Saint Gregory the Great
By the Monteiro Family
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Saint Gregory the Great was a living example of this image taught by Jesus in Matthew 25.
Gregory was born in Rome to Gordianus and Silvia. His father was a wealthy nobleman in Rome who gave Gregory an excellent education. He eventually became prefect (mayor) of Rome in his 30s, an unheard of responsibility for a man so young. His family owned farmland and estates. After his father’s death Gregory converted the family estates to monasteries and his own home into a monastery in honor of Saint Andrew where he himself became a monk. He followed a very strict and harsh life, spending many hours meditating on the Scriptures.
He became chief advisor to Pope Pelagius II and was loved by the people of Rome for his work to help ease tensions with the Lombards who were at war with Rome. He was elected to the papacy in the year 590 after the death of Pelagius II. His election was unanimous among the clergy and people of Rome; however he did not want to be pope. He wrote to the Byzantine emperor who had to confirm the election and asked for him not to confirm the elections. The letter was intercepted before the emperor could read it and so Gregory was confirmed as pope.
While he was pope, Saint Gregory believed that not only was he the successor of Saint Peter but that he was “the servant of the servants of God.” He focused on using the resources of the Vatican to help the poor and sick who fled to the city of Rome due to the fighting and plagues that were in the country. The food and medical services were all being controlled by the Vatican with Saint Gregory overseeing everything. The land and estates that his family owned and operated were all being used to help feed the poor and care for the sick. All donations received by the Church were being used to care for the people in need. He was the first pope to send out missionaries to the surrounding countries to help spread the word of God. He worked tirelessly to unite the Church and help her people during the troubling times in which he lived.
Saint Gregory is depicted with the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, sitting on his shoulder because of a story told by his friend Peter the Deacon. The story goes that when Pope Gregory was dictating his homilies to Ezechiel, the pope’s secretary, a curtain was drawn between them. The pope remained silent for long periods at a time. Ezechiel wondered why the pope was so quiet and made a hole in the curtain to check on him. When he looked through the hole he saw a dove seated on Saint Gregory's head with its beak between his lips. When the dove removed its beak the pope would speak again and Ezechiel would write down what he said. When he became silent Ezechiel again looked through the hole and saw the dove had replaced its beak between his lips. Saint Gregory was not a conversationalist. He was a man of few words. He was, however, an observer and thinker. One of his contributions to the Church is a thorough contemplation of previous writings of his predecessors and organizing them in a way that was easily understood and used.
Gregorian Chant is attributed to Saint Gregory because of his focus on the celebration of Mass. He is responsible for the Our Father being recited before the breaking of the Host in the order of the Mass but he is not the creator of the Gregorian Chants. In the 9th century, monks developed a method to remember the chant melodies known as neumes that were were sung at Mass. Emperor Charlemagne asks for cantors from the Papal chapel in Rome to come teach the neumes chants to his clerics. The people of Rome thought that it was a command from Pope Gregory and named them the Gregorian Chants. To this day he is credited with these songs and there is a stain glass window in the choir loft of our church dedicated to him.
Some interesting facts about Saint Gregory are:
§ His great-great-grandfather was Pope Felix III and he had two aunts that were canonized, St. Tarsilla and St. Emiliana. His mother is also a saint.
§ He is responsible for the placement of the Our Father in the order of the Mass.
§ His feast day used to be March 12th, the day of his death in 604, but because this day always falls within Lent, during which there are no obligatory memorials, it was changed to September 3rd, the day of his papal consecration in 590.
§ Saint Gregory was the first pope to have been a monk before becoming pope.
§ He is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students, and teachers.
§ He and Saint Leo are the only two popes to be named “Doctors of the Church”.
We can look to Saint Gregory to be an example for us to have few words but deep contemplation of the scriptures and the lessons from our spiritual guides in the Church, to use these lessons to show others how to follow Jesus’ teachings fully. He shows us how to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us and through us at all times. We hope that we can act, like him, to be the “servant of the servants of God” and care for each other.