Pope St. Gregory the Great, Father and Doctor of the Church
September 3 is the memorial of Pope St. Gregory the Great (540 – 604), Father and Doctor of the Church.
St. Gregory was born in Rome, the son of a wealthy Roman Senator. His mother was St. Sylvia. He followed the career of public service that was usual for the son of an aristocratic family, becoming Prefect of the City of Rome, but resigned within a year to pursue monastic life. He founded with the help of his vast financial holdings seven monasteries, six of which were on family estates in Sicily. A seventh, which he placed under the patronage of St. Andrew and which he himself joined, was erected on the Clivus Scauri in Rome. For several years, he lived as a good and holy Benedictine monk.
Then Pope Pelagius made him one of the seven deacons of Rome. For six years, he served as permanent ambassador to the Court of Byzantium.
In the year 586, he was recalled to Rome, and with great joy returned to St. Andrew’s Monastery. He became abbot soon afterwards and the monastery grew famous under his energetic rule.
When the Pope died, Gregory was unanimously elected to take his place because of his great piety and wisdom. However, Gregory did not want that honor, so he disguised himself and hid in a cave, but was found and made Pope anyway.
He was elected Pope on September 3, 590, the first monk to be elected to this office. For fourteen years, he ruled the Church. Even though he was always sick, Gregory was one of the greatest popes the Church has ever had. He reformed the administration of the Church’s estates and devoted the resulting surplus to the assistance of the poor and the ransoming of prisoners. He negotiated treaties with the Lombard tribes who were ravaging northern Italy, and by cultivating good relations with these and other barbarians he was able to keep the Church’s position secure in areas where Roman rule had broken down.
His works for the propagation of the faith include the sending of Augustine and his monks as missionaries to England in 596, providing them with continuing advice and support and (in 601) sending reinforcements. He wrote extensively on pastoral care, spirituality, and morals, and designated himself “servant of the servants of God”, a title which all Popes have used since that time.
In the field of moral theology, he is often considered the first of the Latin Fathers. St. Thomas Aquinas later cited him some 374 times in the 242 articles of the second part of SUMMA THEOLOGIAE.
He never rested and wore himself down to almost a skeleton. Even as he lay dying, he directed the affairs of the Church and continued his spiritual writing.
He codified the rules for selecting deacons to make these offices more spiritual. Prior to this, deacons were selected on their ability to sing the liturgy and chosen if they had good voices.
Because he loved the solemn celebration of the Eucharist, St. Gregory devoted himself to compiling the Antiphonary, which contains the chants of the Church used during the liturgy (the Gregorian Chant). He also set up the Schola Cantorum, Roman’s famous training school for chorusters.
St. Gregory died on March 12, 604 and was buried in St. Peter’s Church. He is designated as the fourth Doctor of the Latin Church. His feast is celebrated on the date of his election as Pope.
St. Gregory is the patron of: choir boys, masons, music, musicians, choirs, singers, stonecutters, teachers, popes, and students,
“If we knew at what time we were to depart from this world, we would be able to select a season for pleasure and another for repentance. But God, who has promised pardon to every repentant sinner, has not promised us tomorrow. Therefore we must always dread the final day, which we can never foresee. This very day is a day of truce, a day for conversion. And yet we refuse to cry over the evil we have done! Not only do we not weep for the sins we have committed, we even add to them…. If we are, in fact, now occupied in good deeds, we should not attribute the strength with which we are doing them to ourselves.”
“We must not count on ourselves, because even if we know what kind of person we are today, we do not know what we will be tomorrow. Nobody must rejoice in the security of their own good deeds. As long as we are still experiencing the uncertainties of this life, we do not know what end may follow…we must not trust in our own virtues. “
“Although He (Christ) who rose from the dead shall die no more – death no longer has power over Him – still, although He is immortal and His living form incorruptible, He is being slaughtered for us in this mysterium of the holy sacrifice. Because there His body provides nourishment, His flesh being divided up, His blood pours out – no longer into the hands of non-believers, but into the mouths of believers.”
“Fittingly did the Spirit appear in fire in every heart that he enters, he kindles the desire of his own eternity.”
“When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”
“The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist.”