Saint Brigid Religious Education
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Gregory The Great
Feast day: September 3
Only two popes, Leo I and Gregory I, have been given the popular title
of "the Great." Both served during difficult times of barbarian
invasions in Italy; and during Gregory's term of office, Rome was also
faced with famine and epidemics.
Gregory was born around 540, of a politically influential family, and in
573 he became Prefect of Rome; but shortly afterwards he resigned his
office and began to live as a monk. In 579 he was made apocrisiarius
(representative of the Pope to the Patriarch of Constantinople). Shortly
after his return home, the Pope died of the plague, and in 590 Gregory
was elected Pope.
Like Leo before him, he became practical governor of central Italy,
because the job needed to be done and there was no one else to do it.
When the Lombards invaded, he organized the defense of Rome against
them, and the eventual signing of a treaty with them. When there was a
shortage of food, he organized the importation and distribution of grain
His influence on the forms of public worship throughout Western Europe
was enormous. He founded a school for the training of church musicians,
and Gregorian chant is named for him. The schedule of Scripture readings
for the various Sundays of the year, and the accompanying prayers (many
of them written by him), in use throughout most of Western Christendom
for the next thirteen centuries, is largely due to his passion for
organization. His treatise, On Pastoral Care, while not a work of
creative imagination, shows a dedication to duty, and an understanding
of what is required of a minister in charge of a Christian congregation.
His sermons are still readable today, and it is not without reason that
he is accounted as one of the Four Latin Doctors of the ancient Church.
English-speaking Christians will remember Gregory for sending a party of
missionaries headed by Augustine of Canterbury to preach the Gospel to
the pagan Anglo-Saxon tribes that had invaded England and largely
conquered or displaced the Celtic Christians previously living there.
Gregory had originally hoped to go to England as a missionary himself,
but was pressed into service elsewhere, first as apocrisiarius and then
as bishop of Rome. He accordingly sent others, but took an active
interest in their work, writing numerous letters both to Augustine and
his monks and to their English converts.