In this journey on the Barque of Peter, we continue to detail the evolution of the Mass and the Church
from the early Christian times to our present day so that all may better understand
the true meaning of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and our faith - the One, Holy,
Catholic and Apostolic Church. Today we cover the second half of the Sixth Century, the Century of the growth of monasticism when Saint Benedict would become the father of western monasticism with the establishment of his Order of Benedictines and the time leading up to the Gregorian era which we cover today in chronicling the achievements of Pope Saint Gregory the Great.
We will be using various sources, but the best are four books that are out of print but provide so much
solid material: "My Catholic Faith - A Manual of Religion" (1949) by Bishop Louis LaRavoire Morrow, S.T.D. from My Mission House ; "The Glories and Triumphs of the Catholic Church" (1907) from Benziger Brothers; "The Catholic Church Alone the One True Church of Christ" (1902) from the Catholic Educational Company; and "Cabinet of Catholic Information" (1904) from Duggan Publishing Co. In addition we will be using material gleaned from "The Oxford Dictionary of Popes" by J.N.D. Kelly; The Papal Princes: A History of the Sacred College of Cardinals" by Glenn D. Kittler; "Pontiffs: Popes who shaped history" by John Jay Hughes; "The Mass of the Roman Rite" by Fr. Josef Jungmann, S.J.; "The Story of the Church" from Tan Books by Fr. George Johnson, PhD; "The Story of the Mass" by Fr. Pierre Loret; "Rubrics of
the Mass" by Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas; "The Wonders of the Mass" by Fr.
Paul O'Sullivan, O.P.; and the Code of Canon Law", as well as the
"Catechism of the Catholic Church"; "Baltimore Catechism"; Catholic Encyclopedia (Thomas Nelson Publishers); "Catholic Dictionary" by Fr. John Hardon, S.J.; "Dictionary of Saints" by John J. Delaney; "Butler's Lives of the Saints" from Benziger Brothers; "Saints of the Roman Calendar" by Enzo Lodi and Fr. Jordan Aumann, OP; "1999 Catholic Almanac" from Our Sunday Visitor, and numerous missals and references.
With a better perception of what the Church stands for and what the Mass truly is, we will not
so easily be swayed by new-fangled gimmicks and liturgical abuses being
introduced by individual celebrants and ICEL, the International Committee
for English in the Liturgy. We will discover why the basis for the use of
vestments and sacred vessels, the purpose for the Rubrics of the Mass, the
logic of Church Scholars and Popes through the ages for fending off changes
that would water-down the faith and the Holy Sacrifice and even invalidate the greatest
remembrance Christ gave to His Church.
The Gregorian Era
In 556 Pope Pelagius I became the 60th in the line of Peter. Born in Rome, his papacy lasted until March 4, 561. His elevation had to the papacy was greatly influenced by the Eastern Emperor Justinian since Rome was now a province of the Byzantine Empire. Pelagius however, would have none of Justinian's policies and remained loyal to the pirnciples of Catholic orthodoxy. It was Pelagius who built the Church of the Twelve Apostles.
He was succeeded on July 17, 561 by Pope John III. His election was delayed several months because of the Barbarian invasions but once elected he saved Italy from the hordes. During his 13 year pontificate he was embroiled with the Lombard Narsete but rallied Italians to defend their land against the invading hordes. He died on July 13, 575.
It took a year before his successor would be elected and when he was the conclave settled on Pope Benedict I as the 62nd successor of Peter. Benedict, also Roman-born, tried in vain to restore order in Italy as well as France which had been thrown into confusion by the barbaric invasions and internal disorders. With all the turmoil and Justinian having died, Benedict confirmed decrees of the Fifth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople which had been in limbo because of the turmoil and suppression.
Benedict passed on to his eternal reward on July 30, 579 setting the course for his successor Pope Pelagius II to be elected on November 26th of the same year. His biggest problem was the siege of Rome and to deal with the problems of the Lombard invasions he turned to Constantinople for help but the Patriarch there John IV refused to recognize the Pope as the Supreme Pontiff and instead declared himself supreme patriarchate declaring it at a synod in 588. This caused Pelagius to break off communion with John and the Eastern Church. He did so by ordering his young nuncio Gregory to break with John IV until the latter repudiated the title. It was Pelagius II who raised the altar directly above the shrine of the Apostles. He also decreed that priests must recite the Divine Office every day, something that still stands today. During the latter part of his papacy a plague broke out, a strange pestilence where victims died yawning and sneezing and sadly Pelagius was one of the first victims, succumbing on February 7, 590.
That paved the way for the great Doctor of the Church Pope Saint Gregory the Great who would
guide the Church into the seventh century as the 64th in the succession of Peter. This protege of Pelagius' who served as his Papal nuncio was chosen on September 3, 590. His fourteen year pontificate was a perfect model of ecclesiastical rule. He healed schisms, revived Church discipline, and preserved the
Italian culture by converting the savage Arian Lombards who had laid waste
to so many regions. He played a significant role in the conversion of the
Arian Goths who had settled France and Spain and in bringing the Light of
the True Faith to the British Isles. In spite of these triumphs, he faced
almost insurmountable odds with the Lombards who were dubbed the gruesome
"Longbeards." He tried to reconcile twice with this ghastly tribe of
plunderers - in the eighth year of his papacy and again just before he
succumbed in 604.
In was fortunate for the Church that Rome had such a solid rock sitting on
the throne of Peter for the Church was being attacked on all sides at the
turn of the seventh century. Besides the invasion threats of the Lombards,
the Donatus Schism would not die. The false belief that the validity of a
sacrament depended on the spiritual condition of the minister. This schism
was condemned at the Council of Carthage in 404, yet lasted for several
hundred more years until the defeat of the Saracens in northern Africa.
Unfortunately, this schism caused the breakdown of the Church in Africa as
well as taking its toll on the patience of St. Gregory, who had toiled many
years fending off another schism - that of Arianism which falsely taught
that Jesus did not have the same divine nature as the Father.
Despite all the trouble, St. Gregory guided his flock with innumerable
letters and preached unrelentingly most effectively by his living what he
prescribed. Liturgically his greatest accomplishments was his gift of
setting the order of the ecclesiastical prayer and introducing chant which
today bears his name - Gregorian Chant. Sadly after Vatican II this unique
music was shelved into the background like many of the devotions that had
survived for centuries only to be discarded a mere 30 years ago.
The Golden Age of the Mass
By the reign of St. Gregory, Latin had become readily accepted by and
large as the official liturgical language of the Church, specifically the
Mass. It was left to the learned scholar to solidify the liturgy and
condense it into one book so to speak so that all celebrants throughout
every diocese would be saying the same liturgy.
This holy Pope was big on ceremony and the more splendiferous, the more
honor and glory was given to God. He inaugurated the Papal Mass which was
filled with pomp and circumstance, even to the point of processing from the
Lateran palace to the Basilica on horseback escorted by an entourage of
priests, faithful followers, and noble attendants which comprised the
Besides the pageantry, St. Gregory introduced resplendent music, forsaking
the traditional five bar circular notes for the simpler, melodic four bar
square notes. He also condensed the three books compiled by Pope Gelasius
some 50 years earlier, into one book, which was the genesis of the
Sacramentary and Lectionary, as well as the Roman Missal.
The Plan of the Mass was divided into two sections - the Mass of the
Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful - the former derived from the
earliest days of the Church as we recounted in an earlier installment, and
the latter having been developed through the years and polished by St.
Though the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would evolve even more, the structure
established by St. Gregory stood the test of time, surviving through the
Dark ages into the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution, and only sadly
meeting its demise after the Second Vatican Council. This renowned Pontiff
had set in law a fixed text known as the Roman Canon. He had ensconced the
Latin language as the official tongue throughout the world. He had
instituted a new type of music - chant - Gregorian Chant, which blended
well with the Mass. And he had presented it all together in such a
reverent "package" that it was widely accepted throughout the civilized
world. For the Holy Roman Catholic Church, in unison with the Church
Triumphant, through these years were the beginning of the Dark Ages, it was
a time that could truly be called the Golden Age of the Mass.
In the next installment we will study the Plan of the Mass before
advancing on in history through the next few centuries that followed the
reign of St. Gregory the Great.
Next Week: Installment Sixteen: The Plan of the Mass