St. Matilda of Hackeborn (1241/1242 - 1298), one of the outstanding figures of the German convent of Helfta, was the subject of the Holy Father's catechesis during his general audience, which took place this morning in St. Peter's Square.
Matilda was daughter of the barons of Hackeborn. At an early age she entered the convent of Helfta where her sister, St. Gertrude, was abbess for forty years. Gertrude gave "a particular imprint to the spirituality of the convent, causing it to flourish as a centre of mysticism and culture, a place of scientific and theological education". The nuns of Helfta enjoyed "a high level of intellectual learning which enabled them to cultivate a spirituality founded on Sacred Scripture, the liturgy and patristic tradition, and on the Rule and spirituality of the Cistercians".
The main source for Matilda's life is a book written by her sister and entitled "The Book of Special Grace", in which she is described as possessing exalted natural and spiritual qualities such as "science, intelligence, knowledge of human literature, and a voice of great beauty".
While still very young Matilda became the head of the convent school of Helfta, and later director of the choir and mistress of novices. She also possessed "the divine gift of mystic contemplation" and was "a teacher of faithful doctrine and great humility, a counsellor, a consoler and a guide in discernment". For this reason "many people, within the convent but also from elsewhere, ... testified that this holy virgin had freed them from their sufferings and that they had never known such consolation as they had with her", said Benedict XVI.
"During her long life in the convent, Matilda was afflicted by continuous and intense suffering, to which she added her own great penance for the conversion of sinners. In this way she shared in the Lord's passion until the end of her life.
"Prayer and contemplation", the Pope added. "were the vital 'humus' of her life. It was there that her revelations, her teachings, her service to others, and her journey in faith and love had their roots and their context. ... Of the liturgical prayers, Matilda gave particular emphasis to the canonical hours, and to the celebration of Mass especially Holy Communion. ... Her visions, her teachings, and the events of her life are described with expressions evocative of liturgical and biblical language. Thus do we come to appreciate her profound knowledge of Sacred Scripture, which was her daily bread".
This saint, "allowing herself to be guided by Sacred Scripture and nourished by the Eucharistic bread, followed a path of intimate union with the Lord, always maintaining complete fidelity to the Christ. For us too, this is a powerful call to intensify our friendship with the Lord, especially through daily prayer and attentive, faithful and active participation in Mass. The liturgy is a great school of spirituality", the Pope concluded.