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Saint Gregory the Great

Pope, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church. 

Gregory the Great was a Roman, the son of Gordian the Senator, and was born about the year 540. As a young man, he was trained in philosophy, and later was given the highest civil office in Rome, that of Prefect of the City. In his boyhood he saw various sieges and sackings of Rome, and the horrors thereof. For, according to Procopius, at one time only five hundred persons remained alive in the City, and all were reduced to subsistence on grass and weeds, and the city itself was in complete ruin. Gregory's family, which was one of the few patrician families left, was distinguished for its piety, having given the Church two Popes, namely, Saints Agapitus and Felix III, which latter was his great-great-grandfather. After his father's death, he was by inheritance one of the richest men in Rome, and he thereupon proceeded to give away all he had. He built six monasteries in Sicily, and in Rome he made a seventh monastery out of his own house, hard by the Church of Saints John and Paul, which same he dedicated under the invocation of the Apostle Andrew, and wherein he became a monk, and was finally elected the Abbot thereof.

Later on he was created Cardinal Deacon, and sent to Constantinople as the Legate of Pope Pelagius II to the Emperor Tiberius Constantine, where he held a famous disputation with the Patriarch regarding the bodily resurrection. After he had returned to Rome, where Pelagius had died during the great plague of 590, Gregory was unanimously chosen Pope in his stead. But Gregory greatly preferred to remain in his monastery, and pressure from all sides was necessary to make him accept the pontifical honours. But in his exercise of this office, he set an example to all who have followed him therein. He tenderly cared for the poor, of whom he kept a list, as well of those without as within the City. In particular he undertook to restore the Catholic Faith wherever it had been overthrown, and to introduce it where it was not.

He sent to Britain the blessed Augustine and other godly monks; for according to the Venerable Bede he was moved thereto by something which happened before he become Pope; namely, that he saw in Rome some captive children of fair countenance and golden hair; and when he was told that they were Angles he said that the Faith should be carried to their land, so that they could have fellowship with the Angels. Wherefore Saint Gregory hath been called Apostle of the English, since through his efforts the mission of Saint Augustine was sent to their land. He adorned the Church with holy customs and laws; and to him is attributed the nine-fold repetition of Kyrie eleison in the Mass, the saying of Alleluia except from Septuagesima till Easter, and the addition to the Canon of the words: Do thou order our days in thy peace. He is also credited with revision of the holy chant, and the compilation of the antiphonal, and the foundation of several choir-schools for training men in ecclesiastical music. Because of his supervision of the Western Liturgy, the Western Canon is called after him The Gregorian Canon. It is a marvel how much he spoke, did, wrote, and legislated, suffering all the while from a weak and sickly body. He is rightly therefore venerated as the fourth of the great Western Doctors of the Church. At last God called him away to be blessed forever in heaven, in the year 604, being the twelfth day of March. He was buried in Saint Peter's, and this his feast-day is observed by the Greeks, as well as by us, on account of his eminent wisdom and holiness.


O GOD, who on the soul of thy servant Gregory didst bestow the rewards of everlasting felicity: mercifully grant; that we, which are sore oppressed by the burden of our sins, may by the succour of his intercession be relieved. Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Anglican Breviary, Frank Gavin Liturgical Foundation, Inc., New York, 1955, pages 1133-1135

Additional Information:

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