Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Great Pope

There's been a lot of talk about calling JPII John Paul the Great. You hear folks drop this into conversation every now and then. Just to be clear, calling some pope "the Great" isn't some sort of formal accolade granted by the Church. There's other saints who have been given the same surname who weren't popes at all. St. Albert and St. Gertrude come to mind. Right now, we have three popes typically styled as "Greats": Leo, Nicholas, and our main focus today, Gregory, whose feast day was last week.

St. Gregory was not only a great pope and a saint, but also only one of two popes to be regarded as a Doctor of the Church (Leo being the other). Not only that, but he's regarded as one of the Four Great Doctors of the West along with Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome. Not only that, but he did a heck of a job holding civilization in the West together after the fall of Rome. Whether it was keeping the Lombards in check or defending the primacy of the See of Peter, it is arguable, though not hyperbolic, to say that his achievements are unmatched in the entire history of the papacy.

He lived simply and used much of the Church's resources to care for the poor and sick. He was also the first monk to become pope, which is another good example of how the flowering of monasticism in the West thanks to the Benedictines was of great service to the Church in the long run. One of Gregory's more famous works is a biography of Benedict that should be read by all.

What folks probably remember him for most, though, are his contributions to the liturgy. Strangely enough, folks aren't really sure how extensive those were, but there are very strong traditions and historical (and yes, circumstantial) evidence that indicate that it was he who set the arrangements for Gregorian chant and the early liturgical reforms that can be found in the Gregorian Sacramentary. The Mass as set forth in this Sacramentary would essentially go unchanged, even after the codification of its curial use by Pope St. Pius V. In most all respects, it is the Traditional Latin Mass as we have it today. For what it's worth, the Eastern Churched still use his Liturgy of Pre-Sanctified Gifts for weekend communion during Great Lent.

Really, I could probably go on about Gregory for months and not post about anything else. I'll just leave it that "great" really doesn't even begin to do this guy justice. May all our future popes seek guidance from his example.

Pope St. Gregory the Great, pray for us.

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