Pope and Doctor of the Church
Feast Day: September 3
St. Gregory, born in Rome about the year 540, was the son of Gordianus, a wealthy senator and at the height of his renown when he retired to enter religion, and to become eventually one of the seven cardinal-deacons in charge of the poor and the suffering in the hospitals of Rome. Gregory's mother, Sylvia, left him to enter a small oratory near Saint Paul's in Rome, where she led a life of such austerity and holiness that she was a constant edification to the Catholics of Rome during her lifetime, and was canonized by the church after her death. The feast of Saint Sylvia is celebrated every year on November 3. And that is not all. Besides his mother, two of Saint Gregory's aunts were canonized. They are his father's sisters, Saints Tarsilla and Aemiliana, of whom Pope Gregory often speaks in his writings.
Gregory later renounced the world and became one of the seven deacons of Rome. After he had acquired the usual thorough education, Emperor Justin the Younger appointed him, in 574, Chief Magistrate of Rome, although he was only thirty-four years of age.
After the death of his father, he built six monasteries in Sicily and founded a seventh in his own house in Rome, which became the Benedictine Monastery of St. Andrew. Here, he himself assumed the monastic habit in 575, at the age of thirty-five.
After the death of Pelagius, and against his own will, St. Gregory was chosen Pope by the unanimous consent of priests and people. Now began those labors, which merited for him the title of Great. His zeal extended over the entire known world, he was in contact with all the Churches of Christendom and, in spite of his bodily sufferings, and innumerable labors, he found time to compose a great number of works.
There has been a revival also in our day of the beautifully reverent "Gregorian Chant", named in honor of Saint Gregory's patient labor in restoring the ancient chant of the Church and in setting down the rules to be followed so that Church music might more perfectly fulfill its function. Pope Gregory held that the place of Church music was a subordinate one. It should never provide, he said, anything more than a background for the sacred reenactment of Calvary. It should never draw attention to itself, and away from the Holy sacrifice of the Mass. It should, while disposing the minds of the faithful to profound reverence of God, and making more ardent the love of their hearts for Him, never become an end in itself.
He is known above all for his magnificent contributions to the Liturgy of the Mass and Office. He died on March 12, 604. He was canonized immediately after his death, by the unanimous acclaim of his people. Later, because of the volume, the extraordinary insight and the profundity of his writings, the depth and extent of his learning, and the heroic holiness of his life, the Church gratefully placed him beside Jerome and Ambrose and Augustine. Saint Gregory the Great became the fourth of the Church's four great Doctors of the West.