The Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude is a compilation written by St. Gertrude and certain nuns in her abbey about her mystical experiences. Most of them concern conversations with Jesus Christ, who greatly loved this soul. (God loves all of us with an infinite love, but few possess enough purity to have conversations with Our Lord in this life!) St. Gertrude (1256-1302) entered the Benedictine Abbey of Rodersdorf at the age of five years old! That’s one way to ensure that one avoids the dangers of the world! Her mystical experiences began when she turned twenty-six and continued until the end of her life.
What sets this set of revelations apart from other revelations given to mystics? I have read some of The Showings of St. Julian of Norwich, St. Faustina’s Diary (which will be the subject of a later review), and excerpts from St. Bridget (or Birgitta) of Sweden’s revelations. The difference has to lie in that Our Lord Jesus Christ appears most tender and compassionate in these revelations to St. Gertrude. Indeed, the subheading for this book reads: “A Classic from the Middle Ages Revealing the Love and Mercy of Jesus toward Souls.” Passages at the end of the work, even show Our Lord pressing it to His Sacred Heart so that it might be penetrated with His Divine Sweetness and that it profit whoever reads it devoutly. In terms of bringing consolation to the reader, only the Bible supersedes this work.
Of course, some doubt might be expressed by some about the veracity of these revelations, but two things argue in their favor: 1) the perfect humility of both St. Gertrude and the other writers who compiled this work and 2) the fact that nothing in it conflicts with the teaching of the Church. If these revelations were written for their own aggrandizement, their pride would be evident therein. Instead, Christ often has to instruct them because they lack understanding, and they often acknowledge their own unworthiness. Naturally, if these revelations resulted from the authors’ cleverness in crafting stories, we would find instances where they contradict the teaching of the Church. Pride always leads to error. For example, a woman in California claims that St. Joseph is the incarnation of the Holy Ghost and that she is the greatest thing to walk the earth since Jesus Christ. How sad that she has a following!
One of the greatest lessons we learn from St. Gertrude is the height of our pride and the great need we have of humbling herself. She does not express this directly for us. Rather, when we read about one whom Jesus speaks to intimately and about whom Jesus tells others that–after the Blessed Sacrament–His favorite place to dwell on earth is in her heart declare that she is not worthy of these graces and that she is nothing but dust and ashes, how vile must we be! Ah! One can never be properly humble in this life! Also, over what we would consider little acts of negligence or times when we must necessarily give in to human weakness, she heartily repents of and begs Christ’s pardon and grace so that she might not fall thus in the future. How ashamed of ourselves should we be when we console ourselves on certain occasions by saying, “Well, it was only a venial sin.” If we shall have to give an account for our negligence and every idle word, how deeply we should grieve over all sins–no matter how small!
This collection of revelations excels as a treasury of spiritual practices. For example, Jesus Christ advises St. Gertrude for one week of Lent to pray the Our Father thirty-three times in honor of each year of His life and to offer the merits of His most holy life for the salvation of men and His glory. It also provides a great devotional practice of saluting St. Mary by saying: “Hail, White Lily of the Blessed Trinity and Vermillion Rose of Heaven!” (The lily symbolizes her immaculate soul which sin never tainted, and the rose symbolizes that she is the Queen of the Martyrs.) St. Mary has promised to those who frequently greet her thus that they will see how she, the greatest intercessor among the saints, conquers through the Omnipotence of the Father, Wisdom of the Son, and Love of the Holy Spirit, which she approaches more closely than any other created being. This post would never end if I listed all the devotional practices contained herein.
Another important aspect of the work is how it reveals how intimately concerned the Church in Heaven is with the one on earth and how important are our prayers and good works for the souls in purgatory. It reveals how the saints aid those on earth, particularly by obtaining graces for the Church Militant through communions taken in honor of them on their feast days. It also relates how certain saints are honored by God after death by their ability to gain particular graces for those who invoke them, such as St. James the Great being able to obtain conversions for those who visit his tomb. God granted him this grace because of his zeal for souls and the fact that he died before seeing the conversion of people whom he instructed in the faith and for whom he prayed. St. Gertrude devoted herself to praying for the souls in Purgatory and offering Masses for them. So much so, that Christ would show her various souls to pray for, and they would be greatly helped by them. So, if you ever wondered what the “communion of saints” looks like, this is an excellent work.
Are there any reasons why someone would decline to read this work? Yes. I will list a few of them here. The vocabulary and grammar tend to be at a high level, and certain passages require taking some time to understand. I lent this work to one person, who returned it to me for those reasons. Also, having a smattering of Latin, particularly the kind of Latin you would run into at a Latin Mass, is helpful in reading this, because several short Latin phrases go untranslated. Naturally, Protestants will not care for passages about purgatory or the saints, which might indeed make them suspicious about the content of the rest of the work. But as long as one’s Protestantism is not too rigid (rigid as in believing the widespread practice of true Christianity ended sometime before 325 A.D. and began again in the 16th century), a Protestant can still obtain benefit from these revelations.
Yet, the accounts showing the tenderness and greatness of God’s love stand as the foremost reason to read this work. I might as well end this review with how Our Lord blessed the work: “I have placed this book thus upon My Heart, that every word therein may be penetrated with Divine sweetness, even as honey penetrates bread. Therefore, whoever reads this book devoutly will receive great profit for his salvation.”