St. Gregory the Great – Pope Gregory I – shaped the papacy and reformed the liturgy in such a stunning way that it made him one of the greatest popes in history. His influence has had a permanent effect on the Catholic Church.
Here are just a few highlights of this great pope:
- He wrote more than 850 letters.
- He wrote an extensive commentary on the Book of Job.
- His book, The Rule for Pastors, is one of the most definitive on the responsibilities of bishops and pastors.
- An entire liturgy he wrote for the season of Lent for the Byzantine Church is still in use today.
- He wrote a collection of four books on the miracles, signs, wonders, and healings of sixth-century Italian saints. The second book in the collection is devoted to St. Benedict’s life.
- He reformed the liturgy in such a way that an entire type of music was named after him called Gregorian Chant.
In regards to this last accomplishment – while most people have heard of Gregorian Chant, they are not sure if they know how to sing it. Though it is used more in monasteries now than local churches, everyone has probably sung some Gregorian chant. For instance, any sung response back to the priest at Mass is probably Gregorian chant. That’s the simplest version. Others are more complicated and need a choir director for a grand pageant of music.
St. Gregory’s brilliant influence on the papacy and the church at large didn’t stop with music or his prolific writing skills. It also had a very human element that started a tradition of popes eating cherries. It’s a legend, of course, but somehow, in Rome, legend intertwines with day-to-day living. The story says that Pope Gregory had a craving for cherries on the Feast of St. Mark on April 25. While cherries were plentiful in Rome, none were ripe at the time Pope Gregory wanted them. The servants and gardeners were puzzled and didn’t know what to do. Enter St. Mark on a cloud of fire, who blessed a cherry tree which became covered in ripe fruit. It is said the pope “wolfed down a bellyful” of cherries.
To this day, all popes supposedly are given cherries as dessert on the Feast of St. Mark in honor of one of the greatest popes in history. Perhaps we can raise a bowlful ourselves in celebration of St. Gregory the Great and all he has done for our Church.