse.

Like a fair spotless lily thou dost give forth a perfume which gladdens heaven; and the splendour of thy virgin beauty draweth to thee the King of Saints.

He who dwelleth in the bosom of the Father, surrounded with everlasting glory, deigns to take his repose in thy love.

Thou woundest Jesus with love; and he woundeth thee in return, and deeply graveth on thy heart the marks of His sacred Passion.

O peerless love, O wondrous interchange; He it is who breatheth in thy heart, and thy life hangeth on the breath of His mouth.

Let the blessed choirs of virgins sing Thy praise, O Jesus, Spouse of virgins; and equal glory be ascribed to Father and to Paraclete. Amen



Antiphon

O most worthy spouse of Christ, on whom the Prophetic light hath shone, whose heart an apostilic zeal inflamed, whose head the wreath of virgins hath crowned, whom the glowing fire of divine love consumed.



Prayer

O God, Who hast prepared for Thyself a dwelling-place of delights in the most pure heart of the blessed virgin Gertrude; deign, we beseech Thee, through her merits and intercession, to wipe away all stains from our hearts, that they may become meet abodes of Thy divine majesty. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen



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From the Exercises of Saint Gertrude
by Prosper Gueranger, 1863

St. Gertrude was born in 1263, at Eisleben, in the county of Mansfield, in Upper Saxony. She and her sister, St. Mechtilde, were of the family of the Counts of Lachenborn. When she was five years old she was placed in the Benedictine abbey of Rodersdorf, in the diocese of Halberstadt, and her sister Mechtilde followed her soon after. In that holy retreat Gertrude flourished like a heavenly plant, and her soul seemed to be adorned with all the gifts of nature and of grace.

The monasteries of nuns in the Middle Ages were often schools of science; in that of Rodersdorf St. Gertrude was instructed not only in sacred learning, but in what were then called the liberal arts; and she made such progress in her studies, that her learning was matter of astonishment to the most renowned doctors. Being endowed with a natural and persuasive eloquence, the effect of which was aided by her saintly life, she drew all hearts towards her, and her sweet influence.

When she had reached her twenty-sixth year it pleased the Savior of men to manifest Himself sensibly to her, and to begin that series of ineffable communications which thenceforward were her whole life. A holy soul, to whom the Lord specially revealed Himself from time to time, was assured by Him that, after the divine Sacrament of the Altar, there was no earthly resting-place He loved so much as the heart of Gertrude. To another he gave this assurance, that whoever desired to enjoy His presence would always find Him in that heart in which He loved to dwell. And yet a third person, who had ventured to ask how St. Gertrude had merited to be thus preferred, received for answer these words: "I love her thus because of the holy liberty of her heart, into which nothing can enter to dispute my sway."

The sisters of the monastery of Rodersdorf knew well the value of the treasure they possessed, and elected her abbess in 1294; and the servant of God exercised this maternal office for forty years. Circumstances into which we need not now enter removed Gertrude and her community, a year after her election, to the abbey of Helfta, where she spent the remainder of her life. Her sister Mechtilde followed her thither; and her simplicity of heart was rewarded by our Lord with favors which we may almost compare with those which He lavished on Gertrude herself. God withdrew Mechtilde from the world before her illustrious sister, who lived until 1384.

The marvels which marked the life of Gertrude may be all referred to the unreserved familiarity with which it pleased the Son of God to converse with her, a familiarity so touching and so uninterrupted, that the pious Louis of Blois says it may give us some idea of the communications of the Savior to His Blessed Mother. When we read the five books of her Insinuations of the Divine Goodness, we begin to understand how dear a soul may be to God, and how it may respond to His loving advances.

The fidelity of Gertrude merited for her many sublime favors, some of which we will mention. Once, when she was pouring out her whole heart in love to its divine Spouse, it received the impression of the five wounds of the divine Redeemer; and Gertrude felt them continually to the moment of her death, with an ever-increasing anguish and love. On another occasion, on the Feast of the Annunciation, the Mother of God fastened on her breast a heavenly jewel, wherein were seven precious stones, which expressed by their symbolical colors the seven principal virtues which had drawn down upon the lowly virgin the complacency of the heavenly Spouse. Again, on the Feast of the Ascension, while she was gazing on the crucifix with loving emotion, a ray was darted from the holy image swift as an arrow, and pierced her heart through and through.

Christmas Day was to her more than once marked by wonderful graces. Once she received in her heart the divine Infant, who sprang from His crib to attach Himself to her. Another time the Blessed Mother condescended to lay Him in her arms. One day, on the Purification of our Lady, when her whole being was, as it were, melted in an ecstasy of love, our Lord impressed Himself upon her as a divine seal, which could never be obliterated. And on very many other occasions the Son of God deigned to disclose to Gertrude His ineffable beauty, to ravish her heart with His divine caress, to make her feel the constant care with which He adorned and embellished her soul, and to teach her how she should think and speak and act, to be always pleasing in His sight.

But the especial characteristic of the piety of St. Gertrude towards the incarnate Word is her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The mystery of mercy and of love contained in that divine Heart had been disclosed to her by the Son of God Himself, some centuries before it became an object of special devotion to the Church at large. St. Mechtilde shared with her sister this glorious privilege; and the Heart of Jesus had already been long an object of adoration and love to the sons and daughters of St. Benedict, when, in the seventeenth century, it pleased God to claim for it, by the instrumentality of the venerable sister Margaret Mary, and of the Order of the Visitation, that more solemn worship with which it is now surrounded.

Everything concurred to draw St. Gertrude towards that adorable centre and source of the divine love; and, moreover, our Lord Himself continually excited her to this devotion. Again and again He presented to her view His Sacred Heart, in token of the intimate union which He willed to maintain with her; and He even vouchsafed, in one ineffable revelation, to exchange it for that of the holy virgin, who thus felt her divine Spouse live and love within her. At the moment when Gertrude was about to expire and to rejoin the supreme object of her love, Jesus appeared to her, visible even to some of the pious nuns who were about the deathbed of their mother; and when the last moment came, they saw her soul spring towards the God-man and disappear in his bosom, and thus borne up to heaven.

The love of Gertrude towards Mary was in proportion to the tenderness with which the Mother of God regarded the dearest of the spouses of her Son. Our Lord revealed to her in many sublime visions the grandeur of her of whom He condescended to take our flesh; Mary herself more than once condescended to associate the humble virgin with her in the joys of her divine maternity. Gertrude has bequeathed to us the expression of her devotion to the glorious Queen of Heaven, in that exquisite prayer which so expressively reveals the deep and touching character of her piety, "Hail, fair Lily of the effulgent and ever-glorious Trinity. Hail, radiant Rose of heavenly fragrance, of whom the King of heaven willed to be born, and with thy milk to be fed; feed our souls with thy divine insinuations."

The religious honor of the saints was dear to the heart of Gertrude; but she felt a peculiar predilection for some of these friends of God. A special attraction drew her towards St. John the Evangelist, to whom the goodness of our Lord to her gave her so striking a resemblance. The great patriarch St. Benedict was honored by her with the most filial tenderness, and he rewarded her piety with marks of true paternal affection. He chose her to reveal to the faithful the promise he had made to give special aid, at the hour of their death, to all those who during their life should have rejoiced with Him in the graces which attended His blessed death. St. Gregory the Great, St. Augustine, and St. Bernard, were peculiarly dear to the devotion of Gertrude; and, amongst the saints of her own sex, she loved with a love of preference St. Agnes, the tender spouse of the divine Lamb; St. Catherine, the noble and eloquent teacher of Alexandria; the virgin martyr St. Margaret, whom the crusades had rendered so dear to all the Middle Ages; and St. Mary Magdalen, who so loved the divine Redeemer, and who was at once the pattern and the encouragement of Gertrude.

Her life, thus crowded with wonders, was rendered more beautiful still by the ineffable halo of simplicity which crowned it. Her profound knowledge of the mercies of which the Heart of Jesus is the centre and the source caused her own heart to overflow with love to sinners. The conversion of sinners was her great anxiety, and seemed, in many instances, to be effected at her will. A tender devotion to the souls in Purgatory was also a characteristic mark of the piety of Gertrude; and our Lord often condescended to give her proof how pleasing to Him was her charity towards those who could no longer do any thing for themselves.

The gift of miracles set the seal of perfection on this life so full of grace; nor will it appear wonderful that the prayers of Gertrude obtained every thing from Him who loved her so much, and whose love she so fully returned. And yet it was His will to test her patience with long and most painful illnesses, in order for her more complete purification; but He found that she who in time of health chastised her body, and strove to enter more and more into the sorrows of her heavenly Spouse, was always disposed to welcome suffering with thankfulness and joy such was Gertrude; and yet earth would have preserved no memory that it had ever possessed such a treasure, if the divine goodness had not taken care to reveal it to men, lest so glorious a triumph of His grace should remain unknown. Our Lord condescended to command the humble virgin to write out an account of the divine favors He had bestowed on her; and nothing but a direct command from Him could have overcome her supreme desire to glorify God, and be useful to men in this world, without leaving in the memory of men any trace of her passage.

To the obedience of Gertrude we owe the five books which she wrote in German, but which are better known in the Latin translation of the pious Lanspergius. They bear the touching and expressive title, Insinuationes Divina Pietatis; and from them we may learn to what depth of condescension the divine goodness can stoop, and what ineffable tenderness of love the Creator can lavish upon His faithful creatures. Of these the second book alone was written by Gertrude; and it is enough to enable us to enter into the interior dispositions of her privileged soul. The first, third, and fourth books were compiled by the nuns of Heldelfs from papers which the Saint had written in obedience to the command of God. The fifth contains some interesting notices of her last illness and death, and of several events in which the monastery was much interested.

The numberless conversations of the Saint with her Savior, the light which He bestowed upon her, the direction which He gave her, the wonders that took place in this transcendent communion, the language of Gertrude herself,--all concur to render this book one of the most precious illustrations of the power of divine grace in the soul of man, as well as one of the most affecting and instructive of human compositions. No doubt there are many defects of arrangement and method in the several narratives; but still all who have read them with attention bear testimony that no book has ever so enlightened and touched them.

The list of the devoted admirers of these writings would be long and imposing. We might place at its head the name of the seraphic St. Teresa, who, we are told by Father Ribera, her confessor, had taken St. Gertrude as her mistress and guide. Louis of Blois speaks of her, in his Monile Spirituale, in terms of rapturous enthusiasm. Lanspergius, as we have already seen, translated the documents which contain the revelations and teachings of the Saint into Latin. St . Francis of Sales never speaks of her but with devout admiration. Cornelius a Lapide, in his commentaries on the holy Scriptures, calls her a consummate mistress of the meaning of the Holy Spirit. It would be easy to carry on this list through several pages; we will close it with the judgment of the holy and wise M. Olier, as we find it in his unpublished works: "St . Gertrude," says that man of God, "by reason of her simplicity and profound humility, induced our Lord to treat her in a manner altogether singular, and to enrich her with His best gifts. Her writings tend always to unite the soul to Jesus Christ, and differ in this respect from many works of contemplation, which rather withdraw the soul from its application to the holy Humanity of our Lord."

It would not be easy, we think, to produce higher or more abundant evidence in favor of any book; nor could the character of the spirituality of St. Gertrude be recognized and attested by judges more competent. But there is an authority far higher still--that of the Church itself. That mother of the faithful, ever guided by the Holy Ghost, has in her holy liturgy set her seal upon St. Gertrude. The Saint herself, and the spirit which animated her, are there for ever recommended and glorified in the eyes of all Christians, in virtue of the solemn judgment contained in the office of her festival.



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From the 5th Exercise of St. Gertrude
to Enkindle in the Soul the love of God

O Thou my soul's calm untroubled Light! O dawn of morning, soft-gleaming with thy beauteous light, become in me the perfect day. O my Love, Who dost not only enlighten but deify, come unto me in all Thy might; come and gently melt my whole being. May all that is of me be destroyed utterly; may I wholly pass into Thee, so that I may no more find myself in time, but may be already and most intimately united to Thee for all eternity.

Thou hast first loved me; it is Thou who hast chosen me, and not I who have first chosen Thee. Thou art He who of His own accord runneth towards His thirsting creature; and on Thy kingly brow gleams the fair splendor of the everlasting light. Show me Thy countenance, and let me gaze upon Thy beauty. How mild and full of charms is that Face, all radiant with the rosy light of the dawn of the divine Sun! How can the spark live and glow far from the fire that gave it being? Or how can the drop of water abide far from the spring from whence it was taken? O compassionate Love, why hast Thou loved a creature so defiled and so covered with shame, but that Thou hast willed to render it all fair in Thee? O Thou delicate flower of the Virgin Mary, Thy goodness and Thy tender mercy have won and ravished my heart. O Love, my glorious Noontide, to take my rest in Thee, gladly would I die a thousand deaths.

O Charity, O Love, at the hour of my death Thou wilt sustain me with Thy words, more gladdening far than choicest wine. Thou wilt then be my way, my unobstructed way, that I may wander no more nor stray. Thou wilt aid me then, O love, Thou queen of heaven; Thou wilt clear my way before me to those fair and fertile pastures hidden in the divine wilderness, and my soul shall be inebriate with bliss; for there shall I see the face of the Lamb, my Spouse and my God.

O Love, Who art God, Thou art my best beloved possession. Without Thee neither earth nor heaven could excite in me one hope, nor draw forth one desire: vouchsafe to effect and perfect within me that union which Thou thyself desirest: may it be the end, the crown, and consummation of my being. In the countenance of my God Thy light beameth soft and fair as the evening star. O Thou fair and solemn Evening, let me see Thy ray when my eye shall close in death.

O Love, thou much-loved Evening-tide, at that dread moment let the sacred flame, which burneth evermore in Thy divine essence, consume all the stains of my mortal life. O Thou my calm and peaceful Evening, when the evening-tide of my life shall come, give me to sleep in Thee in tranquil sleep, and to taste that blissful rest which Thou hast prepared in Thyself for them that love Thee. With thy serene, enchanting look vouchsafe to order all things and prepare all things for my everlasting espousal.

O Love, be Thou unto me my Eventide so bright and calm, that my ravished soul may bid a loving farewell to its body, and return to God who gave it, and rest in peace beneath Thy beloved shadow!



Devotions and Prayers to St. Gertrude




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