A brief article on the history of the miraculous event that occurred during a Mass offered by Pope St. Gregory and a gallery of images depicting the astonishing proof given to the doctrine of the Real Presence.
During the preceeding weeks, we have featured an article and image gallery of Padre Pio's Mass and some images of the 13th century Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena, Italy. This coincidentally beautifully dovetails with the forthcoming Angelus Press conference: "The Mass: Heart of the Church". So we continue by offering some artistic renderings of the miraculous Mass of St. Gregory the Great that occurred in 595 at Rome.
Beside being a Doctor of the Church and a well-known homilist, Pope Gregory I (540-604) is also famous as a liturgist, and as the Bishop of Rome he was responsible for several important developments to the Roman Mass. The first was his revisions to the Roman Canon which he had codified for the entire Roman Rite. He also established a universal calendar of feasts and further defined the liturgical role of priests and deacons. The saintly pope is further credited with establishing the devotion of offering 40 consecutive Masses for the relief of the holy souls in Purgatory—commonly known as "Gregorian Masses".
In the realm of sacred music, Pope Gregory the Great is well-known for having standardized the Roman style of plainchant—thus why his name was bestowed to the Latin form of sacred chant. He also compiled an Antiphonary, composed several hymns and even founded the Schola Cantorum for training singers.
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. The medieval Golden Legend further developed the happenings of the event, which we summarize here.
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 behavior. The woman replied that the she could not believe how the hosts she had prepared could become the Body and Blood 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]—see an image of the procession below).
Also, viewable are the many pieces of artistry made to commemorate the event, of which we give a sample below in the featured photo gallery. During the Middle Ages, the event of the Miraculous Mass of St. Gregory was gradually stylized 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. Note that the second to last image is actually of the Altar of St. Gregory in St. Peter's Basilica, where his body is interred.
You can learn more about Pope St. Gregory the Great's impact on the development of the Roman Mass with these titles available from Angelus Press: