Pope Gregorio Magno and the Gregorian chant
Gregorio Magno was born around 540 A.D. in Rome, son of Gordiano and Santa Silvia, heir of the senatorial family of the Anicii. After having studied law and grammar, he held the position of prefect of the city of Rome (praefectus urbi Romae), a role that marked his debut in public life.
Admirer of Benedetto da Norcia, of whom he is also a biographer, he commits many of his resources to transform his properties in Sicily and Rome into monasteries, as well as to help the poor.
After having renounced the post of prefect, he decides to become a monk in the Benedictine order, embarking on the cenobitic life and spending a lot of time reading the Bible after transforming his home on the “Celio” hill into a monastery.
Ordained deacon, in fact, around 579 he was sent by Pope Pelagius II as apocrisary to the court of Constantinople, in order to ask for support to fight the Lombards.
He remained in Constantinople for six years, and there he earned the esteem of Maurice I, the emperor who took the throne in 582, to the point that he was chosen to baptize his son Theodosius.
On 7 February 590 Pope Pelagius II died due to the plague, and Gregorio Magno was called to the papal throne, thanks to the support of the Roman senate and the clergy.
However, he tries to oppose and resist the insistence of the people, asking the Emperor Maurice not to ratify the election through a letter which, however, is intercepted and replaced by a petition from the people in support of his papal appointment: the 3 September 590 Pope Gregory I was consecrated.
He reveals himself to be an energetic administrator not only from the point of view of internal ecclesiastical matters, but also with regard to political and social issues. He therefore proves to be a man of action, in spite of his health that is anything but strong, imposing the moralization of the Roman Curia.
Pope Gregory I finds himself having to organize the defense of Rome himself, and pays 5,000 pounds of gold out of his own pocket to Agilulf to induce him to lift the siege, while at the same time ensuring him the payment of a considerable tribute every year.
The pontifex thus replaces the senate and the city civil authority, now devoid of any kind of political role, managing to save the Roman people.
Considering it the main mission of the Church, he tries to evangelize the Visigoths of Spain and then the Lombards: with them, following the peace of 598, he establishes positive relations, giving the light to their conversion, also thanks to the commitment of Queen Theodolinda.
The same missionary effort is also put into practice towards the Britons: in this case, Gregory sends Benedictine monks in order to Christianize the populations, and in a short time obtains the conversion of Britain, also with the help of Queen Brunechilde.
After having promoted the liturgical chant which from him will take the name of “Gregorian chant“, Pope Gregory I – historically remembered as Gregory the Great – died in Rome on March 12, 604: his body was buried in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Gregorian chant is a monodic and liturgical chant of the Western tradition: unlike what is believed, its codification is subsequent to the death of Pope Gregory I, it was most likely elaborated starting from the 8th century from the encounter of ancient Roman chant (this actually adopted and promoted by Gregory the Great) with Gallican chant in the context of the Carolingian revival.
It is a recitative music that favors the prose text, which originates from the sacred text and which favors meditation and interiorization (ruminatio) of the sung words.
Gregorian chant is not an ornamental or spectacular element that is added to the prayer of a praying community, but it is an integral and effective part of the same praise ordered to the service and understanding of the Word of God.
This is the deepest and most intimate meaning of this musical genre.
It is still sung today, and is recognized by the Catholic Church as the “proper song of the Roman liturgy“.
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