St. Gertrude Prayer Releases 1,000 Souls from Purgatory. Or, Does It?

by Fr Richard Heilman | October 23, 2017 3:13 PM

I have to admit, I have always struggled with the claim that St. Gertrude received, from our Lord, the promise that, if this prayer is said, 1,000 souls are released from Purgatory. But, if it is true, it is true … or is it?

“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.”

It’s a beautiful prayer, and I pray it often, but the major reason I struggle with this is because I am a strong proponent, and teach in my book (Church Militant Field Manual[1]), the prescribed way the Church has for gaining a Plenary Indulgence for a Holy Soul in Purgatory (I wrote about it HERE[2]). Here is what I wrote about the genius of the “way the Church has prescribed for us do it”:

Through the lives of many saints, God has revealed and elevated a treasure chest of beautiful prayers, penances and devotions. Holy Mother Church utilizes these prescribed acts of obedience as an occasion to teach and strengthen her children (“spurs us to works of devotion, penance, and charity” CCC 1478). In other words, when we look at each of the indulgenced good works and prayers[3] granted to us, as well as the conditions necessary for obtaining them, we see that these acts and conditions are the favored ways in which God desires us to grow in holiness, confront evil, and rescue souls.

 

Again, this is the “resistance training” so necessary to build our spiritual muscles … we are resisting the need to do “anything we so desire,” (even within our faith lives), and allowing ourselves to be led by those ways God has revealed and elevated through centuries of inspired teaching.

But, if I can just take 15 seconds to pray a prayer that releases 1,000 souls from Purgatory, why would I bother doing the more “challenging” way the Church has prescribed? I wouldn’t. And, in such a push-button world in which we now live, I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking the 15 second option over the more challenging way of the Church. So, we can see why the devotion, prescribed by the Church, for gaining a Plenary Indulgence for a Holy Soul in Purgatory has seemed to fade away. I have been trying to revive it, but I have had the competition of this “15 second option” standing in the way.

Then, just today, a friend shared this blog post (HERE[4]) that raises some very important questions and concerns in relation to this prayer. These are all things I had not known or considered. This was very enlightening:

One thing I discovered is that this promise appears nowhere in Saint Gertrude’s writings. It is generally accepted that she received personal revelations, but her accepted writings do not contain the promise. I searched the entire book “The Life and Revelations of Saint Gertrude the Great” and it is nowhere to be found. This is problematic that the Saints own writings that are considered authoritative concerning her revelations do not testify to this promise of the release of 1,000 souls from purgatory.

The next issue is the general condemnation by the Church of such promises. In the 19th century, there was somewhat of an epidemic in the Church concerning holy cards being released with false promises and indulgences. The Holy See, under the authority of Pope Leo XIII, issued a series of proclamations to try and suppress the problem so that the Faithful might not be lead astray by believing in false promises and indulgences not approved by the Church. These proclamations were posted in an old set of documents called the Acta Sanctae Sedis (Acts of the Holy See), which was a monthly publication containing actions of the Pope and the Roman Congregations. The originals of the documents are posted on the Vatican’s website at this link[5]. They are all in Latin. If you open the link to ASS 31, and scroll to page 727, looking at the paragraph starting with “ad hanc,” you can see a general overview of the problem with these prayer cards and the Vatican’s attempting to weed them out. Then more directly, open ASS 32, scroll to page 243, and look specifically at Rule 8. This proclamation says that any pamphlets or leaflets containing promises to release one or more souls from purgatory are to be rejected by the Faithful, and any indulgences attached to them should be presumed invalid. And so, not only do Saint Gertrude’s writings not contain this promise, but there is a general condemnation for prayer cards with promises to release one or more souls from purgatory.

And a summation of the arguments against the claims associated with the prayer:

And so the evidence that I have found can be summarized as follows:

  1. Saint Gertrude’s writings contain nothing about a promise to release 1,000 souls from purgatory each time the prayer is said
  2. There was an epidemic of prayer cards containing false promises and indulgences
  3. The Church has summarily condemned prayer cards containing a promise to release one or more souls from purgatory
  4. The supposed approval by M. Cardinal is dated that exact same day as the approval by Manuel Gonçalves Cerejeira of the book Read Me or Rue it, a book by Fr. O’Malley containing the prayer but not the promise
  5. Such an easy way to release 1,000 souls seems inconsistent with the Church’s understanding of purgatory, given that ordinarily to release one soul requires a plenary indulgence which is very difficult to get, and given all the means the Church employs to help the dead such as special masses or indulgences applicable only to the dead

I will continue to prayer the Prayer of St. Gertrude, but I will put my eggs in the basket of what the Church prescribes over unapproved legends of 1,000 souls released from Purgatory.

Endnotes:
  1. Church Militant Field Manual: https://romancatholicgear.com/books-and-manuals/church-militant-field-manual.html
  2. HERE: https://www.romancatholicman.com/spiritual-strength-training/
  3. indulgenced good works and prayers: http://www.catholic.org/prayers/indulgw.php
  4. HERE: https://veneremurcernui.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/be-careful-with-claims-associated-with-the-saint-gertrude-prayer/
  5. this link: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ass/index_en.htm

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