In relation to the Mass, St. Gregory the Great is perhaps especially remembered by many for the Eucharistic Miracle that occurred in 595 during the Holy Sacrifice. This famous incident was related by Paul the Deacon in his 8th century biography of the holy pope, Vita Beati Gregorii Papae.
Pope Gregory was distributing Holy Communion during a Sunday Mass and noticed amongst those in line a woman who had helped make the hosts was laughing. This disturbed him greatly and so he inquired what was the cause of her unusual behaviour. The woman replied that the she could not believe how the hosts she had prepared could become the Body and Blood of Christ just by the words of consecration.
Hearing this disbelief, St. Gregory refused to give her Communion and prayed that God would enlighten her with the truth. Just after making this plea to God, the pope witnessed some consecrated Hosts (which appeared as bread) change Their appearance into actual flesh and blood. Showing this miracle to the woman, she was moved to repentance for her disbelief and knelt weeping. Today, two of these miraculous Hosts can still be venerated at Andechs Abbey in Germany (with a third miraculous Host from Pope Leo IX [11th century], thus the Feast of the Three Hosts of Andechs [Dreihostienfest]).
During the Middle Ages, the event of the Miraculous Mass of St. Gregory was gradually stylised in several ways. First the doubting woman was often replaced by a deacon, while the crowd was often comprised of the papal court of cardinals and other retinue. Another important feature was the pious representation of the Man of Sorrows rising from a sarcophagus and surrounded by the Arma Christi, or the victorious display of the various instruments of the Passion.
The artistic representation of this Eucharistic Miracle became especially prominent in Europe during the Protestant Reformation in reaction to the heretical denial of the doctrine of the Real Presence.
A short biography of Saint Gregory the Great
St. Gregory the Great (540-604), also known as Gregory I, is one of the four great Traditional Doctors of the Latin Church (along with Saint Ambrose of Milan, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and Saint Jerome).
Born in 540 A.D., at Rome, Italy, Gregory was the son of a wealthy Roman senator and Saint Silvia of Rome. He was educated by the finest teachers in Rome and became prefect of the city of Rome for one year, when after much prayer and inner struggle he then sold all his possessions, turned his home into a Benedictine monastery, and used the money to build six monasteries in Sicily and one in Rome. He entered the Benedictine Order, where he lived as a monk before being appointed cardinal-deacon, and then sent to the Byzantine court to secure aid against the Lombards. The result of his six year sojourn was a conviction that Rome must not rely on the East for help.
One day after his return he came across some fair-complexioned youths being sold in the Roman slave market. Asking where they came from he was told they were Angles, which prompted his famous remark: “Not Angles, but Angels! What a pity that God’s grace does not dwell within those beautiful brows!” From then he decided he would go as a missionary to England to bring these people to Christ. Unable to go himself by his election to the Chair of Peter soon afterwards, he sent Saint Augustine of Canterbury with a band of missionaries in his place.
Gregory was elected 64th Pope by unanimous acclamation on September 3, 590, and was the first monk to be chosen as pope. With his election to the papacy, he published a work on episcopal duties, which was used for centuries and wrote abundant doctrinal and spiritual writings including some very influential works on the Mass and Office. He established the system of appeals to Rome, and is also recognised as an administrator and lawyer. Gregory collected the melodies and plain chant so associated with him and now known as Gregorian Chant. He also sent missionaries to France, Spain, and Africa.
Pope Saint Gregory the Great died of natural causes on March 12, 604 at Rome, Italy and was canonised by popular acclaim. He was the first of the Popes to be called “the Great” in recognition of his outstanding gifts and ministry.