September 3, Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

Mass readings for today can be found here

St Gregory was the first monk to be Pope and is one of only two pontiffs (the other being Pope St. Leo I) to be vested with the title GREAT. 

To the popular mind he is perhaps best known for his role in the creation of the forms of musical worship that came to be known as Gregorian Chant.
He was born in Rome about the year 540, the son of a wealthy senator, he renounced all his wealth and became a deacon. 
After his father’s death he became a monk and built seven monasteries. In 590 he was chosen to be the Pope. His zeal pushed him to write numerous works and he is best known for his contributions to the reform of the Mass. He is one of the great doctors of the Church and he died in 604. 
Gregory originated the title which the Bishops of Rome throughout the centuries have adopted: Servus servorum Dei, "Servant of the servants of God."

He also coined the phrase " ex cathedra."   literally meaning "from the chair", which refers to a teaching by the pope that is considered to be made with the intention of invoking infallibility.

When the Pope teaches officially and authoritatively as successor to the Saint Peter First of the Apostles, he teaches "ex cathedra", that is, "from the chair". Then it is not his personal opinion or speculation which is involved, but the truth.

This chair is the reason why some churches are called "cathedrals", because the bishop's "cathedra" is there. Professors who teach expertly in universities often "hold a chair" in thus-and-such. The person in charge of a group is called "the chair". So, speaking "ex cathedra" is authoritative teaching.

The "chair" referred to is not a literal chair, but refers metaphorically to the pope's position, or office, as the official teacher of Catholic doctrine: the chair was the symbol of the teacher in the ancient world, and bishops to this day have a cathedra, a seat or throne, as a symbol of their teaching and governing authority. The pope is said to occupy the "chair of Peter", as Catholics hold that among the apostles Peter had a special role as the preserver of unity, so the pope as successor of Peter holds the role of spokesman for the whole church among the bishops, the successors as a group of the apostles. 

Saint Gregory’s famous meeting with the English slaves took place, before he became Pope in the Roman Forum. He came upon the tall, blond youths as they were being sold, and he asked where they came from.
“They are Angles, ” he was told.
“Angles?” he exclaimed. “Say rather they are angels! What a pity that God’s grace does not dwell within those beautiful brows!”
He purchased all of the handsome slaves, brought them back with him to the monastery, cared for them, and instructed and baptized them.


His book, Pastoral Care, on the duties and qualities of a bishop, was read for centuries after his death. He described bishops mainly as physicians whose main duties were preaching and the enforcement of discipline.

In his own down-to-earth preaching, Gregory was skilled at applying the daily gospel to the needs of his listeners. Called "the Great," Gregory has been given a place with Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome as one of the four key doctors of the Western Church.


"Perhaps it is not after all so difficult for a man to part with his possessions,
but it is certainly most difficult for him to part with himself. 
To renounce what one has is a minor thing; 
but to renounce what one is, that is asking a lot" 
(St. Gregory, Homilies on the Gospels).

Further reading on his life here  
Gospel edited extract : Luke 5: 33-39

No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one.
Otherwise, he will tear the new
and the piece from it will not match the old cloak.
Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins,
and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined.
Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.
And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new,
for he says, 'The old is good.'"

Chant group Psallentes consists of six professional singers, presenting a vivid performance of late medieval Gregorian chant. The first is the antiphon 'Mater Patris' and the original manuscript scrolls along as you listen.

The second is the Ave Maria

  Below is a more modern interpretation of Gregorian chant from the group called  "Gregorian", singing Nothing else Matters : the video is from Santiago de Compostela

Finally we have

A group of nuns from Avignon, France who have answered  the prayers of a major record company looking for the world's best Gregorian chant performers.

A group of secluded nuns near Avignon, France, have signed a major record deal with Lady Gaga's record label.

Decca Records chose the nuns after a worldwide search for the best female Gregorian chant performers.

The nuns of the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation shone above 70 convents across the globe.

The nuns can now call Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Amy Winehouse, U2 and convent-educated Lady GaGa herself - label-mates.

The royalties from the album will go straight into the running of the monastery, supplementing the income they earn from other crafts.

The nuns' album, "Voices - Chant from Avignon", will be released worldwide in November.


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