Saturday, April 21, 2007

The feast of St. Gertrude the Great is November 15...or 17....

I mention it now because I just thought of it, and to give plenty of advance notice.

One of the few female saints granted the title Great, St. Gertrude was a voracious student. Christ visited her in visions throughout most of her life, after an experience at the age of 26 essentially converted her from a student of nature to a student of God. One time, after she prayed for more time to pray and fewer things to take away from prayer time, Jesus told her:

It does not matter to me whether you perform spiritual exercises or manual labor, provided only that your will is directed to me with a right intention. If I took pleasure only in your spiritual exercises, I should certainly have reformed human nature after Adam's fall so that it would not need food, clothing or the other things that man must find or make with such effort.

Thus, spiritual growth is not just for the religious or the studious, and having some variety in our lives is generally a natural and good thing.

Another time, He asked for prayers for the souls in purgatory:

I accept with highest pleasure what is offered to Me for the poor souls, for I long inexpressibly to have near Me those for whom I paid so great a price. By the prayers of thy loving soul, I am induced to free a prisoner from purgatory as often as thou dost move thy tongue to utter a word of prayer.

Yet another, He gave her a prayer, by which He said He would release one thousand souls from purgatory every time it was prayed in love and devotion:

Eternal Father, I offer You the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus Christ, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, those in the Universal Church, in my home, and in my family.

There are other prayers you can do for the souls of the Church Penitent, and I would recommend them all. I would also encourage you to pray for the souls who have no one else to pray for them (on Earth, at least). They will be grateful for your aid, and helpful to your own causes and intentions (in purgatory and heaven, at least).

You can make a heroic act of charity, where you give up all your personal merits to be distributed by the Virgin Mary amongst the souls in purgatory. You can learn more about it at that link to New Advent, or at Our Lady's Tears, where I first read about it, which also has a Purgatory Novena and other prayers helpful to the suffering souls.

Anyway, I was intrigued by an idea I saw over at Free Republic and again at the Mission to Empty Purgatory, where I got most of this information about Gertrude the Great. Being of an analytical mind, the idea appealed to me from a mathematical standpoint, as well as a charitable one, but your milage may vary. The numbers work might seem a bit cold, but if we've been given this gift, we ought to make something of it, and there's nothing wrong with trying to imagine (or more) what could be accomplished with it.

Given that the Prayer of St. Gertrude releases a thousand souls from purgatory, and that there is a finite number of people who have lived, it should be possible for enough people to have a devotion to rescuing those souls and helping them enter the Church Triumphant that purgatory would be effectively emptied, and as long as there are people to pray for the Church Penitent, to keep purgatory virtually empty.

I'll walk you through the little bit of math; MTEP keeps a running tally based on prayer pledges, if you want to see it from someone else.

There seems to be a consensus that throughout history there have been approximately 100 billion (± 5% or so) people. A Google search for "How many people have ever lived on Earth?" will get you numbers in this range from all kinds of sources, some even assuming a very young Earth. Some of the sites show their calculations, so you can check their work for yourself if you like. Naturally that number's always on the rise, but let's stick with an even 1011 for convenience.

Looking at the souls extant to date, how many times would someone have to pray the St. Gertrude Prayer to empty purgatory?

100,000,000,000 ÷ 1000 = 100,000,000

A hundred million. A huge number, but not unimaginable. Seems pretty mechanistic at this point, but consider that currently there are one billion Catholics in the world.

One billion versus a hundred million. If only 10% of all living Catholics, just a hundred million again, say the prayer once, it'd be done. We've got 80 million in the United States alone. Five times that number are in Latin America.

Of course, we should remember that it is a pious devotion, not a numbers game. As we don't pray the rosary just in the interest of quantity, we shouldn't pray this prayer just to get through it, just to rack up spiritual bonus points, either. More than one Catholic I've heard from with memories of life before Vatican II remember how common rushed, unintelligible Tridentine masses were, where the priests just garbled the Latin and went through the motions just to get it done; and how they really weren't as spiritually healthful (albeit still valid) as a Novus Ordo, said in English or Latin, prayed solemnly and with sincere intent.

Not that I'm condemning all the mass celebrants from before 1965. Liturgical abuses didn't end then, and I'm not condemning or condoning everything that's happened since 1965, either--while the frequency of mechanistic, rote masses has probably dropped, the variety of heteropraxy has grown (unless someone can point me to some coulro-Tridentine mass somewhere).

I admit, sometimes the best I can claim is that the 20 minutes I spend praying the rosary is 20 minutes I'm not doing something worldly. I also realize that the numbers angle can be an opportunity to develop some rote habit. However, some habits are pious, and we would not be given simple or repetitive prayers if we were not meant to recite them frequently. We need only direct our wills prayerfully towards Christ "with a right intention."

Here's the thought from Free Republic: the Church should dedicate one day to the emptying of purgatory, and ask every Catholic to say St. Gertrude's prayer. Then, every Sunday, we'd say the prayer once as sort of a keep-it-empty devotion.

Divine Mercy Sunday sort of fits that bill, but if it's this devotion we're interested in promoting, it might be more fitting to put it on the feast of Gertrude the Great. Maybe two weeks earlier, on All Souls' Day, now that I think about it. I'm not trying to tell the Church what to do, and the Church can't liberate people from their purgation under by its own fiat, but what I can do is encourage people to remember the people who died in God's grace but weren't quite ready for prime time. If you like the idea, you can say the prayer every day, or make it a decade; or in the interest of forming a holy habit, at least try to remember it on Gertrude's feast day each year and ask others to do the same.

I know I'd appreciate it when I get there.

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