Today it is the Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great. Saint Gregory, one of the only three popes to benefit from the name “the Great” (John Paul II could one day join them). The parallels between his life and ours are striking.
Gregory was the 64th Pope, reigning for 13 years from September 3, 590 to March 12, 604. He is estimated to have been born around 540, a decade in which the “Justinian plague” (a variant of the bubonic plague) was rampant. in Italy. Much like many young people today, Gregory’s life has likely included the experience of a pandemic. (According to a source, during a subsequent plague of his pontificate, where sneezing was one of the common symptoms, it is said that Gregory was responsible for the custom of responding to the sick with “God bless you.” “)
A talented young man from a well-situated family, he had a political career as Prefect of Rome at the age of 33. Rome at this time was suffering from a series of political convulsions as the Gothic kings put an end to the Western Roman Empire. Between the middle and the end of the 6th century, a minimum of stability had set in, although the imperial government was now in Constantinople.
Despite the talent, Grégoire’s attention was elsewhere and, on the death of his father, Grégoire transformed his family estate into a monastery dedicated to Saint Andrew the Apostle. He was the first pope to come out of monastic life and devoted himself strongly to poverty.
But God had other plans. Pope Pelagius II ordained him deacon and asked for his help in resolving the remnants of the Christological controversies which still torment ecclesiastical unity. Gregory also served this pope for seven years as an ambassador to the imperial court in Constantinople. Back at the monastery in Italy, Gregory was elected in 590 to succeed Pelagius.
As pope, Gregory was responsible for sending missionaries who began the Christianization of Britain. Legend has it that when seeing blonde slaves in the Roman slave market, he asked them who they were and was told they were Angles (from Anglo-Saxon). “Not angles, not angels” (no Angli sed angeli) Gregory would have said, and sent Augustine of Canterbury to undertake this mission.
In the void of civil administration and the decline left by the fall of the Western Roman Empire (and the Orient’s neglect of the West), Gregory intervened. Driven by monastic poverty, Gregory began to gather resources for the relief of the poor in Rome and central Italy.
He was a wonderful theological writer. He undertakes a liturgical reform. What we call “Gregorian chant” bears his name.
Speaking of liturgy, Gregory took Mass seriously, which brings us to important points of devotion and theology often represented in Christian art. Because he was engaged in evangelical poverty, he rebuked a dying monk who admitted to accumulating gold against monastic rule. The man repented but Gregory, concerned for the salvation of the man, ordered that a series of Masses be said for 30 consecutive days for his purification. In his Dialogues, Gregory recounts a vision that another monk received on the 30th day of this series, stating that Justus, for whom these Masses were offered, was released from Purgatory and taken to Heaven as a result of these Masses.
The tradition of “Gregorian Masses” – having 30 consecutive Masses offered for the rest of a deceased person – continues in the Church. A certain number of religious orders organize them, some even for a future celebration on notice of death. They are easily found on the internet. Why not consider making arrangements for yourself and / or a loved one?
Why haven’t you heard of Gregorian Masses? A few reasons come to mind. The first is that many parish priests do not want to celebrate them, as this involves a commitment over thirty consecutive days, which in many parishes with limited clergy and daily mass times is difficult. Another is that our eschatology has taken on a ‘don’t worry, be happy’ shade, where we never talk about Purgatory (let alone Hell) because we don’t take it seriously enough (1). incompatibility of all sin with the holiness of God; (2) the pervasiveness of sin (at least venial sin) in our lives; (3) the need to make amends (that is, to make amends) for the harm we have done; and (4) the desire not to be “offensive” to others, for example, bereaved people whom we do not want to “disturb” or non-Catholics who reject Purgatory.
Gregory thus reaffirmed the Catholic tradition according to which “it is a holy and healthy thought to pray for the dead, so that they may be delivered from sins” (2 Maccabees 12:46), in particular by the celebration of the Eucharist. , “The source and summit of Christian life.
But Gregory’s focus on Mass doesn’t end there. “The Mass of Saint Gregory” is a favorite iconographic representation of Christian art, especially in the Middle Ages and the Counter-Reformation. The above representation comes from the master of Portillo at the beginning of the 16th century in Spain.
Tradition has it that once during the celebration of Mass, a woman smiled while receiving Communion. Asked, she laughed at Gregory’s reverence for the host, insisting it was nothing more than bread she had baked that day. The legend then holds the host appeared in the form of a finger. Subsequently, tradition has claimed that the image of Jesus as “the man of sorrows” appeared on the altar during Mass.
In this painting, Gregory consecrates the host. His monastic tonsure is visible, while a bishop at the back holds the papal triple tiara. Two deacons in green dalmatic attend. While Gregory venerates the host, the appearance of Jesus as a man of sorrows is before him, the blood of his stigmata seeming to empty into the chalice.
Today, faith in the Real Presence also remains weak. Poor catechesis has contributed to what appears to be a widespread misunderstanding among American Catholics of the Eucharist as mere “symbols” of the Presence of Jesus rather than the true Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Second. Person incarnate of the Trinity, made present every day on our altars throughout the world.
September 3, the feast of Saint Gregory the Great, is also the first Friday. In private revelation to another saint, Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, our lord has promised the grace of final repentance to those who receive Communion on the first nine consecutive Fridays. Given Saint Gregory’s great devotion to the Eucharist, we might consider doing just that. Catholic schools, if they are already in session, may also offer this opportunity to students, as nine months (until May 2022) will roughly coincide with the school year.
Almost a millennium and a half separate us from the pontificate of Gregory the Great, but the priorities underlined by this reforming pope – the real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the universal call to holiness and the need for reparation for sins. , missionary drive, and a purified Church in the service of the poor (Gregory was responsible for popularizing the papal title “Servant of the Servants of God”) – remain surprisingly real priorities for our time.