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Pope Saint Gregory the Great

Of the 264 Popes who have passed to their eternal reward only 79 of them have been canonized Saints (11 Blesseds).  Of these 79:  only 47 were canonized for something other than martyrdom, only 6 were part of a religious order before being Pope, only 5 are numbered among the Fathers of the Church, only 3 have been given the surname: “the Great” and have born the title through the centuries (Leo and Nicholas are the other two), and only 2 have been raised up as Doctors of the Church.

Yet Pope Saint Gregory the Great was a Benedictine monk who was not martyred, is one of the 4 great Western Fathers, and is one of the 33 Doctors of the Church.  And when one considers the immensity of all that he did in his pontificate of just 12 years, including causing England to become Catholic, there is no comparison with any other Pope that has ever lived save Pope Saint Leo the Great and no Pope greater than he except Saint Peter himself.

Each of the Doctors of the Church have been give one or several special superlatives to their name to indicate their particular contribution to the Church, i.e. Saint Alphonsus is called: “The Prince of Moralists” and Saint Therese: “Doctor of The Little Way of Spiritual Childhood”, and others have been given rather lofty titles such as: Saint Albert the Great (“Universal Doctor of the Church”), Saint Athanasius (“Father of Orthodoxy”), Saint Gregory the Nazianzen (“The Theologian”), Saint Bonaventure (“The Seraphic Doctor”), Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (“Oracle of the Twelfth Century” and “Thaumaturgus of the West”), Saint Augustine of Hippo (“Doctor of Doctors”), Saint Thomas Aquinas (“The Common Doctor”), but Pope Saint Gregory the Great is known simply as: “The Greatest of the Great”.  To learn more about why this is listen to the sermon and today’s entry from The Liturgical Year given below.

The Liturgical Year

Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B.

March 12

Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Father and Doctor of the Church

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; his surname is ‘the Great,’ and he was in possession of that title, when God sent the Seventh Gregory, the glorious Hildebrand, to govern His Church.

 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.

Such was the respect wherewith everything he wrote was treated, that his very letters were preserved as so many precious treasures. This immense correspondence shows us that there was not a country, scarcely even a city, of the Christian world, on which the Pontiff had not his watchful eye steadily fixed; that there was not a question, however local or personal, which, if it interested religion, did not excite his zeal and arbitration as the Bishop of the universal Church. If certain writers of modern times had but taken the pains to glance at these letters, written by a Pope of the sixth century, they would never have asserted, as they have, that the prerogatives of the Roman Pontiff are based on documents fabricated, as they say, two hundred years after the death of Gregory.

 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 Augustine 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 had 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. It is beautiful to hear the aged Pontiff speaking with enthusiasm about the results of his English mission. He thus speaks in the twenty-seventh Book of his Morals: “Lo! the language of Britain, which could once mutter naught save barbarous sounds, has long since begun to sing, in the divine praises, the Hebrew Alleluia! Lo! that swelling sea is now calm, and saints walk on its waves. The tide of barbarians, which the sword of earthly princes could not keep back, is now hemmed in at the simple bidding of God’s priests.” (Moral in Job. Lib. xxvii. Cap. xi.)

 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. 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 Pretor. 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 basi· lica 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.’

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 Augustine and other monks into Britain, and, by these learned and saintly men, converted that island to the faith of Christ Jesus; so that 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 Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, to be received with the same honour as the four Gospels. He allowed the bishop 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.

To these admirable Lessons we subjoin a selection of antiphons and Responsories, which are taken from an Office approved of by the holy See, for this feast of so great a saint.


Beatus Gregorius in cathedra Petri sublimatus, Vigilantis nomen factis implevit. 

Pastor eximius pastoralis vitae specimen tradidit et regulam.


Dum paginae sacrae mysteria panderet, columba nive candidior apparuit.


Gregorius monachorum speculum, pater Urbis, orbis deliciae.


Gregorius, respiciens Anglorum juvenes, ait: Angelicam habent faciem et tales Angelorum in coelis decet esse consortes.


R. Gregorius ab annis adolescentiae suae, Deo coepit devotus existere. * Et ad supernae vitae patriam totis desideriis anhelavit.


V. Pauperibus opes distribuens, Christum pro nobis egenum, egenus ipse sequutus est. * Et ad supernae vitae patriam totis desideriis anhelavit.


R. Sex in Sicilia monasteria constituens fratres illic Christo servituros aggregavit; septimum vero intra Romanae urbis muros instituit: * In quo et ipse militiam est coelestem agressus.


V. Mundum cum flore despiciens, dilectae solitudinis locum quaesivit. * In quo et ipse militiam ccelestem aggressus est.


R. Ad summi Pontificatus apicem quaesitus, quum ad sylvarum et cavernarum latebras confugisset, * Visa est columna lucis a summo coeli usque ad eum linea recta refulgens.


V. Tam eximium pastorem sitiens populus jejuniis et orationibus ad coelum insistebat. * Visa est columna lucis a summo coeli usque ad eum linea recta refulgens.


R. Ecce nunc magni maris fluctibus quatior, pastoralis curae procellis illisus: * Et quum priorem vitam recolo, quasi post tergum reductis oculis viso littore suspiro.


V.  Immensis fluctibus turbatus feror, vix jam portum valeo videre quem reliqui. * Et quum priorem vitam recolo, quasi post tergum reductia oculis viso littore suspiro.


R. E fonte Scripturarum moralia et mystica proferens, fluenta Evangelii populos derivavit: * Et defunctus adhuc loquitur.


R. Velut aquila perlustrans mundum amplitudine charitatis majoribus et minimis providet. * Et defunctus adhuc loquitur.


R. Cernens Gregorius Auglorum adolescentulos, dolebat tam lucidi vultus homines a tenebrarum principe possideri Tantamque frontis speciem, mentem ab interins gaudiis vacuam gestare.


V. Ex intimo corde trahens suspiria, lugebat imaginem Dei ab serpente deturpatam. * Tantamque frontis speciem mentem ab internis gaudiis vacuam gestare.


R. Quum Joannes episcopus arroganter primae Sedis jura dissolvere tentaret, surrexit Gregorius fortis et mansuetus: * Apostolica fulgens auctoritate, humilitate praeclarus.


V.  Petri claves invictus asseruit, et cathedram principalem illaesam custodivit. * Apostolica fulgens auctoritate humilitate praeclarus


R. Gregorius praesul mentis et nomine dignus an tiquas divinae laudis modu lationes renovans Mitotantis Ecclesiae voeemtrium phantis Sponsae concentibus sociavit ft


R. Sacramentorum codi cem mystico calamo rescri bens veterum Patrum institute posteris transmisit. * Militantis Ecelesiae vo cem triumphantis Sponsae concentibus sociavit.


R. Stationes per Basilicas et Martyrum Coemeteria ordinavit: * Et sequebatur exercitus Domini Gregorium praeeuntem


V. Ductor coelestis militiae arma spiritualia profe rebat. * Et sequebatur exercitus Domini Gregorium praeeuntem.

The blessed Gregory, being raised to the chair of Peter, fulfilled, by his actions, the meaning of his name, the Watchman

This glorious Pastor was the model, and wrote the rule, of the pastoral life.


While he was interpreting the mysteries of the sacred volume, there was seen upon him a dove whiter than snow.


Gregory was the mirror of monks, the father of the holy city, and the favourite of mankind.


Gregory looks upon me youths from Anglia, and says : They have the faces of angels, and such children must needs be companions of angels in heaven.


R. From his early youths. Gregory was devout in God’s service, * And with all his heart sighed after the land of heavenly life.


V. He distributed his wealth to the poor, and became poor himself, after the example of Christ, who made himself poor for us. *And with all his heart sighed after the land of heavenly life.


R. Six monasteries did he found in Sicily, and put in them communities of brethren, who should serve Christ; a. seventh also he founded within the walls of Rome’s city, * Wherein he, too, enrolled himself in the heavenly warfare.


V. He despised the world with its flowers, and sought out a place of· solitude most dear to his soul.  * Wherein he, too, enrolled himself in the heavenly warfare.


R. When they were in search of him to set him on the throne of the Papal dignity, he fled to the woods and eaves and hid himself; * But a bright pillar of light was seen to shine upon him, in a straight line from the high heavens.


V. The people, in their eager desire to have so excellent a pastor, besieged heaven with their fastings and prayers. * But a bright pillar was seen to shine upon him, in a straight line from the highest heavens.


R. Lo! now I am tossed by the waves of the great sea, and am buffeted by the storms of pastoral care: *  And when I remember my former life, I sigh like one that looks back on the shore he has left behind.


V. I am carried to and fro on huge waves, which scarcely permit me to see the port I sailed from.  *And when I remember my former life, I sigh like one that looks back on the shore he has left behind.


R. He drew moral and mystical interpretations from the Scripture fountain, and made the streams of the Gospel flow upon the people: * And being dead, he yet speaketh.


V. Like an eagle flying from one end of the world to the other, he provided for an. both little and great, by his large-hearted charity.  * And being dead, he yet speaketh.


R. As he gazed on the boys of Anglia, it grieved him to think that such bright-faced youths should be in the power of the prince of darkness: * And that they who had such comely faces, should have souls devoid of interior joy.


V. Deeply did he sigh, and. from his inmost soul, grieve that the image of God should be disfigured by the old serpent.  * And that they who had such comely faces, should have souls devoid of interior joy.


R. When John, the bishop. arrogantly strove to interfere with the rights of the first See, bravely and meekly did Gregory rise up, * Radiant with apostolic authority, and humble exceedingly.


V. Unflinchingly did he defend the keys of Peter, and guard from insult the principal Chair.   * Radiant with apostolic authority, and humble exceedingly.


R. Gregory, a Pontiff great in merit and name, restored the ancient melodies used in the divine praise, * And united the songs of the Church militant with those of the bride triumphant.


V. His mystic pen transcribed the book of the Sacraments, and handed down to posterity the institutions of the ancient fathers. * And united the songs of the Church militant with those of the bride triumphant.


R. He regulated the Stations to be made at the basilicas and cemeteries of the martyrs: * And the army of Christ went in procession, with Gregory at their head.


V. He was the leader of the heavenly warfare, and gave to all their spiritual armour.  * And the army of Christ went in procession, with Gregory at their head.


St. Peter Damian, whose feast we kept a few days back, composed the following hymn in honour of our apostle:

Anglorumjam Apostolus, Nunc Angelorum socius, Ut tunc, Gregori, gentibus Succurre jam credentibus. 

Tu largas opum copias, Omnemque mundi gloriam Spernis, ut inops inopem Jesum sequaris principem.


Videtur egens naufragus, Dum stipem petit Angelus; Tu munus jam post gemi


num, Praebes et vas argenteum.


Ex hoc te Christus tempore Suae praefert Ecclesise: Sic Petri gradum percipis, Cujus et normam sequeris.


0 Pontifex egregie, Lux et decus Ecclesiae, Non sinas in periculis, Quos tot mandatis instruis.


Mella cor obdulcantia Tua distillant labia, Fragrantum vim aromatum Tuum vincit eloquium.


Scripture sacrae mystica Mire solvis aenigmata, Theorica mysteria Te docet ipsa Veritas.


Tu nactus apostolicam Vicem simul et gloriam, Nos solve culpae nexibus, Redde polorum sedibus.


Sit Patri laus ingenito, Sit decus Unigenito, Sit utriusque parili Majestas summa Flamini. Amen.

O Gregory, that once wast the apostle of the Angli, and now art a companion of the angels I protect now, as of old, the nations that believe in Christ. 

Thou spurnest wealth and riches and all the glory of the world, that so thou, being poor, mayst follow the Lord Jesus, who was poor.


An angel presents himself to thee, in the garb of one that


was shipwrecked, and asks an alms; thou first makest him a double gift, and then thou givest him a silver vase.


After this, Christ puts thee over his Church, for thou didst imitate the virtues, and now thou hast the honours, of Peter.


O excellent Pontiff! Light and ornament of the Church I Thou hast so richly instructed us, a.ssist us in our dangers.


From thy lips there flows honey that brings sweetness to the heart. Thy. words are more fragrant than the richest perfume.


Admirably dost thou solve the obscure figures of sacred Writ. The divine mysteries are taught thee by him that is the very Truth.


o thou that hast the office and the glory of the apostles, pray for us, that we may be loosed from the bonds of sin, and obtain the thrones prepared for us above.


To the unbegotten Father, and to his only-begotten Son, and to the Spirit of them both be praise and highest kingship. Amen.

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 up 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; bless the efforts it is now making for the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline, without which all is disorder and confusion. 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.

The terrible schism, which has separated the East from Catholic unity, began to show itself during thy Pontificate. Byzantium has now consummated her crime, which has degraded and enslaved her; and yet she seems blind to the real cause of all her miseries. In these latter days she has been abetted in her sin and her haughtiness;—Russia, the despotic power that has her hands steeped in the blood of Martyrs, has made common cause with her in rebellion against the Church, and we have heard the proud threat, that she will rest not till she have put “one foot on the Tomb of our Lord in Jerusalem, and the other on the Confession of Saint Peter in Rome,” so that mankind shall make a god of the Czar !—Rouse up the zeal of the Christian world, O Gregory! and inflame them with holy resistance to this false christ. May his fall become a lasting monument of the vengeance of our true Christ, Jesus our Saviour, and a fulfillment of the promise he made to his Church: That the Gates of hell shall never prevail against the Rock. We know, O holy Pontiff, that this promise is to be fulfilled; but we dare to pray, that we may see its accomplishment verified even in our times.

But there is one country which was most dear to thee-our own native land. O apostle of England! look down with affection on this island, which has now rebelled from Rome, and has become the resort of countless false religions. But now, after three centuries of apostasy from the true faith, the hand of God’s mercy is pressing her to conversion. She is thine own child in Christ Jesus: wilt thou not aid her to return to Him? Wilt thou not guide her, by thy prayers, to come forth out of the darkness, which still so thickly clouds her, and follow the light which heaven holds out to her?  Oh! if England were once more Catholic, who can tell the good she would do?  For what country is there that can do grander things for the propagation of the faith?  Pray for her, then; she may regain her glorious title of Isle of Saints, for she has thee for her apostle!

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 sad 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 and 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 sp 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.


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