Saint Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church
Painting of Pope Saint Gregory the Great,
taken from Music History blog
(The following is excerpted from the 12 March entry in Volume V of the 1983 Marian House edition of the English translation of Dom Prosper Guéranger's 'The Liturgical Year' by the Benedictines of Stanbrook.)
"Among all the pastors whom our Lord Jesus Christ has placed, as His vicegerents, over the universal Church, there is not one whose merits and renown have surpassed those of the holy Pope, whose feast we keep to-day. His name is Gregory, which signifies watchfulness..."
"In recounting the glories of this illustrious Pontiff, it is but natural we should begin with his zeal for the services of the Church. The Roman liturgy, which owes to him some of its finest hymns, may be considered as his work, at least in this sense, that it is he who collected together and classified the prayers and rites drawn up by his predecessors, and reduced them to the form in which we now have them. He collected also the ancient chants of the Church, and arranged them in accordance with the rules and requirements of the divine Service. Hence it is, that our sacred music, which gives such solemnity to the liturgy, and inspires the soul with respect and devotion during the celebration of the great mysteries of our faith, is known as the Gregorian chant."
"He is, then, the apostle of the liturgy, and this alone would have immortalized his name; but we must look for far greater things from such a Pontiff as Gregory. His name was added to the three, who had hitherto been honoured as the great Doctors of the Latin Church. These three are Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome; who else could be the fourth but Gregory? The Church found in his writings such evidence of his having been guided by the Holy Ghost, such a knowledge of the sacred Scriptures, such a clear appreciation of the mysteries of faith, and such unction and authority in his teachings, that she gladly welcomed him as a new guide for her children...."
"Throned on the apostolic See, our saint proved himself to be a rightful heir of the apostles, not only as the representative and depositary of their authority, but as a fellow-sharer in their mission of calling nations to the true faith. To whom does England owe her having been, for so many ages, 'the island of saints'? To Gregory, who, touched with compassion for those Angli, of whom, as he playfully said, he would fain make Angeli, sent to their island the monk [Saint] Augustine [of Canterbury] with forty companions, all of them as was Gregory himself, children of St. Benedict. The faith had been sown in this land as early as the second century, but it has been trodden down by the invasion of an infidel race. This time the seed fructified, and so rapidly that Gregory lived to see a plentiful harvest...."
"During the fourteen years that this holy Pope held the place of Peter, he was the object of the admiration of the Christian world, both in the east and in the West [Byzantine-rite Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, credit St. Gregory with the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts used during their Great Lent]. His profound learning, his talent for administration, his position, all tended to make him beloved and respected. But who could describe the virtue of his great soul? That contempt for the world and its riches, which led him to seek obscurity in the cloister; that humility, which made him flee the honours of the papacy, and hide himself in a cave, where, at length, he was miraculously discovered, and God Himself put into his hands the keys of heaven, which he was evidently worthy to hold, because he feared the responsibility; that zeal for the whole flock, of which he considered himself not the master, but the servant, so much so indeed that he assumed the title, which the Popes have ever since retained. of 'servant of the servants of God'; that charity which took care of the poor throughout the whole world; that ceaseless solicitude, which provided for every calamity, whether public or private; that unruffled sweetness of manner, which he showed to all around him, in spite of the bodily sufferings which never left him during the whole period of his laborious pontificate; that firmness in defending the deposit of the faith, and crushing error wheresoever it showed itself; in a word, that vigilance with regard to discipline, which made itself felt for long ages after in the whole Church? All these services and glorious examples of virtue have endeared our saint to the whole world, and will cause his name to be blessed by all future generations, even to the end of time."
"Let us now read the abridged life of our saint, as given us in the liturgy."
"Gregory the Great, a Roman by birth, was son of the senator Gordian. He applied early to the study of philosophy, and was entrusted with the office of praetor. After his father's death he built six monasteries in Sicily, and a seventh, under the title of Saint Andrew, in his own house in Rome, near the basilica of Saints John and Paul, on the hill Scaurus. In this last named monastery, he embraced the monastic life, under the guidance of Hilarion and Maximian, and was, later on, elected abbot. Shortly afterwards, he was created Cardinal-Deacon, and was by Pope Pelagius sent to Constantinople, as legate, to confer with the emperor Constantine. While there, he achieved that celebrated victory over the patriarch Eutychius, who had written against the resurrection of the flesh, maintaining that it would not be a real one. Gregory so convinced him of his error, that the emperor threw his book into the fire. Eutychius himself fell ill not long after, and when he perceived his last hour had come, he took between his fingers the skin of his hand, and said before the many who were there: 'I believe that we shall all rise in this flesh.'"...Father of the Christian people! Vicar of the charity, as well as of the authority of Christ! O Gregory, vigilant Pastor! the Church, which thou hast so faithfully loved and served, turns to thee with confidence. Thou canst not forget the flock, which keeps us such an affectionate remembrance of thee; hear the prayer she offers thee on this thy solemnity. Protect and guide the Pontiff, who now holds the place of Peter, as thou didst; enlighten and encourage him in the difficulties wherewith he is beset. Bless the hierarchy of the pastors, which has received from thee such magnificent teachings and such admirable examples. Assist it to maintain inviolate the sacred trust of faith...God chose thee as the regulator of the divine service, the holy liturgy; foster, by thy blessing, the zeal which is now rising up among us for those holy traditions of prayer, which have been so neglected; teach us the long forgotten secret, that the best way of praying is to use the prayers of the Church. Unite all Churches in obedience to the apostolic See, which is the ground and pillar of faith, and the fountain of spiritual authority...."
"On his return to Rome, he was chosen Pope, by unanimous consent, for Pelagius had been carried off by the plague. He refused, as long as it was possible, the honour thus offered him. He disguised himself and hid himself in a cave; but he was discovered by a pillar of fire shining over the place, and was consecrated at Saint Peter's. As Pontiff, he was an example to his successors by his learning and holiness of life. He every day admitted pilgrims to his table, among whom he received, on one occasion, an angel, and, on another, the Lord of angels, who wore the garb of a pilgrim. He charitably provided for the poor, both in and out of Rome, and kept a list of them. He re-established the Catholic faith in several places where it had fallen into decay. Thus, he put down the Donatists in Africa, and the Arians in Spain; and drove the Agnoites out of Alexandria. He refused to give the pallium to Syagrius, bishop of Autun, until he should have expelled the Neophyte heretics from Gaul. He induced the Goths to abandon the Arian heresy. He sent [Saint] Augustine [of Canterbury] and other monks into Britain, and, by these learned and saintly men, converted that island to the faith of Christ Jesus; so that [Saint] Bede truly calls him the Apostle of England. He checked the haughty pretensions of John, the patriarch of Constantinople, who had arrogated to himself the title of bishop of the universal Church. He obliged the emperor Mauritius to revoke the decree, whereby he had forbidden any soldier to become a monk."
"He enriched the Church with many most holy practices and laws. In a Council held at St. Peter's he passed several decrees. Among these, the following may be mentioned: That in the Mass the Kyrie eleison should be said nine times; that the Alleluia should always be said, except during the interval between Septuagesima and Easter. That these words should be inserted in the Canon: Diesque nostros in tua pace disponas (And mayst thou dispose our days in thy peace). He increased the number of processions (litanies) and stations, and completed the Office of the Church. He would have the four Councils, of Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, to be received with the same honour as the four Gospels. He allowed the bishops of Sicily, who, according to the ancient custom of their Churches, used to visit Rome every three years, to make that visit once every fifth year. He wrote several books; and Peter the deacon assures us, that he frequently saw the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove resting on the head of the Pontiff, while he was dictating. It is a matter of wonder that, with his incessant sickness and ill health, he could have said, done, written, and decreed, as he did. At length, after performing many miracles, he was called to his reward in heaven, after a pontificate of thirteen years, six months and ten days; it was on the fourth of the Ides of March (March 12), which the Greeks also observe as a great feast, on account of this Pontiff's extraordinary learning and virtue. His body was buried in the basilica of Saint Peter near the secretarium."
"These are the days of salvation; pray for the faithful, who have entered on their career of penance. Obtain for them compunction of heart, love of prayer, and an appreciation of the liturgy and its mysteries. The solemn and devout homilies which thou didst address, at this season, to the people of Rome, are still read to us; may they sink into our hearts fill them with fear of God's justice, and hope in His mercy, for His justice and mercy change not to suit the time. We are weak and timid, and this makes us count as harsh the laws of the Church which oblige us to fasting and abstinence; get us brave hearts, brave with the spirit of mortification. Thy holy life is an example to us, and thy writings are our instruction; what we still want is to be made true penitents, and this thy intercession must do for us: that so we may return, with the joy of a purified conscience, to the divine Alleluia, which thou hast taught us to sing on earth, and which we hope to chant together with thee in heaven."