Saturday, September 3, 2011

yet another contrarian & judgemental post

Saint Gregory the Great had the nerve to die during the Lenten fast (12 March, 604).  For centuries and centuries, consequently, the Church had the misfortune of being stuck with Gregory's feast taking place in Lent, since for almost fourteen hundred years there was no one smart enough to figure out a solution to this travesty.  It really was annoying how Gregory's Day kept ruining our Lenten observances.  Thank God that finally Annibale Bugnini and his liturgical experts came along to set things straight.  The obvious solution, it turns out, is to decide that it's all the same if you just pick some other occasion for the date of a saint's feast.  How about his birth?  Maybe his first Communion.  Maybe the day he lost his first tooth.  In this case, 3 September presented itself, since that is the date, in 590, on which Gregory was consecrated Bishop of Rome. 

In case you couldn't tell, the paragraph above is written with not a little sarcasm.  One of the traits of a traditionalist is the notion that the dating of a feast is not a problem to be fixed, not a situation to be improved, not a thing to be reinvented.  I do understand that a saint's death was not in every case the occasion for his feast.  But that is the general pattern.  A very beautiful and meaningful pattern, by the way.  These feasts remind us that the saints, too, are flesh and blood; they too had to suffer certain consequences of sin and a fallen world.  In short, they followed Christ.  Even their death is in Him.  Likewise, all of us who are baptized into Christ's death will walk through that dark door of death, and find on the other side the heavenly universe of eternal life with God.  In Christ, ours too will be bona mors, a happy death.

So I observe Gregory's feast on its traditional date, the 12th of March.  Let me assure the reader, however, that I am not just any traditionalist, but a Lutheran one.  In other words, I won't be celebrating Pius X's feast today either. 

One more thought on Gregory for now.  For the record, I have no gastric uneasiness about the word "pope."  It is an important and a valid and historical term.  In a certain sense, indeed, Gregory was a pope.  On the other hand, any fair treatment of Gregory would have to show that he was, as Luther pointed out, a true bishop, in some ways, the last of the true bishops of Rome, more than a pope in the later sense of the term.  Gregory had no pretensions of papal power as later realized by his successors.  Therefore, for example, I would advise against portraying Gregory in the triple tiara, which wasn't even used until the fourteenth century, when rival popes asserted competing claims over which pope was the one who really had power over "every living creature" (as it says in the bull Unam Sanctam).  Gregory preferred to be known as servus servorum Dei, and is thus best honored by us.