This is a very special week for our parish, as this Thursday marks the Feast of St. Bridget of Sweden, our patroness! There are likely some parts of her story that we're all familiar with: she was the mother of 8 children, she founded the Bridgetines, and she was focused on ending abuses in the Church. But I was researching her the other day and stumbled across something that I'd never heard of before: The Fifteen Prayers of St. Bridget.
This is one of the great things about being Catholic; I've studied the faith since I was a child, but it's impossible to learn everything there is about Catholicism. There's so many prayers, saints, practices, graces, promises, blessings, etc. that we could never achieve "100% completion." As they say in The Lion King, "there's more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done."
I guess that's what happens when you're part of a 2,000 year old religion that traces its genesis back to Jesus Himself! But, I digress. The Fifteen Prayers of St. Bridget were completely foreign to me, but I feel they are worthy of study and discussion. First, let's look at a bit of background, then we'll dive into the prayers themselves.
St. Bridget had a special devotion to the wounds of Jesus, and prayed for a long time to know exactly how many wounds he received during His Passion. One day, He appeared to her and revealed that the true number was 5,480. Over five thousand bruises, cuts, open wounds, and other injuries.
On top of this, He offered Bridget a way to honor His wounds. Jesus instructed her to pray 15 Our Fathers and 15 Hail Marys, in addition to 15 new prayers that He taught her, each day for a year. When the year was up, He told her she would have honored each of His wounds. And the math checks out! 15 x 365 = 5,475, which is pretty darn close to 5,480.
But wait, there's more: according to Bridget, Jesus then told her that she, or anyone else who completed this year of prayer, would receive 21 promises. Before I touch on the prayers and promises, I want to be perfectly clear: while Pope Pius IX approved the prayers in 1862, he did not confirm the promises to be definitively true and mandate belief in them with the full teaching authority of the Church.
The promises are a bit controversial, and there is no definitive teaching on whether or not they are valid. Pope Benedict XV said that while belief in the promises is not mandated by the Church, it is permissible to believe in them "out of human faith." Now that we've covered that, let's take a look at these beautiful prayers.
I won't include all of the prayers here (they're lengthy, about 20 minutes' worth all told), but we can examine the themes and some of their more memorable passages. Taken together, they serve as a meditation on the Passion and death of Jesus, focusing especially on the physical suffering He endured. They are beautiful, but intense.
Because these prayers are meant to be said daily for a year, their effect is not necessarily immediate. I've taken to praying the Prayer Before the Crucifix after Communion, and a different aspect or word stands out to me each time. The 15 Prayers of St. Bridget function in a similar way, providing a lot of material for reflection and meditation over time.
The prayers go through what Jesus was thinking, feeling, and seeing during the Passion. From the Last Supper, to the constant beating on the Way of the Cross, to the Crucifixion itself, no punches are pulled. Sometimes the Passion can become sanitized in our minds. We celebrate and participate in it each week in the Eucharist, and we can forget how brutal it was as a result.
St. Bridget's 15 Prayers are very different in that respect. They are a slow, methodical walk with Jesus through His suffering and death. They are a reminder to us that He endured tremendous pain for each of our sins, and that His suffering is not to be forgotten. While it may be difficult to reflect on such agony, it's vital to our faith.
These prayers, clearly, can be tough. But they are a beautiful and tender reflection on the greatest deed ever done on this earth. Now that we've touched on the prayers, I want to briefly go over some of the promises. While they aren't guaranteed by the Church, they are at the very least worth examining.
Some of these promises really make you stop in your tracks. Things like 15 souls from your lineage being delivered from Purgatory, 15 sinners of your lineage being converted, and being delivered from eternal death sound pretty nice, right? Again, I won't put all 21 promises here, but many of them jump off the page just like these three.
If these promises truly did come from Christ, then they're absolutely true. If they didn't, they're likely not! We have no way of definitively knowing (that's the thing about private revelation). Here's the thing, though: it doesn't matter whether or not the promises are true. You heard me right!
If we only pray because we expect something in return, we're doing it wrong! We've already been given the greatest gift of all: salvation from our sins. Whether or not these promises are true, Jesus still died for us! And because of this, these prayers are still both useful and beautiful. We should praise God for what He has ALREADY done for us, not just for what we hope He will.
I'll link the prayers and promises below for you to take a look at. I recognize that 20 minutes every day for a year can be a significant step up for many people's prayer lives, including my own. I'd suggest praying them at least once and seeing where the Holy Spirit leads you from there. If you put things in His hands, you never know where you'll end up!
I pray that you're all staying healthy and cool during this crazy heat wave! Be well, and I hope to see you soon.
Link to the prayers: https://mostsacredheart.com/prayers/st-bridget.html