ASK FATHER: Does the St. Gertrude Prayer release 1000 souls from Purgatory?

gertrude 02 smWe are in that sweet-spot period when we can gain wonderful indulgences for Poor Souls and we are still within the Year of Mercy.  So…


From a reader…


My husband and I were reading your post on how to gain indulgences for the Holy Souls. My husband, whose work schedule makes it hard to visit churches, was wondering why one would take so many steps to gain an indulgence for one person when saying the St. Gertrude prayer releases 1000 souls from Purgatory?

Here is the prayer in question.  You all would do well to memorize it and recite it often.

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, for those in my own home and in my family. Amen.

About the 1000 souls, claim.  Nope, sorry.

First, the prayer is attributed to St. Gertrude the Great (+c. 1302).  She was a great mystic and writer.  She had a great devotion to the Lord’s Sacred Heart, a strong strain of nuptial mysticism, and powerful concern for the souls in Purgatory.

Pope Leo XIII tried to suppress a virtual superstition of the nearly “magical” effects of the simple recitation of prayers to free various numbers of souls from Purgatory.  You can find his acts in Acta Sanctae Sedis, which was the instrument of promulgation of documents of the  Holy See.  It’s name eventually changed to Acta Apostolicae Sedis, which is what it is called now.   In ASS 31 (1898-99) and ASS 32 (1899-1900).  At AAS 32 on p. 243 on Rule 8 we find a condemnation of cards or pages that promise that many souls will be released from Purgatory due to the recitation of a prayer.  Moreover, St Gertrude never wrote any such thing and her prayer does not say anything about it.

The Church gets to establish what indulgences are effective and can be used.  The current general grants are found in the Handbook of Indulgences.  Everyone should have a copy to reference.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Liz says:

    I always wondered about that. Thanks, Father.

  2. onemore says:

    Excellent clarification and insight. In addition to the theological problems with the idea of a specific number, I’ve always thought the math didn’t make sense:

    108 billion people have ever lived on earth – about 100 billion have died so for – let’s say they are all in purgatory. There are 1 billion Catholics today, ask 10% of them to participate. If they all said this prayer one time, purgatory would be empty. Since about 150k people die each day, a small maintenance force of 150 people could pray the prayer each day to ensure it remained so.

  3. pfreddys says:

    The link in the first paragraph seems wierd; sorry to trouble you but I was looking forward to those prayers.

  4. WmHesch says:

    With the power of the keys, couldn’t the Pope harrow purgatory every day by attaching a YUUUGGEE number of plenary indulgences to a simple prayer?

    Before that’s laughed off, let’s not forget that 433 plenary indulgences were attached to the Blue Scapular and Cord of St. Francis until 1972.

    Also- our grandparents gained the All Souls “toties quoties” indulgences by walking into a church, saying a few short prayers, walking out and walking back in… Often dozens of times.

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  6. retiredtobedlam says:

    I think that if you check you will find that the original prayer ended after the word “Purgatory”. The rest of the prayer is just a historical accretion, and seems to me to have been written by a different hand in more recent times than the 13th Century. Also, I believe Leo permitted the description of “many souls” being freed from Purgatory with each recitation.
    I did a quick “look up” and I found, at least, 14 male Saints described as “the Great”, and only one on the distaff side…Gertrude.

  7. KateD says:

    Growing up in California with all the new age nonsense, I’d rather break a mirror than give into the suggestion of superstition. I hate the thought of having been had.

    …Except when it comes to the plight of unfortunate souls.

    Our Lady said at Fatima that souls fall like snowflakes into Hell for lack of compassion for their plight among those of us in the Church Militant. These are souls that could’ve been saved by more prayers!

    It costs me not one red cent to pray the 1000 souls prayer attributed to Saint Gertrude. It is on its own merit, a laudable prayer. If there is the faintest HOPE that it can release a single soul, let alone1000, you bet I’m gonna pray it. Absolutely.

    Call me superstitious. Lol…..I’ve been called worse:)

  8. comedyeye says:

    If you link to a book on Amazon please remind to use the link on your sidebar.

  9. DonL says:

    Isn’t the problem that the release of souls from Purgatory then becomes a power in our hands (given to us?) , as opposed to God? Isn’t there a question of the sin of presumption–mathematically speaking–of course?
    BTW, I say the prayer daily in hopes that my loved ones and poor forgotten souls might gain God’s graces and that it affects their stay…God willing.

  10. HealingRose says:

    It should always be part of our daily prayers to pray for the forgotten, to pray for those who have no one to pray for them, and to pray for those in Purgatory.

  11. Anne C. says:

    When we had a subscription to our local Sunday liberal rag, I used to go to the Obituaries, and pray for each person listed there! I didn’t know of the St. Gertrude prayer at the time, and I probably should have said some general prayer at the beginning, and then just said an “Our Father” or “Hail Mary” for each of them. But I was more thorough than that, praying for each of them separately (especially those who weren’t having funerals), and felt like I was doing something that maybe no one else was.

    It did start to feel like an obsession and/or superstition after a while, but then, we stopped our subscription for political reasons anyway.

    I have felt for a long time a need to pray for our Dead, especially after having read some of Padre Pio’s writings . . .

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