A Monitum from the Holy Office: In certain places a booklet has appeared with the title “The Secret of Happiness: Fifteen Prayers Revealed by Our Lord to Saint Brigid in the Church of Saint Paul in Rome,” published in various languages at Nice (and elsewhere).
Since it is asserted in this booklet that certain promises were made by God to Saint Brigid, and it is by no means certain that these promises were of supernatural origin, Ordinaries of places [bishops of dioceses] must avoid giving permission to publish or to reprint works or writings which contain the aforesaid promises.
Given at Rome, from the Holy Office, 28 January, 1954
(Acta Apostolicae Sedis 46-64, as contained in Canon Law Digest, Vol. IV, p. 389, Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1958)
Among the popular devotions of the Catholic faithful are the “Magnificent Prayers” of St. Bridget (Brigid), to be prayed uninterruptedly for an entire year. These fifteen prayers focus on the Sacred Passion of Our Divine Lord, and are believed to have been revealed to St. Bridget of Sweden (feastday - Oct. 8), a great devotee of the Passion. Unfortunately, these prayers sometimes appear in booklets along with the promises whose publication the Holy Office forbade in 1954. The prayers themselves were not condemned, but it will be fairly apparent later on in this article why restriction was placed on the so-called “Magnificent Promises.”
St. Bridget was the daughter of a wealthy governor in Sweden. Born around the year 1303, she was favored with visions of the Crucified Savior by the time she was seven.1 Called to the married state, she bore eight children, among whom would be the future St. Catherine of Sweden. She survived her husband, and eventually went to reside in Rome where she continued to be favored with visions. The Fifteen Prayers were given in this setting:
Those who visit the Church of St. Paul in Rome can see the life-size crucifix sculptured by Pietro Cavallini, before which St. Bridget knelt, and there can be read the following inscription: “Pendentis pendente Dei verba accepit aure accipit et verbum corde Brigitta Deum. Anno Jubilei MCCCL,” which recalls the prodigy of the crucifix conversing with St. Bridget.2 (Translation: “Bridget not only receives the words of God hanging in the air, but takes the word of God into her heart. Jubilee Year 1350.”)
Now for a bit of history on how these prayers were disseminated. They were copied from a book printed in Toulouse in France in 1740, and published by Fr. Adrien Parvilliers, S.J., with the proper permissions.3 Among those who reportedly encouraged this devotion were Popes Urban VI and Pius IX. The Congress of Malines (ecclesiastical province of Mechlin in Belgium) is also said to have approved them on August 22, 1863.4
According to a booklet that publishes the alleged promises,5 Our Lord had revealed to St. Bridget that He received 5,480 blows to His Sacred Body during the Passion. Therefore, if one were to pray the 15 prayers daily for a year, along with 15 Our Fathers and Hail Marys, one would thereby have honored each of the wounds received. (Actually, 15 times 365 is 5,475. If the leap year is factored in, the calculation is closer. Thus, 15 x 365.25 = 5,478.75, which rounds off to 5, 479.)
This part of the revelation does not seem to be against Catholic doctrine. When the Scriptural accounts of the Passion are considered, this number seems to be a reasonable calculation. It is entirely possible that the Divine knowledge, which knows the minutest details of the Passion, chose to communicate to St. Bridget the number of actual blows to edify the faithful and inspire them with a greater love of the suffering Redeemer.
It is the promises, though, that are problematic. Some of them are consistent with Church teaching, but some of them definitely are not. Here is a sampling6 of those that are not, along with my comments:
“2. Fifteen souls of his lineage will be confirmed and preserved in grace.” How is it possible for anyone to be “confirmed in grace”? No one can be certain of salvation in this manner, much less can this certainty be given gratuitously to descendants.
“4. Whoever recites these Prayers will attain the first degree of perfection.” What is the first degree of perfection? This is nebulous and ill-defined. Reciting these prayers daily for an entire year would imply some degree of perfection, but not necessarily the highest. Moreover, neurotics and those who love to “rattle off” prayers in great quantity may easily say these prayers daily, and be no closer to perfection than they were when they started. Quality is necessary and even more important than quantity.
“5. Fifteen days before his death I will give him My Precious Body in order that he may escape eternal starvation; I will give him My Precious Blood to drink lest he thirst eternally.” It is true that when we receive the Sacred Host, we are at the same time receiving the Precious Blood of Jesus. Why is a distinction necessary here?
“11. Let it be known that whoever may have been living in a state of mortal sin for 30 years, but who will recite devoutly, or have the intention to recite these prayers, the Lord will forgive him all his sins.” This is not consistent with any promises given in other approved private revelations, such as the Promise of the Nine First Fridays or of the Five First Saturdays. What is so significant about 30 in this context? If one were to be tragically living in mortal sin for, say, 29 or 31 years, would the promise suddenly be ineffective? Also, how does the mere intent of saying the prayers for a year constitute an act of perfect contrition? One could resolve to say the prayers out of fear of God’s punishments, and this would be only imperfect contrition. A sacramental Confession would be needed as well for actual forgiveness.
“19. He is assured of being joined to the supreme Choir of Angels.” This sounds nice, but one would have to have the fervor and sanctity of a saint such as St. Francis to receive the reward of the Seraphim or Cherubim.
The reader should be able to see why the Holy Office took exception to the “Magnificent Promises,” and, with the apostolic authority it possessed, forbade publishers to print them and the faithful to believe them. The prayers themselves are fine, and certainly conducive to sanctification. I encourage you to pray them devoutly every day for a year, and blessings are sure to flow from this recitation.
One may wonder how it is that St. Bridget’s revelations could have been faulty. After all, she is a canonized saint! It must be understood that the Holy Office did not definitively condemn the Promises. Rather, it ruled that we cannot be sure of their origin: either they are a concoction, or they were not accurately transmitted by the writers of the past, or the holy seer herself did not clearly enough transmit them (after all, no visionary is an infallible oracle). With wisdom and charity, this highest of Roman curial departments simply ordered the Promises to be removed from circulation.
This very point underscores the nature of private revelation. It is apart from the Deposit of Faith taught by Our Lord, communicated to us by the Apostles, and safeguarded by the Church as what we absolutely must believe to be saved. The Church does not receive or transmit ongoing revelation of truths which are necessary for salvation. All the Church can do is examine private revelation, and determine whether it is contrary to faith and morals or not. If it is not, then it is presented to the faithful as something that may be believed. Though charity, as St. Paul declares to the Corinthians, “believeth all things” (I Cor. 13:7), it is still governed by faith in the Church’s guiding, infallible authority and obedience to her decrees. We do well to bear this in mind, as we make use of private revelations to help us on the path of holiness.
1A. & K. Mausloff, Saint Companions for Each Day, London: St. Paul Publications, 1959, p. 277
2The Magnificent Prayers, Rockford: TAN Publishers, 1983, p. 3 — a reprint of the 1971 Marian Publications version, South Bend, Indiana
5The Pieta Prayer Booklet, Hickory Corners, MI: MLOR Corporation, 1996, p. 5
6Ibid., pp. 5-6