Catholic Truth Society – Saint Mechtilde

detail of a statue of Saint Mechtilde of Hackeborn by Johann Georg Üblhör, date unknown; altar of Saint John of Nepomuk, monastery church, Engelhartszell, Upper Austria, Austria; photographed on 27 September 2015 by Wolfgang Sauber; swiped from Wikimedia Commons(12411298)

The names of Gertrude and Mechtilde have ever been so inseparably linked that it has erroneously been thought that they were sisters. The mistake, however, makes little or no difference to the intimate ties which bound them in the closest bond of friendship for nearly forty years. The sympathy which existed between those two holy souls arose from something far deeper than natural relationship. It sprang from the mutual love which they bore to God, a love so ardent and eager that it left no room in their hearts for any affections which were not for Him and in Him. The wonderful favours which both received, and the intimacy which both were privileged to have with their Divine Spouse, made them speak to each other with great freedom, and understand each other as only saints can. Mechtilde, being the elder of the two, was always looked up to by Gertrude, who speaks of her sanctity with enthusiastic admiration, and often had recourse to her for advice and for the solution of her difficulties regarding the revelations which were made to her.

Some skeptical minds may be inclined to think that the visions and familiar intercourse which existed between Our Lord and these two chosen souls were nothing more than the poetical flights of devout imaginations. They may imagine that because they themselves have never experienced anything of the kind such things can never have taken place. These should recall Our Lord’s own prayer to His heavenly Father: “I confess to Thee, O Father, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones.” It is sin which has raised up a barrier between God and man, for before the Fall, God walked in Paradise and conversed familiarly with Adam and Eve. It is the pride of life which blinds and dulls our supernatural vision, so that we do not see that we are’s wretched and miserable, and poor and blind and naked.” But in the case of Gertrude and Mechtilde it was not so. They had never known the world and its wickedness; their souls were spotless and unsullied; they had lived in a holy atmosphere from childhood; God was all in all to them, and they could not realize anything except in connection with Him. What wonder, then, if in them was verified, even in this life, the Divine promise, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.”

Saint Mechtilde was born in 1241. Her father was Count de Hackeborn, head of one of the richest and noblest families of Saxony, so that her surroundings were all calculated to set this world and its attractions in their brightest light. But a love of perishable goods was to find no place in the heart of one whom God had singled out to be His, and His alone, from the first moment of her existence. That He had so chosen her was shown by a remarkable event which occurred at her birth. She was so weakly and fragile that when she was born she seemed on the point of death, and the attendants, in great alarm, hurried her off then and there to the parish priest to have Baptism administered before it was too late. The priest complied with their wish to have the child baptized; but, animated by a prophetic spirit, differed from them as to her danger. “Do not fear,” he said; “this child will work great wonders, and she will end her days in a good old age.” After wards Our Lord revealed to Saint Mechtilde that He had caused her Baptism to be thus hastened that He might the more speedily take possession of the temple of her heart, which was destined to be consecrated for ever to Him.

We have only one little incident of Mechtilde’s childish years which shows that she had a touch of mischief in her character. It appears that she wanted to have a little fun, so she told the servants that there was a thief in the garden, and gave them all a fright and a hunt for nothing. In after years this little untruth caused her many tears; and, on her death-bed, it was the only breach of truth she could find with which to reproach herself.

When she was seven years old her mother took her to see her sister Gertrude, who was a professed nun at the Benedictine Monastery of Rodardsdorf. As her mother and sister were talking together, Mechtilde ran off to carry out a little plan she had secretly formed, doing to each of the nuns in turn, she fell at their feet and begged them to allow her to share with them the privilege of being a Spouse of Christ. The nuns, of course, answered that they would be only too glad to welcome her among them if she could obtain her mother’s consent, and the little girl determined never again to leave the convent. When her mother wished to return home nothing could induce the child to accompany her; and at length, not being able to delay any longer, the mother decided to leave her at the Monastery, hoping that it was only a passing whim on the part of her daughter. However, as time went on and Mechtilde showed no sign of wishing to return, both her father and her mother went to Rodardsdorf, and endeavoured by every means in their power to shake her purpose. They had willingly given their eldest daughter to God, but they were not prepared to sacrifice also their second dearly loved child. Yet when they saw the strength of her resolution and the generosity with which she turned her back on home and comforts and everything which could naturally attract, they were con strained to acknowledge the higher power working within her, and to bow their heads in submission to One who had a stronger claim to Mechtilde than even they who had given her birth. So they left her to grow up and blossom in the cloister until such time as the Master should come and gather her into His garner.

Mechtilde was now safe in her convent home, and in one sense she had gained her heart’s desire; but many a long year had yet to pass before she could make her profession in the holy Order of Saint Benedict, and bind herself by vow to Christ, her heavenly Spouse. In the meantime she wore the little habit of an alumna; she assisted daily at the conventual Mass and the day hours of the Divine Office, while on great feasts she would be allowed to join the community at Matins. The greater portion of her time was, however, devoted to her studies, in which she made rapid progress; for we read that she was remarkably gifted both in mind and body, and that such good use did she make of the talents entrusted to her that she fitted herself to be a most useful member of the Community.

About three years after Mechtilde’s arrival at Rodardsdorf the Abbess Cunegonde died, and Mechtilde’s elder sister, Gertrude, was elected in her place in 1251. She was but nineteen years of age, yet she bore within her heart the wisdom of old age, and transcended her years by her ways, as is said of her holy patriarch Saint Benedict, so that the Community had always reason to congratulate themselves on their choice. Her father, Count de Hackeborn, had died some time before her election, but her two brothers, Counts Albert and Louis, who had inherited his vast estates, were anxious to bestow some mark of esteem and affection upon their sisters. They therefore offered the nuns of Rodardsdorf an estate named Helfta, situated about a mile from Eisleben, on which to build a more suitable Monastery. The Abbess Gertrude gladly accepted their proposal, and in 1258 the community removed to the Abbey, which the sanctity of its inmates was to render so dear to the Heart of God.

Here Mechtilde sealed her consecration by pronouncing her holy vows with all that earnestness which was so characteristic of her. She had prepared for that day long and fervently, yet the time of waiting had seemed but short for the greatness of her love, and for the infinite value of the title to which she had aspired, of being in very truth the spouse of Him whom angels serve. Henceforth she kept her eyes ever fixed on her Beloved, seeking only to remove any obstacle which could hinder the union which death was to perfect.

In 1261 the little child arrived at the monastery of Helfta who was to immortalize its name and win for herself the title of “Saint Gertrude the Great”; a title unshared, in the annals of the Church, by any other woman saint. Gertrude seems to have been instinctively attracted by the gentle holiness of Mechtilde, and it is probable that they were much thrown together, as Mechtilde’s talents eminently qualified her for the education of others. Her sister had placed her at the head of the school, and she ably seconded the efforts of her Abbess to raise the standard of education, and to ground her pupils thoroughly in sacred and profane knowledge; while she established a higher class for the more advanced study of the Holy Scriptures and the leathers for those who showed any aptitude for learning.

Mechtilde had a most beautiful voice and remarkable appreciation of the art of music, so that she held all her life the office of Chantress, and spared no pains to train the choir to render as intelligently and as harmoniously as might be the sacred chants of Holy Church. Her zeal for God’s service and the perfect performance of the Divine praises was not, perhaps, always shared by those whom she endeavoured to instruct, for we find her on one occasion praying for one of the nuns who found the singing tedious And Our Lord said to Saint Mechtilde:’s Why does she sing to Me unwillingly when I will sing to her most sweetly for ever in heaven? Let her know that to sing to Me one day in obedience is more pleasing to Me than all the singiing in the world done by her own will.” Mechtilde herself never wearied of singing to her Beloved, so that He called her his “Philomel,” because the sweetness of her voice found its melody in the depth of her loving heart. Praise was the keynote of her life, as it is the keynote of her writings, and in this she was animated by a truly Benedictine spirit. In the Rule which she professed, her holy founder, Saint Benedict, speaks of praise as the’s work of God,” and says that his children are so to devote themselves to it that nothing whatever is to be preferred before it. Our Lord once told Saint Mechtilde that the highest good and the most useful thing a man can do is to praise God and converse with Him in prayer; and that the most perfect thing for the heart to do is to love and desire God and think of Him in meditation.

Love lives by suffering, and the depth of our love for God is gauged by the depth of suffering we are able to endure for His sake. Hence it is that great sanctity always entails extraordinary trials. All are called upon to take up their daily cross and follow Christ, yet, seeing our weakness and the shallowness of our love, He deigns in most cases to bear the greater part of the burden. But when He sees strong, courageous souls whom He can trust to love Him for His own sake and not for what He gives, He makes such souls His cross-bearers, to share His load of the iniquities of all mankind, and to fill up by their sufferings what is wanting in His own. This is the expla nation of the life-long martyrdom which sometimes the most innocent souls are called upon to endure: not to expiate their own sins, but those of others, in union with the Passion of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Mechtilde was a striking example of this, for of her we are told that God ever held His scourge over her head, and that she was never free from bodily pain. She was afflicted with disease which does not kill, yet which, humanly speaking, takes all pleasure out of life. Among her other ailments, she suffered from a painful eruption on her head, so that, although as a rule she would accept of no alleviation which was not according to the common usage, she was obliged to avail herself of a lighter veil than that worn by the other nuns, for the burning fever in her head caused the least weight to be almost intolerable. The terrible headaches to which she was subject are often men tioned in her writings, as it was generally on these occasions that Our Lord came to comfort her by some revelation of His love. He told her once that when she was well He held her in His right arm, but when she was ill He clasped her with His left, so as to bring her nearer to His Sacred Heart. On one occasion she had been more than usually suffering; indeed she had only laid down at night to suffer, as for a whole month no sleep had come to give her any rest. This insomnia, added to the violent headache, inevitably told on her mentally, so that she could not pray or frame a holy thought. Our Divine Lord also appeared to have withdrawn all His favours from her, and this dryness of spirit caused her such exquisite pain that the nuns would hear her sometimes break forth into piteous appeals to her Divine Spouse to have compassion on her and look upon her once more with His wonted love. After a week of this trial He vouchsafed to hear her cry, and inundated her soul with spiritual sweetness, though the physical pain still continued; yet this she counted as nothing compared to the other. However, when a whole month had elapsed without her being able to sleep, and her body was utterly exhausted, she ventured to ask Our Lord to lay His hand upon her head and let her sleep. He graciously did so, and then made her rest peacefully on His breast. After forty days, as she was still suffering from her head, she asked Our Lord to give her His blessing. He blessed her, saying, “Be cured in mind and body.” Immediately the pain abated. Then she begged Our Lady and the Saints to join her in thanking God for taking compassion on her weakness. From that time she began to get better, although she never quite recovered, which may partly be accounted for by the fact that no sooner did she feel a little stronger than she would devote herself to her spiritual exercises with a zeal and energy which far exceeded her bodily strength.

She was all her life subject to such grievous infirmities that her biographer does not hesitate to associate her with the white-robed army of martyrs. We might naturally have supposed that, for one so delicate, corporal austerities were out of the question; seeing, too, that she had such ample opportunity for patience and mortification in bearing with resignation the sufferings God sent her. This, however, was not the case, for the love which burned in Mechtilde s breast for her Divine Spouse gave a strength to do penance which was almost superhuman. Her constant meditation on the Passion of Christ made her long to make Him some return; and her eagerness to suffer with Him and for Him sometimes induced her to perform such excessive penances that most of us would rather admire than imitate them. For example, it happened that one Lent she heard some men passing the monastery who were singing detestable songs, and shouting and behaving in a way which was all the more painful in a season set apart so especially for contrition and amendment of life. Mechtilde was cut to the heart at the thought of the offence against God, and touched, too, with compassion for the misguided sinners. Full of zeal, and longing to make some expiation, she filled her bed with broken glass and earthenware, and on this she rolled her innocent body until she was one great wound from head to foot bathed in blood, and so torn and gashed that, for a long time after, the pain would not allow her either to sit or lie down.

Once when the nuns were taking the discipline, according to their custom, Mechtilde was wrapt in spirit, and heard how the sound of the disciplines reverberated in Heaven, causing the angels to tremble with joy, while on earth the demons who were busy tempting souls also heard and fled in terror; and thus the souls were freed and sins prevented.

She could never meditate on the Passion of her Saviour without shedding many tears; and in Holy Week the reality of His sufferings and death became so vivid to her mind that her compassion made her truly a sharer in His pain. Her face and hands seemed as though she was consumed by a burning fever, and it is said that at times she even sweated drops of blood in her agony. We read in Saint Mechtilde’s revelations how, in her monastery, there was a touching little ceremony performed on Good Friday evening. The nuns, having assisted in spirit at the death of Jesus Christ, would take the Crucifix and bury it, in remembrance of the burial of Our Lord on the first Good Friday; and Mechtilde would then pray with great earnestness that He would bury her heart with Him, and unite it inseparably with His.

Those who lived with Mechtilde have left on record her many virtues exercised in an heroic degree. They tell us how she was of a marvellously sweet and gentle disposition; how she was profoundly humble and patient, a great lover of poverty, and so prompt in obedience as to carry out most perfectly the injunction of her Rule that at the call of obedience the sisters should leave unfinished any occupation they may happen to be engaged in. Her diligence was one of her chief characteristics and the outcome of her love; so that notwithstanding her bad health and the lassitude which would have made inaction not only excusable, but very permissible, it is said of her in the Orifice for her Feast that she never let a moment of her time pass in idleness, but always either prayed, read, taught, or worked. Her love of poverty caused her to deprive herself even of what was necessary; her garments were of the coarsest possible material, and her habit so patched and worn that it was difficult to find the original material.

Several little anecdotes have come down to us which illustrate her forgetfulness of self, and show how deeply she was absorbed in the thought of God. Like Saint Bernard, she knew not what it was to look about her, or to be affected by things pleasing or displeasing to the senses, such as food or drink. Sometimes she would eat, unawares, rotten eggs, while her neighbours in the refectory could hardly endure the smell they emitted. Her superiors sometimes made use of her utter unconsciousness of what she ate to give her meat, as allowed by the Rule to those who are in weak health. If offered to her she would refuse it on the ground that she was not sufficiently ill; but if set before her in the refectory, she would eat it without being the least aware of what she was doing; and if the nuns laughed at her afterwards for it, she would testify her surprise, not having noticed the stratagem.

Of her deep humility we need no proof, for without it her many other virtues could not have existed. Yet, hidden as true humility must be, it always betrays itself by its sweet perfume. All through Saint Mechtilde’s revelations it is particularly striking how she lays stress on her own weakness, unworthiness, and negligence in order to bring out with greater prominence God’s exceeding compassion and goodness towards her. In the opening chapter of her Revelations we find her thinking over her sins in the bitterness of her heart, and wondering what she should do when she appeared before the Almighty Judge, seeing how negligent she had been. Again, we see her deploring with tears her infidelity to grace, and the little return of love she had made to God for His infinite love towards her. Prostrating herself at His feet, she would accuse herself of having wasted her whole life, and offer in reparation to live on till the day of judgement in the endurance of such pains and sufferings as no creature had ever experienced. After her death, her confessors testified to the extraordinary innocence of her life; so that one remarked, with great simplicity, that on hearing her general confession, he had found so little matter that he had only imposed on her the “Veni Creator” by way of penance. This makes us wonder what were the sins and infidelities she so often alludes to; and perhaps some of the chapters in her own revelations give us the best key to the problem.

She describes on one occasion how she thought she stood before the judgement seat of God, and that all the heavenly court came to bear witness against her. Our Lady accused her of being wanting in fidelity to her most sweet Son, to whom she had given birth in order that He might be a Brother to Mechtilde. The Angels accused her of having cooled the fire of Divine love in her heart by her tepidity. They said that she had not acted up to the great graces which she had received; that by useless thoughts she had troubled the rest the King of Peace had sought for in her heart; that she had not served God with that extreme reverence due to Him; that she had not sufficiently respected the image of God, both in herself and in others; that she had not been as attentive as she ought to the sweet inspirations of grace; and finally, that she had sometimes not availed herself of their (the Angels) ministry, by not sending through their means continuous loving messages to her Beloved. Then came the Saints: the Martyrs complaining that she had only borne her sufferings because she was obliged; the Confessors, that she had gone through her spiritual duties negligently; the Virgins, that she had not loved so lovable a Spouse with all her heart. Here we have a picture of what she thought of herself, and of how she believed that all God’s creatures would rise up in judgement against her. Yet such was her confidence in Jesus Christ, and her trust in His infinite merits, that she goes on to describe how, when all the Angels and Saints had borne witness against her, Our Lord Himself came forward to plead her cause, and bade her offer to the Eternal Father His virtues and sufferings in atonement for her sins; so that by this means the just anger of the Almighty Judge was appeased, and all her negligence atoned for.

In another place she gives us a clue to the extreme rigour with which she judged herself, for she tells us how, when she examined her conscience, she looked first into the mirror of God’s awful sanctity and then at her own soul. She contemplated the depth of humiliation to which the Son of God had subjected Himself, and can we therefore wonder that in her own humility she still found a flaw? She looked at the poverty of the Man-God who died stripped of all things, having given away even the last drop of His blood; and she saw in her heart that she was not yet stripped of every affection which was not for Him. She looked again at the obedience of Him who came not to do His own will, but obeyed His Father even unto death: and though she could say confidently that since she had sacrificed her will to God on the day of her profession she never had recalled it; yet she felt that she had not so utterly crucified it as to be able to say that she too had been obedient even unto death. Yet while she pondered on the awful purity of God, in whose sight the heavens are not pure and the strong pillars tremble, she did not give way to discouragement at the view of her imperfections, knowing that mercy is no less one of God’s attributes than purity; and she counsels others not to endeavour to wash away the stains of their souls with too much rigour that is to say, without remembering God’s infinite goodness; for if the rust is scoured too eagerly the vessel itself is apt to be broken.

Once, when she was praying most earnestly to the Blessed Virgin for purity of soul, Our Lady took a garment of spot less whiteness and held it out to her for her acceptance. The devils did all in their power, as she thought, to prevent her from taking it, but she invoked Mary’s help with greater earnestness and they fled, so that she was enabled to clothe herself with this beautiful garment. She was most anxious not to stain it, and asked Our Lady how she might preserve it spotless. The Blessed Virgin told her to keep herself from all vanity; and to be especially careful to watch over her eyes, to fly from every pleasure that was not in God, to avoid all idle words, and not to employ herself in any work which had not God for its end.

It is not known exactly when or how our Lord first revealed Himself to Mechtilde, and began with her that familiar intercourse which can only be likened to the conversation between friend and friend. All that we are told is that she was still very young when, on account of her fidelity to grace and her great progress in virtue, Our Lord deigned to pour out His favours upon her. She seems to have been very silent about the graces she had received, except to one or two persons who were the most intimate with her and who received similar favours. However, her sweet character powerfully attracted the hearts of those who lived with her, so that we read how from the first all loved her and sought to be with her. She was so tender-hearted in regard to the sufferings of others, whether of mind or body, that she could never do enough for those in trouble, consoling and helping them like the most loving of mothers. Hence no one ever went to her for comfort who did not come away strengthened and encouraged. As might be expected, the reputation of her sanctity could not very long be kept within the limits of her cloister home, and we hear of people of every description coming to seek counsel in doubt, and spiritual remedies for the various ailments of their souls. Prominent among those who sought help from Saint Mechtilde were some learned Dominicans, who thought themselves privileged to come in contact with so holy a soul. Saint Gertrude, who has left these facts on record, exclaims in a transport of enthusiasm, “Never has there arisen one like to her in our monastery; nor, alas! I fear, will there ever arise another such!” She little thought in her humility that she herself was destined to surpass her.

It is very beautiful to see how, in every difficulty brought to Mechtilde to solve, no matter how small, she always turned to God for the solution, or prayed for the strength necessary for the one in trouble, thus proving how clearly she felt that apart from Him she was utterly powerless. For instance, we read how the Saint consulted Our Lord about one who could not bring herself to forgive another, and Our Lord said,’s Tell her to give her enemy into my keeping, and I will give her Myself and my saints as her eternal reward in heaven.” Another time, one of the nuns was suffering from great depression which she could not shake off, and Mechtilde spoke of it in prayer to God, who vouchsafed to her this answer,’s How can she be sad, when she remembers that I am her Father, since I have created her for Myself; I am her Mother, for I have redeemed her; and I am her Brother, since I have destined her to share My kingdom?’s On another occasion we find her complaining sweetly to her Beloved, because He had allowed one of the nuns to be ill on a great feast, so that she could not sing in choir; and, again, interceding for one who could not keep her attention during the Divine Office. On this occasion Our Lord told her that if at the end of each hour any one would say with attention, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” she would obtain the pardon of her negligence and wandering of mind.

But, as we have seen, it was not only her own sisters in Religion who came to her in their difficulties. We read of one poor gentleman who was labouring under a grievous temptation. He had sought help from many holy men, but could get no relief. At length Mechtilde’s reputation having reached him, he determined to go to her, though she lived a very long way off. He came and unburdened his soul to her; and she, having comforted him with her kindly words, dismissed him with a promise to pray for him. The next day he returned to thank her most gratefully, for his temptation had completely vanished and he had never before felt so strengthened and consoled.

Another time, a Dominican came to beg her prayers on account of a number of worries, small in themselves, but which disturbed his peace of mind. As she was praying Our Lord said to her, “It would be just as easy for me to remove those little troubles from the friar for whom you are praying as for a man to brush away flies; but I do not wish to do so in order that he may learn, by being himself tempted in trifles, how to help and advise others; therefore let him know that these things will do him no more harm than so many flies.”

Again, when she was interceding for one who seems to have been the Superior of his convent, Our Lord said to her, “Tell him when he preaches to take My Heart for his trumpet, and when he teaches to take My Heart for his book; and let him impress on the friars these three points: (1) that they should avoid all human gratification; (2) that they should fly from all kinds of honour; and (3) that they should never have anything except what is strictly necessary.”

As regards her love for sinners, she had drawn it from the very source of love that Heart which is ever beating with the excess of Its yearning after those who have gone astray. With what fervour she cried to heaven for mercy on poor sinners, and how efficacious were her prayers, we learn from Our Lord’s own words to her; for He revealed to her that, on one single occasion, one hundred sinners had been converted in answer to her prayer. Could we have a more striking instance of the immense power of prayer, or a stronger incentive to devote ourselves to so fruitful an apostolate?

We come now to the crowning grace of Mechtilde’s life that grace by which our Lord deigned to reveal to her the love of His Sacred Heart for all mankind. So far as we know, Saint Gertrude and Saint Mechtilde were the first to whom Our Divine Lord spoke explicitly of this organ of Divine Love, which in these our own times has become one of the greatest objects of Catholic devotion. It happened on a Wednesday in Easter Week that while she was assisting at Mass, at the words of the Introit’s Come ye blessed,” her soul was filled with an intense desire of being one day among those who have heard these longed-for words. Then Our Lord appeared to her and said,’s Be assured that one day you will be in that blessed company; and as a pledge of My promise I give to you My Heart, which you will keep until I have accomplished my words. It shall be to you a place of refuge during life, and after death you shall rest in It for evermore.” This vision was one of the first vouchsafed to her; and from that day forth she had the greatest possible devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Scarcely ever did He appear to her afterwards without giving her some special grace, or revealing to her fresh depths of the love of His Heart. She said herself, that if all the favours she had received from the Sacred Heart were written down they would fill a large book.

Once, after Holy Communion, she saw Our Lord take her heart and unite it to His own, so that the two hearts formed but one; and He said to her, “So should the hearts of all men be united to Mine.” He often told her how He longed for men to make Him some return for all His excess of love, saying, “Nothing gives me so much pleasure as the heart of man, yet how often am I deprived of it! I have everything else in abundance, but many and many a time I have to long in vain for a human heart.” And again He told her that the greatest desire He had was for the conversion of sinners; and that the moment a sinner is truly sorry for his sins, He clasps him to His Sacred Heart with as much love as though he had never sinned at all. Another time, at the elevation of the Host, she saw Our Lord offering His Sacred Heart, all flaming with love, to His eternal Father for sinners. On one Friday she had a vision of Our Lord standing at the altar with His hands outstretched, while blood flowed copiously from His Heart and sacred wounds, as though they had been but now transfixed; and He said to her, “See how all My wounds have broken out afresh to appease My Father for the sins of men!”

Tender-hearted and compassionate as Mechtilde ever was to every form of suffering, it was but natural that she should have a very special devotion to the holy souls in Purgatory, and that she should be unremitting in her endeavours to help and comfort them. During her lifetime many of the nuns died in the odour of sanctity; and as Mechtilde prayed for the repose of their souls, Our Lord, on several occasions, revealed to her the glory which they already enjoyed in Paradise. He told her, too, that there was nothing so precious in His sight in heaven or on earth as the purity of a virginal soul; that His Father awaits the arrival of such souls in heaven with greater joy than any king could await the arrival of the bride of his only son; that as soon as the news spreads itself that a virgin is about to enter her heavenly home, all the angels and saints are transported with joy, and He Himself, rising from His throne, goes to meet her, saying, “Come, my love, my spouse, come and be crowned!”

As Mechtilde was praying, on another occasion, for the souls of Blessed Albert the Great and Saint Thomas Aquinas, who both preceded her to the grave, she was privileged to see the inestimable glory which crowned their labours, especially their writings. Several of the Dominican fathers who had been intimate with her in life, and whom she had helped and advised, also appeared to her in glory.

Sometimes, also, she saw the souls of those who, by their sins, had not as yet been admitted to the vision of God. In 1294 the young Count of Mansfield died after a short but apparently excellent life. Mechtilde saw his soul, on the day of his death, prostrate at Our Lord’s feet; and he was weeping bitterly because his contrition in life had arisen rather from fear than from love of God. Thirty days after his death, as Mass was being offered for him, she saw him again, and asked whether he suffered any pain. He answered, “Only this, that I am still deprived of the vision of God, whom I long to see with such an excess of longing, that if all the desires of all men in the world were merged into one they would not equal the longing of my soul for God.”

Our Lord once showed her how, in Purgatory, the punishment is proportioned and, as it were, suitable to the sin. Thus she saw those who had been proud, falling from one abyss to another; those who had been disobedient and who had not kept their Rule, compelled to walk about with an enormous load on their backs which weighed them almost to the ground; those who had sinned through gluttony apparently dying of hunger and panting for a drop of water; those who had indulged in sins of the flesh seemingly roasted alive; and so on, according to their different vices. Mechtilde was filled with pity at this sad sight, and as she prayed with redoubled fervour she saw great numbers released. Not only on this occasion, but again and again she had the consolation of experiencing the great efficacy of prayer and penance in bringing relief to the prisoners in Almighty God’s prison house.

The friendship which had sprung up between Saint Mech tilde and Saint Gertrude at the very outset of Gertrude’s religious life had ripened as the years passed into intimacy. The similarity of the favours bestowed on them by Our Divine Lord, together with the sympathy which naturally existed between two souls who loved God so earnestly, and whose only object was to please Him, caused them mutually to confide to each other God’s favours to them. Saint Gertrude had an enthusiastic admiration for Saint Mechtilde, and carefully noted down all she told her, yet with the utmost secrecy, for fear of being discovered and stopped. Plowever, at last, when Mechtilde was over fifty, in some way she got to know what Gertrude had done, and was in the greatest possible distress about it, her humility naturally shrinking from having her revelations made public. As usual she went for comfort to her heavenly Spouse, telling Him of her trouble. He appeared to her, holding in His hand the book in which the revelations He had made to her were written, and He said, “All this has been committed to writing by My will and inspiration, and therefore you have no cause to be troubled about it.” When she asked Our Lord whether she should cease to make known His favours, He told her that, as He had been so generous towards her, she also ought to act with a like generosity towards Him, and that the publishing of the revelations would cause many to increase in love for Him; further, that He wished the revelations to be called The Book of Special Grace, because it would prove so to many. When Mechtilde understood that the book was to tend to glorify God, and not herself, she ceased to be troubled, and even consented to correct the manuscript, and in doubtful passages to consult Our Lord about it. After her death it was published with the consent of the Bishop of the diocese. Yet it is especially stated that all which was written down was very little compared with the revelations which were never chronicled. Saint Gertrude tells us that she had reason to know that many of the most intimate favours granted by our Lord to Saint Mechtilde were never spoken of by her, partly because she could find no words to express anything so sublime, and partly because they would surpass the understanding of the greater part of men and be subject to misconception.

In 1291, that is about seven years before Saint Mechtilde’s own death, she was called upon to make a very great sacrifice in the person of her sister and Abbess, Gertrude of Hackeborn, who died in the odour of sanctity after she had governed the Monastery for many years. Of her holy life and precious death Saint Gertrude thus speaks in Book V of the Herald of Divine Love: “Dame Gertrude, our venerable Abbess, fulfilled her office for forty years with wisdom, sweetness, prudence, and admirable discretion, to the glory of God and the advantage of her neighbour. She lived in a most fervent love and devotion towards God, with wonderful tenderness and watchfulness towards others, and in humility with regard to herself. She was ever most careful to visit the sick, to procure them all necessaries, to serve them with her own hands, to recreate them and to comfort them in their needs. Not only in this was she always the first, but also in sweeping the cloisters and setting in order what was out of place; often labouring alone until, by her example, other sisters were led to help her. Her life had bloomed like a beautiful rose in the sight of God and man when, after forty years, she was seized with apoplexy. All those who knew her well can understand how deeply the shaft, aimed by the hand of the Most High to bring back to Himself from this miserable world that noble soul so full of virtues, sank into the hearts of all those who had lived under her guidance.”

Her daughters, fearing that if they were deprived of the light, the example, and the guidance of so tender a mother they might forsake the straight paths of perfection, took refuge in most earnest prayer to the Father of mercies, begging for her cure. As He is sovereignly good, He did not disdain the prayers of His poor children, and, though it was not expedient that He should hear them by curing their mother, at least He heard by consoling them, and making them share by their joy in her beatitude. For five whole months the Abbess was deprived of the use of speech, so that, not being able to express her wishes or her wants, frequently the very opposite to what she required was done by those attending her. She showed not the slightest sign of annoyance at this: only at times she would smile sweetly at her incapacity to make herself understood. When the nuns, who visited her constantly during that time, expressed their grief on account of her sufferings and their fear of losing her, she comforted them by signs and showed her grateful sense of their love.

She had lost the use of one leg by her malady, and the other on which she supported herself caused her intense pain; yet she would try to hide the agony she endured that she might not be prevented from dragging herself to the Choir for daily Mass, at which she assisted with such attention as to appear insensible to her pain; while the tears which she shed during the celebration of the adorable Mysteries bore witness to the devotion of her heart. The day before her death she asked to be carried to the bedside of one of the nuns, who was also very ill, in order to console her by her blessing and presence for, as we have already said, she could not speak. 1 She was then carried back to her own bed, Extreme Unction was administered, and she entered into her agony. Saint Gertrude was kneeling beside her, and she saw Our Lord enter the room, accompanied by His Blessed Mother and Saint John the Evangelist, to whom the Abbess was particularly devout; while in the corner she saw a number of chained devils giving vent to their rage at the triumph of one who had so completely overcome them. She noticed that Christ and His holy companions kept near the bed of the dying Abbess, who breathed out her soul into the hands of her Divine Spouse as the words of the Passion, “inclinato capite, emisit spiritum” were being read aloud by one of the sisters attending her.

The Religious then assembled for the funeral rites of their beloved mother and Abbess. When they brought her body into the church they prostrated before the Altar offering to God their tears, and begging for strength and resignation in the heavy cross He had laid upon them, when suddenly the saintly Abbess appeared before them in great glory and, as though still fulfilling her office of Superior and mother, presented a petition to the Blessed Trinity in favour of all those who had been under her care.

The death, so precious in the sight of God, of her sister and Abbess, made Saint Mechtilde now look forward all the more expectantly to the hour of her own release, for which she had not much longer to wait. From that time she began to grow more infirm, and her sufferings redoubled so that she was obliged to keep her bed. She was often disturbed in her mind on account of the trouble she gave to the nuns who waited upon her, and also because she feared that they took too much care of her, and gave her more than was absolutely necessary At last Our Lord set her heart at rest on this point by telling her that she need have no fear, since He took as done for Himself all that was done for her, and rewarded those who had nursed her as though they had nursed Himself, counting every step they took in her service. Mechtilde’s humble diffidence betrays itself in her fear of giving trouble to others, but the nuns looked upon it in quite another light, and considered themselves privileged if they might be with her. Besides they still continued to come to her in their troubles and difficulties, and she never appeared too weary or too ill to listen to them. Even at the last, when she could scarcely speak, we read of the sisters coming to her with the different intentions they particularly wished her to commend to God or with those of their friends; and if she could say no more, she would at least show her interest, and answer “Yes willingly.” At times, when the convulsive movements of her body showed how she was racked with pain, she would still find a smile and a pressure of the hand for those around her. Before her death she asked the Blessed Virgin to take under her special protection the nuns she was about to take leave of, telling her that as during life she had tried always, in every way in her power, to help them, so, now that she was about to die, she entrusted them with great confidence to her motherly care; and Our Lady, tenderly caressing her, promised to love and protect them with a special affection.

At length, on the last Sunday but one after Pentecost, in the year 1298, Mechtilde understood that her end was at hand, and began to prepare for her passage into eternity. She had been ill so long, and had so often seemed at the point of death, that her superiors did not think that there was at present any immediate danger of death, and would have delayed the administration of the last Sacraments. But Gertrude, who was nursing her, and was a witness to all the wonderful favours vouchsafed to her in those last days, begged her superior not to put off the giving of Extreme Unction, seeing that she had but a few days to live. On Tuesday she fell into her agony, and all the nuns assembled round her to assist her with the accustomed prayers. During her long agony, which lasted nearly two days, her sufferings were intense, and she would gasp out from time to time the words, “O good Jesus! O sweet Jesus!” showing how in the midst of cruel pains her heart was at peace. Several times during the day and night the sisters assembled round her to recite the prayers for the dying, thinking that her strength must give way. Yet she still lingered on; and when Saint Gertrude asked Our Lord the reason why, He answered, “Because, although she is racked with divers and continual pains, yet, trusting always in My love, she believes it will profit her unto eternal salvation; and, persevering in unceasing thanksgiving, she, with perfect confidence, commits herself to My providence.”

On Wednesday, however, November 19th, the joyful day arrived upon which Christ had resolved to give to His faithful spouse the sleep of eternal repose after all the fatigues, weariness, and sufferings of this her earthly pilgrimage. Those who were watching by Mechtilde amongst them the Abbess Sophia and Saint Gertrude suddenly saw her whole face light up with an expression of unutterable sweetness, while by her gestures (for she was speechless) she seemed to be inviting them to share in her joy. Then Saint Gertrude saw Our Divine Lord enter the sick room in all His Majesty; and, standing by the bedside, He began to sing in a voice surpassing all description as a return for the many times when Mechtilde had charmed His Divine Heart by the sweetness of her singing and the fervour of her devotion. And the words He sang were these:’s Come, blessed of My Father, and take possession of the kingdom prepared for you,” thus ratifying the promise He had made her so many years before, when He gave her His Sacred Heart as a pledge. “And now,” He continued, “where is My pledge?” Upon which Mechtilde restored to Him His Sacred Heart, and with It her own, to rest on It for evermore, and taste of Its delights for all eternity. “There,” continues Saint Gertrude, “may she be mindful of those who think of her, and may she by her holy prayers obtain for us at least some drops of that superabundance of delights from Him with whom she now forms but one spirit, and with whom she will triumph for ever.”

The day after Mechtilde’s death, Saint Gertrude and another holy soul were privileged to receive a most consoling revelation concerning her. Our Lord told them that, by an excess of His goodness, not a single Christian had gone to hell on the day she left the world; that all the sinners who had died that day had repented in answer to her prayers; and that He had not allowed those who had hardened their hearts against every grace to expire until the following day in order that so terrible a judgement as that of damnation should not have to be passed on a day of such great solemnity, and of such unmingled joy to Himself and the whole heavenly court.

Finally Our Lord promised that He would look with special love on all those who should have a devotion to Saint Mechtilde for His sake; that He would draw them more closely to Himself; and that all who should give Him thanks for the favours He had bestowed upon her should have a share in her merits, and great consolation at the hour of death.

O God, who in the most devoted heart of Thy Virgin, Mechtilde, didst make for Thyself a pleasing dwelling-place, grant to us, we beseech Thee, by the intercession of this holy Virgin, that while we live we may be always raised in spirit from earthly to heavenly things, and may likewise triumph with her in the resurrection of the just. Amen.

– text taken from the booklet Saint Mechtilde, author not listed, published by the Catholic Truth Society of London