September 2, 2016

St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

St. Gregory the Great
September 3rd, is the memorial of Pope Saint Gregory I, also known as Saint Gregory the Great. He was the pope of the Catholic Church between 590 and 604 AD. During his 14-year pontificate, he accomplished much for the Mystical Body of Christ. Although he was the first pontiff from a monastic background, his prior political experiences helped him to successfully uphold clerical holiness, reform the sacred liturgy and establish papal supremacy. Gregory is considered the first medieval pope.

He was born into an affluent family around 540 in Rome. His father, Gordianus, was a senator and a prefect of Rome. His mother, Sylvia, and his aunt, Pateria, are both recognized as saints in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. In addition to being wealthy, Gregory’s family was highly privileged. During his youth, Rome suffered disease and war so his family moved their estates to Sicily. Gregory was well-educated learning grammar, rhetoric, the sciences, literature, and law. He became such an authority in law that, at age 33, he was named Prefect of Rome, the highest civil office in the city.

After five years, Gregory resigned and became a monk, transforming his families’ villa in Rome into a Benedictine monastery, (the Via di San Gregorio) and founding six others. As a monastic, Gregory was devout and renowned for his intellect. Consequently, Pope Pelagius II chose him to serve as the ambassador to Constantinople. His work as an ambassador increased his reputation and notoriety. In 590, against his wishes, he was proclaimed Pope by acclimation.

Evincing his humility, Gregory often referred to himself as a servant of God. England owes her conversion to him. Upon witnessing English children being sold as slaves in Rome, he sent 40 monks, including St. Augustine of Canterbury, from his own monastery to make "the Angles angels." When Europe was overcome by invading Lombards, Gregory was instrumental in winning them for Christ. When Rome itself was besieged, he personally intervened with the Lombard King. Thanks to his efforts, the Lombards, Franks, and Visigoths all aligned with Rome.

Pope Gregory reformed the liturgy, which contains many of his most beautiful prayers. The term "Gregorian chant" reflects his work in the development of the Church's music. Gregory was fiercely devoted to the poor whom he served tirelessly. He ordered his clergy to go out into the streets to find and care for the indigent in person. He frequently dinned with a dozen poor people at meals. Because of his great respect for the poor, Pope Gregory and the Church became the most revered force in Rome and across Italy. From then on, the people looked to the Church for governance rather than the distant and indifferent emperors from Constantinople.

He was a prolific writer and a towering intellect. His commentaries on Sacred Scripture were widely influential on Christian thought in the Middle Ages. These works and his deeds of selfless charity made him, in the words of an antiphon in his office, "the Father of the City, the joy of the World." This reading from the Breviary is from St. Gregory’s sermon on the responsibilities of the ordained:

"'Son of man, I have appointed you as watchman to the house of Israel.' Note that Ezekiel, whom the Lord sent to preach his word, is described as a watchman. Now a watchman always takes up his position on the heights so that he can see from a distance whatever approaches. Likewise, whoever is appointed watchman to a people should live a life on the heights so that he can help them by taking a wide survey. … Who am I - what kind of watchman am I? I do not stand on the pinnacle of achievement; I languish rather in the depths of my weakness. And yet the creator and redeemer of mankind can give me, unworthy though I be, the grace to see life whole and power to speak effectively of it. It is for love of him that I do not spare myself in preaching him."

Pope Saint Gregory died on March 12, 604. He was declared a saint immediately after his death. His remains are enshrined in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Along with St. Ambrose, St. Augustine and St. Jerome, he is one of the four great Doctors of the Latin Church. O God, who care for your people with gentleness and rule them in love, through the intercession of Pope Saint Gregory, endow, we pray, with a spirit of wisdom those to whom you have given authority to govern, that the flourishing of a holy flock may become the eternal joy of the shepherds.

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