Our analysis of the causes of abstention from sacramental communion in The Herald highlighted the theme of discretio and its two corollaries: obedience and the pure desire to glorify God. We saw that for Gertrud, it was a way of distancing herself from the theological and pastoral views of her time, according to which the necessity to test oneself might well have paralyzed good will by overemphasizing the idea of unworthiness. Faithful to the old monastic tradition in which the relationship to oneself is considered with discernment, with the help of an "elder", Saint Gertrud thus foiled the traps of a conscience much too focused on justice. She even set a means of access to sacramental communion which, in its very principle, complies with the Mystery of the Church. When the disciple reveals his thoughts to his abba and seeks with him the will of God, is not that indeed a little church revealing the Mystery of the Trinity, and letting the Spirit of discretio, who animated the relationship between Jesus and his Father, continue in the members of the Body the work he did in the Head: a work of obedience, prompted by a pure desire to glorify God? To proceed into such a "trial", is to recognize that what is permanently at stake on the stage of the Mystery of the Church shapes the actors even in the wings. We hardly see that in the great scholastics, for which the preparation for sacramental communion was considered a rather individualistic matter, in the wings of oneself.[1] In The Herald of God’s Loving-Kindness, on the contrary, the openness to the ecclesial stage shapes the actors, even in the wings of preparation. That is what we would like to show, by considering three points that surface in The Herald and make up a kind of ritual of access: the pressure of confidentia, the benefit of rituality, and the adornments of the ecclesia.






Previously, we saw how divina pietas let itself be touched by human confidentia, so much so that His Heart is pierced (Book 3,7 p.38-39). We must go back to it now, for it is in the light of this confidentia, first star in the sky of her holiness (Book 1,10,1 p.66. L 1,10,1,1-2), that Gertrud found her way to sacramental communion. Here is a first example:


"From her trust (confidentia) she possessed such grace concerning the reception of communion, that reading in Scripture or hearing from anyone about the danger run by those who receive communion unworthily could not prevent her from always receiving communion gladly, with a firm hope in the Lord’s loving-kindness. (pietate Domini). She considered her own efforts so feeble and virtually null that she never failed to receive communion even if she had neglected the prayers or other exercises with which people usually prepare themselves. She judged that all human effort, compared to this supremely excellent free gift, is like tiny drops compared to the vast expanse of the ocean." (Book 1,10,3 p.67. L1,10,3,1-10).


In another place, the writer of Book 1 noted that Gertrud also led on that way of trust (accedere confidenter) the troubled persons who came to her. Sometimes, she almost forced them to proceed on that way (quasi vi compelleret, Book 1,14,2 p.82. L1,14,2,6). On one occasion, she began to worry that she was taking on herself more than she should. She confided her fear to the Lord, who confirmed her in her ministry of discretio and told her:


"Do not be afraid, but take comfort. Be strong and confident, for I, the Lord God and your Lover, who by my freely-given love created you and chose you in whom to dwell and take delightful pleasure, I give a definite answer, beyond all doubt, to all who ask me this question with devotion and humility through you. You shall hold this sure promise from me, that I will never allow anyone whom I judge to be unworthy of the life-giving sacrament of my body and blood to seek out your advice on this. So if I chose to send you for assurance anyone who is weary or oppressed, you shall declare to that person that it is safe to approach me. Because of your grace and love, I will never bar them from my fatherly heart, but I shall open my arms to them, to embrace them in dearest love; nor shall I deny them the delectable kiss of peace." (Book 1,14,2 p.82-83. L1,14,2,11-23).


In Book 2, Gertrud herself gave thanks to the Lord for not having rejected her when she approached, "so many times the most excellent feast of your most holy body and blood improperly prepared". The following words of her thanksgiving let us catch a glimpse of a keen sense of ecclesial solidarity[2], manifested here in the realm of preparation for sacramental communion:


"Your inexhaustible superabundance toward me, the most worthless and useless of your instruments, condescended to tinge your gift with added beauty: from your grace I received an assurance that if anyone who longs to approach the blessed sacrament but has a fearful conscience and holds back in trepidation is prompted by humility to seek support and strength from me, the very least of your servants: for the sake of that humility your loving-kindness, which bursts all bond of restraint (tua incontinens pietas), will count them as worthy of so great a sacrament, which they will indeed receive as the fruit of eternal salvation. You added that if your absolute righteousness would not allow you to count someone worthy, you would never allow that person to submit in humility to my counsel. O heavenly Governor, you who dwell on high and look down on the lowly, how can it be that your divine compassion should pass such a degree, when you saw me so often approaching communion unworthily and, if weighed in the balance of your justice, deserving judgment! You wished to make others worthy by means of the power of humility, even though you could do this better without me. Nevertheless your loving-kindness (pietas tua), aware of my poverty, made the decision to accomplish this through me, so that in this way if in no other I could have a share in the merits of those who would, through my words of advice, come to possess the fruit of salvation. " (Book 2,20,1 p.150-151. L2,20,1,8-26).


This is a typical example of a pastoral lesson on access to sacramental communion, as Gertrud understood it. Driven by the Holy Spirit[3], she was amazed to discover the design of divina pietas which joins together the members of the Church, so that the humility of some may help the unworthiness of others, thus preparing them, except for the case of mortal sin (Book 3,18,24 p.79-80. L3,18,24,18; Book 3,77,1 p.218-219. L3,77,1,14), to approach together the sacrament of life. Through this we measure the theological keenness and exactness of the landmarks given by Gertrud to show the way of access to sacramental communion. We would be wrong to say that they are different from the scholastics. It is better to admit that they go beyond, combining the duty to test oneself by oneself and the duty to test oneself in the Church. Here are more examples:



a) Book 2,5,1 (p.112):


This is a prayer said by Gertrud, "during Mass on the Sunday when Gaudete in Domino is sung", as she was going to receive communion:


"Lord, I admit that, as far as my merits go, I am not worthy to receive the least of your gifts. But by the merits and earnest longing of all those around I beseech your loving-kindness to pierce my heart with the arrow of your love" (L 2,5,1,12-16).


Here, it is not the humility of some which helps the unworthiness of others, but "merits and earnest longing of all those around" which help Gertrud’s unworthiness. Be that as it may concerning the exact nature of the mutual help received by the members of the Church, we have to keep in mind that Gertrud relied on the ecclesial body when about to approach communion, in order to receive a grace of a closer union with Christ.[4]



b) Book 3,18,19 (p.76-77):


What follows seems to be a short narrative, on a day of sacramental communion:


"When she saw one of the sisters approaching with great fear to take the life-giving sacrament, and turned away because of disgust, as if in anger, the Lord gently expostulated: 'Do you not consider that I am owed no less justly the reverence of honor (reverentia honoris) than the sweetness of love (dulcedo amoris)? But since the failing of human weakness cannot accomplish both equally in one emotion, since you are members of one another it is right that what someone lacks in herself should be recovered by another. For instance, someone who with too much sweet love yields to less feeling of reverence should rejoice that this is made up for her by another who extends greater reverence, and should in return long for that other one to receive the comfort of divine unction."


Let us notice how much the vocabulary of this page resembles the one used by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica:


“Reverence (reverentia) for this sacrament consists in fear associated with love (timorem amori conjunctum); consequently reverential fear (timor reverentiae) of God is called filial fear… because the desire of receiving arises from love, while the humility of reverence springs from fear. Consequently, each of these belongs to the reverence due to this sacrament; both as to receiving it daily, and as to refraining from it sometimes. Hence Augustine says: "If one says that the Eucharist should not be received daily, while another maintains the contrary, let each one do as according to his devotion he thinks right; for Zacchaeus and the Centurion did not contradict one another while the one received the Lord with joy, whereas the other said: 'Lord I am not worthy that Thou should enter under my roof'; since both honored our Savior, though not in the same way." But love and hope, whereunto the Scriptures constantly urge us, are preferable to fear. Hence, too, when Peter had said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord," Jesus answered: "Fear not.”[5]


In Saint Thomas Aquinas as well as in Saint Gertrud, what is at stake is really reverentia and amor. But it is in the treatment of these two affectus that The Herald differs from the Summa. One could say that in Saint Thomas Aquinas (and Saint Augustine), Zacchaeus and the centurion mix with one another without the awareness of being one body, when in Gertrud, they do not only mix with another, they are part of the same body: "... since you are members of one another it is right that what someone lacks in herself should be recovered by another."      



c)  L 4,13,4 :


We have partly analyzed this passage when we dealt with the causes of abstention from sacramental communion in The Herald. Gertrud abstained, "by discretion" (causa discretionis, L4,13,4,4), from sacramental communion. Having mystically drunk from the heart of Christ, here is what she saw:


"...she saw all those who had communicated that day standing in the presence of the Lord, who gave to each a marvelously beautiful habit, and a special gift from the divine loving-kindness[1] (divinae pietatis), which enabled them to prepare themselves worthily for communion." (Book 4, 10, p.340. L4,13,4,8-14).


Besides the theme of the habit to which we will come back later, we find here another expression of the ecclesial dimension in the way Gertrud approached sacramental communion. The following shows that she was very aware of it


"From this she understood that those who dispose themselves for Holy Communion by particular prayers and devotions, and who nevertheless abstain for good reasons, as through discretion[2], obedience or humility (causa discretionis vel humilitatis aut obedientiae), are replenished by God with the torrent of divine delights; while their preparation for Communion contributes to prepare others and the fruit which others derive thereby returns to their advantage." (Book 4,10 p.340. L4,13,4,19-29).[6]



These examples provide a first explanation about the confidentia which motivated Gertrud’s entire spiritual life, and was her guideline in approaching sacramental communion. Her discretio opened her eyes on the Mystery of the Church: she understood that being part of the same Body led its members to consider themselves mutual partners in a solidarity of graces where confidentia could arise. In this perspective, no one has the right to test oneself outside his/her relationship to the Body. The feeling of unworthiness thus will have less hold on the feeling of guilt always ready to reappear. One could say that in The Herald of God’s Loving-Kindness, Jesus invites himself with the centurion to Zacchaeus’.

But Gertrud’s discretio went even beyond this. She drew her confidentia from a source deeper than just being part of the Church. She drew it from the very source of the Mystery of the Church, where the Church becomes a body by receiving the Body, in the act of celebrating the Holy Mysteries. This is what we turn to now.






When Saint Gertrud said to the Lord that for her "the supreme preparation for communion is always attention to the Mass" (Book 3,8 p.40. L 3,8,1,7-8), she considered herself inside the sentire cum ecclesia, in which the Bride of Christ understands that this sacrament is really her good, and that the celebration has no other meaning than leading to communion. But there are other reasons which explain why and how the Holy Mysteries enkindled confidentia in her. These reasons are part of what Father Gy calls "a concrete eucharistic Christology", that is to say "a visit in humility from the Son of God" in the sacrament of the Eucharist. This Christology is inseparable from the notion of "real presence" understood as "corporeal presence" and "sacramental presence" related to the eucharistic interpretation of Mt 28:20. It left a deep mark on Saint Bonaventure’s doctrine. "Bonaventure goes back and forth between the scholastic technique and the evangelical piety of Saint Francis of Assisi. This let him allude to the sacramental species as a little cloak, or more often, according to an expression familiar to the theologians since Hughes of Saint-Victor, as a veil (velamen)".[7] Gertrud also makes the connection with Mt 28:20, though she does not explicitly speak about the "real presence " (Book 3,77,1 p.218. L 3,77,1,8-9). Instead of using the image of the veil or the little cloak, she holds to the image of the "body" in its sacramental staging. She considers it both in its physical dimensions and in its relationship with the human body of the faithful, who see it, touch it, and eat it. For her, there is nothing more concrete than this eucharistic Christology which is staged in this hand-to-hand, or we might say body-to-body relationship of the liturgical celebration. One might say that Gertrud drew the facts of liturgy into her space of sensibility, where the Church becomes a body by receiving the Body: all that she saw, that she heard, that she touched, that she smelled, and that she tasted, urged her to confidentia. Let us give four examples of it, as they purposely follow one another in The Herald.



a)  Book 3,18,13 p.76:


"One day when a sermon on the divine righteousness was being preached at great length, she took it so seriously that she trembled and greatly feared to approach the divine sacraments. By the goodness of God these words put heart into her: 'If you fail to look with inner eyes (interioribus oculis) upon my goodness that has been shown you in innumerable ways, at least see with physical eyes (corporalibus oculis) in how small a pyx know for certain that the rigor of my righteousness is thus completely enclosed in the gentleness of my mercy which I worthily extend to the human race in the sustenance of this sacrament."


In this passage, the Lord invited Gertrud to a class on sacramental theology, starting from a visual perception: for lack of appropriate inner eyes, she needs to trust what she sees through her physical eyes. Thus she will be certain that "the rigor of (his) righteousness is completely enclosed in the gentleness of (his) mercy", which he "extends to the human race". This speaks volumes about the sacramental display (in exhibitionem hujus sacramenti) in which Saint Gertrud deciphers the design of the Lord.



b)  Book 3,18,14 p.76:


The urging to trust ought to intensify when to the consideration of the smallness of the sacramental body is added the comparison between the size of this body and of the human body. Both taste and sight are used here to benefit from this concrete lesson:


"Another time but in a similar moment and on a not dissimilar occasion, his divine loving-kindness (divina pietas) enticed her to taste the sweetness of his delight with these words: 'Note the tiny shape of this substance in which I manifest to you all my divine and human natures, and compare its size with the size of the human body, and from that gauge the courtesy of my goodness. For just as the human body surpasses my body in size – that is, the size of the species of bread beneath which my body subsists – so my mercy and love draw me in this Sacrament to allow the loving soul, to a certain extent, to have the advantage over me, just as the human body has the advantage over my body in size."



c)  Book 3,18,15 p.76:


We can understand better this example and the following one if we use the sociological notion of "ritualized body". We can consider it as a development of the notion of "face" used by Erving Goffman, as the distinction he makes between the stage and the wings is reflected on the body: "...the body itself has public parts which require a careful staging (the exterior of the body, its "façade": the clothing, the face, the hairstyle, the make-up, ...) and private parts (the inner body) that one must carefully hide or let others ignore. The ritualized body is thus a place and a performance. We also find in it noble and common places, private and public parts, a stage and wings".[8] Here is an example in which the ritualized body of the priest, as he touches the ritualized body of the Lord, is an occasion for another lesson of trust


"...while the saving victim was being offered, the Lord again further intervened to commend his great courtesy, saying: 'Do you not observe that the priest who is offering the host has pushed up his arm band out of reverence in handling the sacrament, and is handling my body with his bare hands? Understand from this that although, as is right, I look with kindly regard on those efforts which are made to my glory, such as prayers, fasts, vigils and such like, none the less (even if it does not seem so to the less perceptive) I present myself to my chosen with a stronger emotion of compassion when, driven by the stings of human weakness, they flee to my mercy, just as there you see the priest’s hand of flesh as more intimate than his arm band" (Book 3,18,15 p.76).


In this example, the ritualization of the body does not cause any separation between what is private or public, but rather between the clothing and nakedness. And as private parts benefit from the clothing, whereas public parts remain naked, one can think that the liturgical staging produces an inversion in the ritualization of the body: the clothing of private parts causes the nakedness of public parts to appear. And here is the lesson to draw from that: the bare trust[9] of the faithful (symbolized here through the hand of the priest) who take refuge in the Lord’s mercy, has a better hold on the Body of the Lord than the clothing with which they cover themselves when they pray, fast, keep vigil and practice other exercises for his glory.



d)  Book 3,18,16 p.76-77:


“The bell was ringing at communion”. Gertrud feared to be "less prepared than was right". Why has not the Lord sent her the jewels of devotion (ornamenta devotionis) that she wanted to receive from him? The Lord replied:


"The bridegroom sometimes takes greater pleasure in seeing the white neck of his bride than when it is hidden with a necklace, and he takes even more pleasure in touching her well-turned hands than in seeing them adorned with gloves. So I sometimes take more pleasure in the virtue of humility than in the grace of devotion."


Here again, the body is ritualized on the basis of the distinction between adornment and nakedness. But what is at stake here is not the body of the priest, but the one of the bride: Gertrud. It is a new lesson of trust: the nakedness of her humility gives more joy to the Bridegroom than the grace of devotion.


Whatever may be the value of this kind of ritual exegesis, it is worth our attention if we want to understand the way and the means by which Gertrud ritualized her preparation for sacramental communion. As she opened herself to the Mystery of the Church, she rejected a too personal individualism. And as she considered the "ritualized body", - the one of the Lord, in the sacrament, and the one of the priest or of the bride in the distinction between adornment and nakedness -, she rejected "a zeal of justice" which would also go too far. It seems that many preachers of that time yielded to it: they kept the faithful away from sacramental communion by giving too much attention to the "adornment" of the preparatory exercises, without discerning that "nakedness" was more important, as it is made of humility and steadfast trust in God’s mercy.


This lesson of trust, based on openness to the Church and liturgical sense, also explains "the role of the star" which we previously alluded to. The child/herald did not let herself be fascinated nor attracted by ascetical performances. Her "role" was littleness, the one he could see in the tiny sacramental body, in which the divine mercy enclosed justice, so that humans may be victorious over God. That is how he likes the greatness of what is infinitely little.






Gertrud had practiced discretio too much to trust her star without caution: for if we give too much importance to confidentia, do we not neglect devotio? By leaning so much on God’s mercy, do we not risk accepting our own misery too easily? Had Zacchaeus nothing to learn from the centurion? Several passages from The Herald show that Gertrud saw the possible dangers of such a pedagogy. In particular, in the long chapter 18 of Book 3, there is a unique passage in which the reader is warned of the pain caused to Christ by unworthy communion:


"After receiving communion, one day while she was meditating with what great care one should guard the mouth, as it in particular among the other parts of the body is the receptacle of the precious mysteries of Christ, she was instructed by this analogy: if someone does not guard the mouth from idle, untruthful, ugly, slanderous words and so on, she comes impenitent to holy communion and in such fashion receives Christ - as far as she can – like someone who buries a visitor on his arrival by piling up stones on the doorstep, or hits him on the head with a hand crow-bar! Anyone who reads this should consider with a deep sob of compassion what congruity there is of such great savagery with such great goodness, that he who came for human salvation with such great mildness, is so cruelly persecuted by those who were to be saved. It is possible to have similar thoughts about any other sin" (Book 3,18,9 p.74).


You have probably noticed that she goes beyond the distinction between mortal sin and venial sin. What is at stake here is simply "sins". Their seriousness is to be measured according to the quality of the guest we receive. "Idle, untruthful, ugly and slanderous words", and even grumbling and the like cause a mortal pain to our guest, if we do not repent before approaching communion.


In other passages, Gertrud, herself or through someone else, called herself into question before the Lord (Book 1,14,2 p.82 and 1,16,1 p.88) who, each time, confirmed her in her gifts:


"I have indeed invested her with these special privileges, so that whatever anyone can hope to be able to receive through her, the person will certainly obtain; and anyone whom she considers worthy to receive communion, my mercy will never consider unworthy. On the contrary, if she encourages someone to receive communion, I shall look on that person with greater love; and in accordance with my divine insight (secundum meam divinam discretionem) she will give a considered judgment, as to whether they are more or less serious, on the faults of all those who question her. ...Let her not lose faith (non tamen diffidat). I shall certainly keep inviolate in her the gifts of the privileges already described, all the days of her life" (Book 1,16,1 p.89-90. L 1,16,1,35-43.61-63).


A careful reading of The Herald reveals that Gertrud, though she valued confidentia so much, did not despise devotio. We remember the Sunday on which the Lord said he was "satiated" with the exercises of preparation she had done for several days, that he "would prefer lingering quietly with his bride in private than in sitting with her at table " (Book 3, 38 p.131. L3,38,1). What exactly were these praeparatoria that the Lord compared to "the most delicious food and refreshment"? In this case they are "mortifications" (continentiis) imposed by Gertrud on her speech and on all her senses, as well as on her desires, prayers, and dispositions. In another passage, they are all "those efforts which are made to my glory, such as prayers, fasts, vigils and such like" (orationes, jejunia, vigiliae et similia; Book 3,15 p.77. L3,18,15,7-8). But Gertrud went beyond. We saw that her sense of the Church urged her to seek help from the pilgrims here below, with whom she was aware of being a single Body. And there is even more to this: she convened all the heavens in preparation for her communions. It was not unusual. She began doing this because of a rite existing at Helfta; so far, we have not been able to find its origin nor its existence in other monasteries. We can find allusions to it in three passages of The Herald (especially in L 4,48,20; also in Book 3,10,1 p.46 and in Book 3,34,1 p.125). Here is the most obvious allusion:


"During the Mass, as they recited Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes three times, the first time she asked all the Saints, as she was accustomed to do (more sibi solito, L 4,48,20,2), to offer for her to God all the merits of their virtues, so that, worthily prepared, she could approach to receive the sacrament of life. At the second Laudate, she addressed the same prayer to the Blessed Virgin, and at the third, to the Lord Jesus" (L 4,48,20,1-7).


The expression more sibi solito, present also in Book 3,10,1 p.46 (L 3,10,1,11-12) as morem sibi consuetum ("to which she was accustomed"), reveals that this form of praise was familiar to Gertrud, as was also her prayer intention as she was praying the psalm three times. Besides, whatever may be the origin of this rite, it is important to keep in mind the way Gertrud was experiencing it. In her mind, it was impossible to prepare herself for communion in a solitary way. When someone is to receive communion, everyone else is implied, in the effects as well as in the preparation. A faithful person can approach communion only in the Church, for in him/her the whole Body is going to become more of a body, the whole mystical Body is going to eat the sacramental body. He/she must then adorn the whole Church to appear on the stage. We come back naturally to the theme of the "adornment" and of the "ritualized body": to save face in sacramental communion, the adornment the "star" receives from Christ, from Mary and from the Saints is not superfluous. She clothed herself with the adornment of their merits and of their virtues, to be worthy to share the banquet of the Bridegroom. Here are some examples of it:





a)  Book 3,34,1 p.125:


"Once, about to receive the body of Christ, while she was sorrowing that she was so unprepared, she prayed the Blessed Virgin and all the saints to offer on her behalf all the merit by which each one of them had been prepared for the reception of some grace. In addition she prayed the Lord Jesus Christ that he would condescend to offer on her behalf that perfection prepared with which, at the moment of the Ascension, he stood before God the Father to receive glorification. A little later while she was trying to find out what she had gained from this prayer, the Lord replied, 'This you have gained, that you now truly appear to all the citizens of heaven in that splendid apparel which you asked for yourself.' The Lord added: 'Why would you want to distrust that I (Quare diffidere velles de me) the all-powerful and most kindly God, would not be able to do what anyone even on earth could do? For if he has garments and splendid apparel he could dress his friend in them or something similar and thence could make that friend appear splendid in that same splendid apparel in which he shone himself ".


You have noticed the theme of trust (Quare diffidere velles de me), connected to the theme of friendship: to distrust a friend is to offend him/her.


b)  Book 3,18,10-11-12 p. 74-75:


In this long series, we find many parables (the one who builds a tower: Lk 14:28-30; the king, going out to wage war against another king: Lk 14:31-33; the prodigal son: Lk 15:11-32) in a nuptial staging (Mt 22:1-14) having trust as its main theme, repeated three times (1) ex seipsa omnino diffidens, ac spem suam in Dei pietatem ponens; (2) cum humilitate et fiducia procedam illi obviam; (3) postremo Confidentiam...:


"One day when she was about to receive communion, when she thought she was not prepared and the time was already at hand, (...) completely distrusting herself and putting her hope in God’s loving-kindness (pietatem Dei), she said to herself, 'What’s the use of putting it off? Even if I were left to my own efforts for a thousand years, I would not prepare myself suitably; since I can have nothing of myself which can in any way lead to such a costly preparation. But I shall go to meet him with humility and trust; and when he sees me from afar, prompted by his own love, he has the power to send to meet me so that, worthily prepared, I shall be able to be brought into his presence."


"Looking on her with a glance of mercy…(he) sent to meet her" the adornment of his virtues, among others confidentia" with which he deigned to lean on a lowly creature of frail human nature when it was his delight to be with the children of men ":


"And when she had come a little closer, the Lord appeared, looking on her with a glance of mercy or rather of love, and sent to meet her, suitably to prepare her, his own Innocence with which he dressed her as a soft white shift. He sent his own Humility, by which he deigned to be associated with such unworthy beings, to dress her in it as a violet tunic. He sent his own Hope, by which he pants and burns for the embraces of the soul, to adorn her in green. He sent his own Love, by which he is swayed in his soul, to envelop her in a golden cloak; he sent his own Joy, with which he delighted in her soul, to crown her with a jeweled crown; finally, he sent his own trust (Confidentiam), by which he deigned to lean on a lowly creation of frail human nature when it was his delight to be with the children of men, to provide her with shoes. And thus he brought her worthily into his presence" (Book 3,18,11 p.75).[10]



c)  Book 3,18,23 p.79:


"Another day when she was about to receive communion…she saw herself as totally unprepared for this and not at all composed and, anxious, was trying to retreat":


"The Son of God seemed to come to meet her, to prepare her and conduct her to his secret mysteries. First, as if washing her hands in the forgiveness of sins, he handed over to her the cleansing power of the Passion. Then he unclasped his own jewels – necklace, bracelets and rings – with which he appeared adorned, and hung them on her, reminding her that with them she would go forward properly (decenter) and not like a foolish woman (sicut fatua) who, out of impropriety and awkwardness, does not know how to step forward and rather acquires contemptuous ridicule than respect for her modesty. By these words she understood that those with the Lord’s jewels approach like fools (fatui) who, while brooding on their own imperfection, pray the Son of God to make it good for them; but after receiving his blessing they will remain as timid as before, because they do not have complete trust (plenam confidentiam) in the Lord’s most sufficient and complete power to make up their deficiencies".


You notice that the whole narrative is focused on the theme of confidentia. By the wings (cleansing and clothing for mysteries, ad secretiora) and the stage (cum ornamentis Domini decenter procederet), all our attention is turned towards trust. It is a stumbling block for the fools (fatui). Either you are dressed with the adornments of the Son of God by trusting him completely, and then you deserve honor and respect, or you disguise yourself out of fear, and you receive nothing but scorn. Trust and decency (decenter) go very much together.



d)  Book 4,21 p.371 (L 4,12,6):


On the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, during Mass, Gertrud besought the Mother of God "to dispose her to receive worthily the august sacrament of the Body and Blood of her divine Son." The narrative goes on:


"The Blessed Virgin then gave her a magnificent necklace, which had seven rays or points, to each of which a precious stone was attached, and these stones indicated the signal virtues which had pleased our Lord most in His Blessed Mother... When Saint Gertrud appeared before our Lord with this collar, He was so delighted[3] (delectatus) and won (allectus) by the brilliance of her virtues, that He inclined lovingly (amore captus) towards her; drawing her to Himself, and enclosing her as it were in His bosom, He honored her with His pure and holy caresses".


In the second part of this narrative, you notice the vocabulary of seduction: God is delighted (delectatus), won (allectus), lovingly (captus) attracted by the beauty of the soul that Mary has adorned with her own virtues. How to explain that this adornment has a power of fascination over the Lord, whereas in other cases, he preferred bare hands and neck (Book 3,18,15.16 p.76)? Is not it that the Lord is more sensitive to the adornment we receive from another than to the one we take for ourselves?



e)  Book 4,56 p.469 (L 4,55, 4 et 5):


On the Feast of All Saints, Gertrud, on the point of receiving communion, gave thanks to God:


"She returned thanks to God for the sanctity and perfection of the confessors and religious who had pleased him from the beginning of the world, beseeching him to bring all who were still militant in the Church to a happy end; and immediately she beheld her soul adorned with violet; and as she continued to pray for the different states and orders in the Church, her soul was adorned with their respective virtues. As she returned most fervent thanks to God for these favors, she beheld herself clothed in a golden amice; and standing thus marvelously adorned before our Lord, delighted by her beauty[4] (decore illius delectatus) He turned to the saints, and exclaimed: 'Behold her in garments of gold, clothed round about with varieties.' Then He opened His arms to receive her, as she was no longer able to support the torrent of Divine joys with which her soul was encompassed".


The interaction here is very similar to the one in the previous passage. Again the Lord is "delighted" (delectatus) by Gertrud’s beauty as she represents the Ecclesia. And as on the feast of the Annunciation, he drew her into his arms.



All the passages we have just surveyed reveal that The Herald of God’s Loving-Kindness presents itself as a text in defense of an ecclesial preparation for sacramental communion. And thus it raises the question of "worthiness" in words and in a light different from those of the scholastic period. We do not need to focus forever in a self-examen, but to learn how to look at oneself in the Church. As long as one "has pulled the veil of [one’s] unworthiness over [one’s] eyes", one is "completely unable to discern the loving-kindness (pietatem) of [God’s] fatherly affection" (Book 3,10,2 p.48. L3,10,2,20-25). It was through her sense of the Church, acquired in the liturgical celebration, that Gertrud dared to lift up the veil and preach confidentia. She thus avoided the risks of obsession inherent in the praeparatoria, and in the freedom of her heart she presented herself to the Bridegroom in persona ecclesiae (L4,16,6).


Is that proper to Saint Gertrud? We are inclined to think it is. In the scholastic realm, we have hardly found anything but an alternation between timor and amor, and the ecclesial stage stops before the wings of the inner self instead of entering them. We may more easily find a track similar to The Herald in a page of the Exordium Magnum Cisterciense by Conrad of Eberbach: in the name of obedience, Saint Bernard commanded one of his brothers who no longer believed in the sacrament of the altar, to receive communion by virtue of Bernard’s own faith.[11] But there was still a long way to go before reaching the ecclesial preparation as Gertrud understood it. If we considered the great women of the eucharistic movement in the 13th century, we would probably find a conception of this sacrament more in keeping with Gertrud’s idea. Nowadays, Raniero Cantalamessa’s meditations on the Eucharist seem similar to The Herald’s message regarding preparation for communion. Here is an excerpt:


"As we are aware of the great mystery we receive, and which goes far beyond our ability to welcome it, our friends in heaven (Mary, the angels, and the saints we love) are ready to help us, if we ask them to do so. With them we can speak very simply and determinedly, as the man in the Gospel: by night he receives a friend but has nothing to offer him, and so he is not afraid of waking up a neighbor to borrow some bread (cf. Lk 11:5 ff). From our perfect worshippers in heaven, we can also borrow their purity, their praise, their humility, and their feelings of infinite gratitude towards God, so that Jesus may find them in us when he visits us in communion."[12]


This is close to The Herald, but Gertrud’s vision was even broader, as she did not rely only on the Church of heaven. She was also aware of being one body with the members of the Church on earth, especially with the sisters of her community, in approaching sacramental communion.


Some of you may wonder that this study almost never alludes to the sacrament of confession. It is because the rare allusions to it in The Herald show that for Gertrud, the preparation for communion is much broader than the mere fact of having or not confessed oneself (Book 3,61 p.175; L4,7,4; L5,27,2). More than in the “bath” of confession, which was probably usual for her on the days of communion, it was in her belonging to the Church and in the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries that Gertrud was aware of being adorned with the beauty of the Bride in order to then approach, with confidence, and meet her Bridegroom. Adorned or naked, she was always decent, because she knew ultimately that the Lord did not request anything from her "but to come to (Me) empty, that (I) may fill (you)." (Book 4,26 p.394. L4,26,9,26-27).



[1] The words here in italics are not in the published English translation!

[2] This word is not in the published English translation

[3] This word is not in the published English translation

[4] These words are not in the published English translation




[1] . Cf. Olivier QUENARDEL, La Communion Eucharistique dans le The Herald de l’Amour Divin de Saint Gertrud d’Helfta, Brepols 1997, pp. 116-118.


[2] . Cf. Hugues MINGUET, Saint Gertrud d’Helfta : Le Livre II du The Herald, Théologie d’un écrit spirituel, Thesis presented at the university of Lyons, juin 1987, p.119 : « In reading The Herald, one must not be a spectator, but must enter Gertrud’s experience. She created a link of solidarity between herself and her reader and wanted anyone who reads her to join her in her relationship of grace with the Lord. She did it in an astonishing way, typical of The Herald. Undoubtedly every act of writing is intended to be a communication, but did anyone else go so far as to turn into a plan of communion and of solidarity in grace? »



[3] . Cf. O. QUENARDEL, op. cit., pp. 70-72.



[4] . One could find a similar approach in Saint THERESE de l’E.J. cf. Derniers entretiens, Annexes, Cerf/DDB, 1971, pp.278-279. but whereas Saint Therese relied on the intercession of the saints in heaven, Gertrud, in the present case, sought help from «souls here below».



[5] . THOMAS AQUINAS, Summa Theologica, 3a Pars, q.80, a. 10, 3m.



[6] . We find this commentary in a footnote for the following lines: «Her point of view is extremely interesting. It goes far beyond private devotion and has a very ecclesial character. The eucharistic mystery is communicated everyday to the whole Church, in globo. Saint Gertrud seemed to imply that those who could not receive communion that day, for worthy reasons, did actually receive it in a certain way. But those who abstained by negligence were thus deprived from the fruit of this daily communion». (SC 255, n.1, pp. 152-153).


[7] . Pierre-Marie GY, La liturgie dans l’histoire, Paris, Cerf 1990, pp.255-256.


[8] . Edmond MARC et Dominique PICARD, L’interaction sociale, Paris, P.U.F. 1989, pp. 123-124.


[9] . Though the word confidentia is not in the text, is it not the lesson we can draw from it?


[10] . Pierre DOYERE noticed that The Herald combined a code of virtues with a code of colors: «They are not chosen, as a painter would do, for their visual harmony, but for their value as signs. White is for innocence, purity, belonging to God, and divine perfection. Red stands for the blood poured out, suffering, the Passion. Green for freshness, the impetus of life, works, virtue, strength. Blue for heavenly thoughts. Gold for charity and love. And pink fits Christ, as he combines in a single brilliance the white of his glorious divinity with the red of his suffering humanity». (Introduction, SC 139, p.28). 


[11] . Conrad d’EBERBACH, Exordium magnum cisterciense, Romae 1961, Editiones Cistercienses, Livre II, ch. 6, p. 102. (This work has not yet been translated into English).



[12] . Raniero CANTALAMESSA, L’Eucharistie, notre sanctification, Paris, Centurion 1989, pp. 59-60. (Eucharist, Our Sanctification, Liturgical Press, 1993).