St. Gertrude and the Purgatory Prayer

Sometimes I get questions about certain practices or prayers.  Someone might find a slip of paper saying, “Pray this and X will happen.”  Some will ask me about prayers that receive X number of days off of Purgatory.

There is a prayer associated with today’s saint, St. Gertrude “the Great” about which a claim is made that it will release from Purgatory 1000 souls.

St. Gertrude was a 13th c. Benedictine, saint and mystic.  She received private revelations.  She is often called “the Great”.  She was an early promoter of veneration of Sacred Heart with a powerful concern for the souls in Purgatory..

Here is the prayer:

“Eternal Father, I offer You 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.”

That’s a lovely prayer.  It is attributed to St. Gertrude the Great.

Nowhere in the writings that have come down to us did Gertrude make the claim about 1000 souls.

For the last couple centuries the Church has tried to weed out specious claims that have attached themselves to certain pious practices.   This is precisely one of those claims.   For this reason the Church abolished the “Toties Quoties” indulgences, etc. (practices by which one could gain any number of plenary indulgences in a day).

None of this means that the prayer is a bad prayer.  Claims about it are bad.  We can say the same for perfectly acceptable prayers on old holy cards that say that a certain number of days reduced for Purgatory (or other time measures) are obtained.

Number of souls or of days?  No.  But the prayers can still be good!

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.

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. Silly side note: I think I see a possible reason why Acta Sanctae Sedis had its name changed, or at least why it was fortunate enough to have its name changed. A great uncle of mine who was born in the old country (Italy) was unfortunate enough to have those same initials.

  2. I see this attachment to the old measures of indulgences every so often– ‘but it says in the Raccolta that…’. I regret the loss of years, quarantines, days but, gosh, imagine the apologetics industry they’d support and the atheists they’d provoke these days.

    Have often wondered about the reason for that (from our English language perspective, anyway) happy change, from ASS to AAS. Surely someone knows? I wonder how differently fluent Italian speakers pronounce ‘aas’ and ‘ass’, if they are pronounced as words, I mean, and not A, A, S or A, S, S.

    And asses is the plural of as.

  3. Ms. M-S says:

    I’m not sure that in the long run we ever know precisely how efficacious our prayers are. Just keep praying, just keep praying.

  4. Rev. Paul L. Vasquez says:

    I thought the so-called “days” were the theoretical reduction in the duration of (ancient) public penance, and that this was all wrapped up post-Council in calling them “partial.” I will yield to correction of course, but that was my understanding.

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