Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Faith Wednesday: St. Gregory the Great

Welcome to Faith Wednesdays! Every Wednesday in our homeschool is the day we have our faith lesson. We will doing a new prayer and a new saint each week.

Prayer of the Week: Kyrie Eleison

Chant, baby!

In honor of the feast of St. Gregory on September 3, the prayer this week will include chant.

In the modern Church today, many see Gregorian chant as antiquated, a relic of pre-Vatican II days. In fact, it is very relevant, just as it has always been. I am discovering chant now, as I am singing in a new chant group, Plano Schola Gregoriana. It is a new world for me, and one I am finding increasingly beautiful.

 Music within the liturgy is a special type of music. It is different from praise music or worship music. Its sole purpose is to help people participate in the Mass. Chant seeks to fill these needs by simply being sung prayer.

We already do chant in the modern church today, but we do not always know it to be chant.

For example - the traditional litany of the saints is a chant:

Here is a link to the words.

Following is a neat interview with two monks about chanting.

So, for this week, we are going to be learning:
The Kyrie (which is Greek, not Latin, but is still a Latin chant! Go figure!)
In English, this would be :
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

In Greek, the words are simply:
Kyrie eleison. (key-ree-ay   a-lay-ee-szon)
Christe eleison. (Chrees-tay a-lay-ee-szon)
Kyrie eleison. (key-ree-ay   a-lay-ee-szon)

Saint of the Week: Saint Gregory the Great

Saint Gregory the Great accomplished many, many things in his lifetime. He is called the father of the medieval papacy, and his efforts helped to bring about the Middle Ages. Some of what he did even influences our modern Church today.

Gregory was born in Rome around 540 AD. This was after Rome first fell to outside invaders, but when some of her glory still remained. Gregory witnessed in his lifetime the true end of the age of Rome. At the age of 6, Gregory lived through the sack of Rome by the Goths (who returned for a repeat performance in 552). From this time on, Rome would endure many sacks and sieges, wars and looting.

Gregory's father was a patrician who much later would give up his wealth to enter a life of prayer  and his mother, Sylvia, went on to become a canonized saint, herself (so did two of his aunts!). Little else is known about Gregory's young life or his education. By all accounts, however, he was well-educated and entered a life of public service to Rome.  At the age of 33, Gregory became Prefect of Rome. The position had lost most of its glory and power it had during Rome's empire years, but it was still a position of respect and honor. Most of all, Gregory had the chance to help his people, who were tired and weak from invasions, barbarian rule, famine and disease.

In 574, after a great deal of searching and prayer, Gregory gave up his career and wealth to become a monk. He offered his various land holdings to the Church for the building of monasteries. He entered one of these, St. Andrew's, and lived a life of prayer, fasting, and the monastic life. After only three years, the Pope called Gregory back to become one of the seven deacons of Rome.

At this time, Rome was about to be attacked by the Lombards. After years of wars and decline, Rome could not face this attack on her own. She needed help, and the best place for help was the Byzantine Empire.  The Pope sent Gregory, and a few of his fellow monks, to the Court at Constantinople to ask for aid.

Gregory did not care for life in the worldly court. He kept as much of a monastic life as possible, clinging to prayer in the midst of splendor. What was worse, it became clear to Gregory that no aid would come from Byzantium. Rome, and Italy, was on her own. She would have to find new ways of becoming strong and facing the world again.

Six long years later, Gregory was recalled to Rome. He became the abbot of his beloved monastery of st. Andrew's. During this time, Gregory met some men from Briton. There are differing stories about this, and as Gregory lived so long ago, we do not know which one is correct. One story says the group he met were free men visiting Rome from Briton. Another story says it was a group of English boys being sold into slavery. Either way, the Anglo-Saxons impressed Gregory, and he greatly desired to travel to England as a missionary. The Pope granted him permission, and Gregory set off with a few monks for Briton. The people of Rome had come to depend on Gregory during this tumultuous time in history, and they were not happy he left. They chased after him, catching up to the monks three days outside of Rome, and carried Gregory back to the city. Gregory accepted that, as much as he wanted to go to Briton, now was not the time.

In 589, terrible disaster befell an already weak Rome. Floods caused homes and crops to be washed away all over Italy. In Rome, the banks of the Tiber overflowed, carrying away even the Church's granaries with precious food for the people. Many people died in the floods and many homes and goods were lost, but that was not all. The waters also brought diseases. A terrible plague swept through the city, leaving so many dead the bodies were stacked up waiting to be taken outside the city to be buried in mass graves. Disease does not care who or what you are. Pope Pelagius himself died of the plague in 590 AD.

The people turned to Gregory (today the college of cardinals elects the Pope, but at the time the church, the government, and the people all had a say in it - the church was much smaller then, and more political, so it made sense). Poor Gregory! He did not want to be Pope. He wanted to be a monk. If he became Pope, he would have to give up much of his monastic life to enter a much more public life. Gregory wrote to the Emperor, asking him not to confirm Gregory's election. But the prefect of Rome got the letter, and never sent it to Emperor Maurice! The prefect believed Rome, and the church, needed Gregory. So, Gregory received the letter with the schedule of his official election. Some stories say Gregory even tried to run away so he would not have to be Pope!

But in the end, he accepted it with grace as the will of God. Gregory became Pope on September 3, 590 AD.

There were so many things Gregory wanted to do now he was Pope! He wanted to get rid of the pages and attendants in the church, and replaced them with monks and priests. Gregory always maintained the heart of a monk. He was the first monk to ever become Pope, and he kept as much of his monk's life and habits as he could. He thought he should live simply. He had a vision of the Church as a service to the people. Gregory gave all his money to caring for the poor and ill and hungry, and preached this message to all the clergy. He was the first Pope to call himself a "servant of the servants of God", and Popes since then have taken this same title.

Gregory's job as Pope was very difficult. He not only had charge of the Church, but he was also in a great way in charge of Rome. Rome was weak and battered and in danger of ceasing to exist. Gregory had to help direct the military as well as everything else, so that Rome had some chance of surviving the regular attacks from invaders.

And the plague. Remember the plague that came after the terrible floods in 589 AD? After Gregory became Pope, the plague continued. It was terrible. The people of Rome might not have to worry about invader any more, as it seemed they would all die of this horrible disease. Gregory ordered that a large and public procession take place through the city of Rome. People (men, women, children, priests, nuns, monks, government officials - everyone!) would meet in all seven of Rome's regions and begin the march, praying all the time, to the center, where they would all meet up at the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Now here occurs another beautiful story. As the processed through Rome, begging God to save them from this plague, Gregory passed the bridge of St. Peter's, angels seemed to appear to some of the people. The heavenly defender, St. Michael the Archangel was seen on top of Hadrian's tomb, putting his flaming sword back in his sheath. Gregory could hear angel voices singing praises to God. The people took this to mean the time of disease was over, and God was merciful to them. To this day, Hadrian's tomb is also known as Castel San' Angelo, and a statue of St. Michael rests on top of the tomb, as remembrance of the saving of Rome.

Castel San Angelo, courtesy of clarita on morguefile

Gregory's name is also connected to chant, the music of the Catholic church. Gregory founded two houses for chanters in Rome, one near St. Peter's and one near St. John Lateran's. Gregory believed that music, music in the liturgy, was not to be an end in itself. Music within the liturgy was sacred, and should never distract from the sacrifice of the Mass. Music should be a background for drawing the hearts of the faithful to God, and should never draw attention to itself.  Liturgical music should help draw people's hearts and minds to God to love and reverence Him more and more.

Gregory made numerous reforms to the liturgy itself, invested in land and property for the Church, wrote many, many letters shepherding his people and guarding against heresies, and yes - he did get to send missionaries to Briton!
All that Gregory did and wrote and accomplished is far too much for me to include here. He is a Doctor of the Church. Gregory guided the Church and Western civilization from the end of the decline of Rome into the Middle Ages.

He is remembered on September 3 as St. Gregory the Great!

1 comment:

Patty said...

Faith! The main reason why I homeschool. I love seeing how so many homeschool moms bring the lives of the saints into their childrens lives these days.

I wished that we would have studied the saints more in the Catholic school growing up. I do not recall the study of them as most homeschool moms do these days.