This month we celebrate the Centennial of the Elevation and Coronation of Pope Saint Pius X, the holy 257th successor of Peter who is often referred to as the "Pope of the Holy Eucharist" for it was this very saintly Pontiff who decreed that all children over the age of seven would be eligible to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. Besides advocating frequent reception of the Eucharist, he called for a codification of Canon Law and founded the Biblical Institute of Rome. He also pressed for more Gregorian chant in Church liturgy as opposed to the growing influx of concert-style liturgical music. In addition, he called for a more adequate translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible and issued a Catechism that all Catholic faithful could relate to and understand. St. Pius X was especially attentive to the needs of his fellow priests, rearranging the Psalter of the Liturgy of the Hours while holding the simple parish priest up as a model for all to emulate. The result was a marked increase in vocations and a renewed reverence for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Pius fought relentlessly against the evils of modernism and stood up against the French powers in the volatile issue of Separation of Church and State. In the end, though victorious, he was unable to stem the tide of World War I.
He was born Giuseppe (Joseph) Melchiorre Sarto into a family of nine children on a small farm in the little village of Riese in the Province of Treviso, Italy near Venice on June 2, 1835 during the pontificate of Pope Gregory XVI. His father Giovanni Battista Sarto, a former postman and yet a cobbler by trade, died when Joseph was very young in 1852. His mother Margarita Sanson Sarto was left to support the entire family through her talents in sewing and selling produce the family raised on the farm. He learned the Faith at an early age from his mother and the private lessons of the parish priest Don Tito Fusaroni. Thus the seeds of a vocation blossomed into full bloom shortly after he entered the seminary in Padua, Italy at the home parish of the village's patron saint, the beloved Saint Anthony of Padua. At an early age Joseph adopted the traits and virtues of this saint who exemplified love for all and especially for Jesus. Joseph would exemplify the same qualities throughout his lifetime, especially for the Eucharistic Jesus.
In 1858, while the Blessed Virgin Mary was appearing at Lourdes, he became Father Sarto when he received the Sacrament of Holy Orders at the very early age of 23. His first assignment was as village curate in Tombolo. There he began a night school for all adults, teaching the catechism. From Tombolo his bishop assigned him as parochial vicar in Salzano and then chancellor of the Diocese of Treviso. Here he further studied Canon Law and the works of the Angelic Doctor Saint Thomas Aquinas, specifically the Summa Theologica and, from Thomas' love for the Blessed Sacrament, Fr. Giuseppe totally fell in love with Our Lord present body and blood, soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. In 1867 he was appointed arch-prist of Salzano, a large community in the Treviso See. Here he restored the church and expanded the hospital, the funds coming from his own begging, wealth and labor. He became beloved by the people when he unflinchingly worked day and night to assist the sick during the cholera plague that swept into northern Italy in the early 70's. His corporal and spiritual works of mercy translated to many conversions and he widened adult education for religious instruction.
He served his diocese well, becoming chaplain and then spiritual director of the diocesan seminary. In 1878, upon the death of Bishop Zanelli, he was named vicar-capitular. Six years later Pope Leo XIII selected Monsignor Sarto as Bishop of Mantua, a diocese in turmoil. He calmed the seas of dissension and low morale, continuing in his life-long commitment to minister to the poor and the children, all the while rejecting the plush luxury of the Bishop's mansion to be among his people and work with and for them. Though he was the Bishop, he conducted himself as a humble parish priest and, like a magnet, attracted all to him. He in turn turned that attention to Jesus and His Holy Mother Mary. Bishop Sarto's devout and sincere care of his flock in Mantua and deep spirituality prompted Leo to consecrate Bishop Joseph the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice in 1893. Cardinal Sarto had to wait a year and a half before because of opposition from the Italian government who demanded the same privileges exercised by the Emperor of Austria. Despite the politics, he waited out the time in prayer and preparation. Many believe Leo, who had numerous visions and received Heavenly messages, knew in his heart and soul that Joseph would eventually succeed him as Pope. Ten years later this would become a reality.
Cardinal Sarto made it a priority to focus as much attention as possible on the seminary for here was the seed bed of shepherds. He promoted the use of Gregorian Chant and published widely the idea of social works that had as its core the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ. In 1897 he hosted the International Eucharistic Congress and the blessing of the cornerstone of the new belfry for the great basilica of St. Mark's on the Square in Venice. His Eminence was already leaving a deep impression on every soul as to his holiness and love for the Church and his flocks.
On July 20, 1903 Leo passed on to his Heavenly reward and the College of Cardinals convened to elect a new Pope. For many it was their first time since Leo's pontificate had lasted 25 years and he had created the majority of the new cardinals including Cardinal Sarto who was not selected on the first ballot. That honor went to Cardinal Rampolla but Austria vetoed his election for prior to this time it had been the privilege of certain Catholic nations to veto the election of a Pope. Rampolla's loss was Sarto's and the Church's gain for the Conclave cast their ballots again and, guided by the Holy Ghost, the Conclave elected Giuseppe Cardinal Sarto to the highest office of Holy Mother Church two weeks later on August 4, 1903. He received 55 out of a possible 60 votes. Though many would relish this appointment, Joseph, in true humility, at first declined. He had been deeply saddened by the abuse of veto powers and vowed to rescind these powers and excommunicate anyone who leaked information during a Conclave. This he did shortly after becoming Pope.
Before becoming the 257th in the line of Peter he went into solitude and, after deep prayer and the urging of his fellow cardinals, he realized it was the Will of God that this simple parish priest should lead Christ's True Church at the dawn of the 20th Century. Thus, on August 9, 1903 at his Coronation in St. Peter's Basilica, he chose the name "Pius" in honor of Pope Pius IX who had inspired his priestly life. Soon after being elevated to the Chair of Peter, Pius X set his agenda, announcing to the world as his ideal and motto: "to restore all things in Jesus Christ" - "instaurare omnia in Christo"
The first goal in this agenda was to promote piety and make Christ more accessible to all in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. It was Pius X who decreed that the Host and Chalice must be elevated during the Consecration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and at the Doxology. He reminded the faithful of the necessity to receive Jesus often in fulfillment of the Pater Noster in which Christ said, "Give us this day our Daily Bread." Pius felt it was necessary to readdress this issue of frequent reception of Holy Communion since many felt they were unworthy to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that often and thus stayed away in droves except on various feast days and solemn Sundays. Quite a parallel to today when so many attend the Novus Ordo rite and everyone goes to Communion with little thought of their worthiness before God by approaching Him with a clean heart in the state of Grace. Pius also realized children were more easily being led astray because they were not able to receive the necessary graces or understand what Jesus was asking. Through a thorough knowledge of the sacraments and catechism Pius felt generation after generation would benefit from the reception of and handing down of the "Bread of Life." Thus, Pius X decreed in Quam Singulari on August 15, 1910 that from this time on all children who had reached the age of reason would be allowed to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. Many times he addressed the passage in Matthew 19: 13, Mark 10: 14, and Luke 18: 16 in which Jesus emphasized, "Suffer the little children to come to Me, and forbid them not for of such is the Kingdom of God."
Pius' zeal for spreading the Doctrines Christ gave us were expanded to other areas of the hierarchy including the "codifying" of the laws which govern the Church. This, of course, was the Code of Canon Law which he reordered in 1904. He worked tirelessly to update Canon Law, personally codifying the regulations on marriage and the study and formation of the clergy. Pius called it "Arddum sane munus" which means it was one of his most difficult tasks. Other liturgical reforms he inaugurated were the Breviary, the Mass, Gregorian Chant and a more involved, active participation of the faithful in the liturgy and pastoral work of the Church. He published a special hymnal of traditional Church hymns in Latin that are still popular today. In addition, he emphasized the Catechism as a chief means of reaching all Catholics and began publication of the Acta Sanctae Sedis in 1904. This journal of the Holy See was established to present important pronouncements by the Holy Father.
Because the Pope insisted on preaching every Sunday, this was completely filled in four years. Thus, in 1908 it was replaced by the AAS, Acta Apostolicae Sedis - Acts of the Apostolic See - which continues in this form today. Since Pius' time it has served as the official publication for all decrees and decisions of the Roman Rota, quoting the unabridged version of laws and documents in the Church and is so recognized in Canon Law. Anything printed in this is promulgated and becomes effective in the Church within three months of its release. It has served as an invaluable guide and resource over the decades. Sadly, most of today's bishops do not adhere to the AAS, most often choosing to ignore them, especially anything that preceded John XXIII, thus creating more confusion and disunity within the Church, especially here in America.
In his overall efforts to bring all in line with Christ, Pius appointed the Benedictines the responsibility of translating and proposing a more readable text of the Latin Vulgate Bible while not losing or changing any of the true meaning of the words in Sacred Scripture, something that has been totally lost on ICEL in these times. When studying the life and work of this holy Pope we can see that his efforts set the stage for the liturgical renewal that should have been the fruits of Vatican II sixty years later. If only the liturgists would have followed his example and pronouncements, Gregorian Chant would still be very prevalent today as well as all of the other invaluable traditions - beginning with the Catholic and Apostolic Latin Mass of Sts. Peter and Paul that have been shelved in favor of something Pius X condemned.
For while Pius X worked night and day for the Church he so loved, he was well aware of the enemies of the Church and did all in his power to thwart the evil one from penetrating the sanctuary. He first addressed this in a decree entitled Lamentabili Sane, then followed that up with his no-nonsense encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis on September 8, 1907 which dealt with the condemnation of the evils of modernism. One of the results of this encyclical was the requirement that all priests take the Oath Against Modernism, something that also has been lost on the vast, vast majority of priests and prelates from the lowest to the highest echelons today. Pius spoke out repeatedly against the insidious and subtle attacks of liberals to infiltrate the Church with modernistic theories that watered down the true teachings as well as Christ's Own words. Pius warned of the dangers of those who offer the argument that the Church is out of touch and needs to modernize in order to relate with today's culture and society. This holy Pontiff was warning the world of what would occur in less than half a century when one of his successors would, horror of horrors, pronounce and adopt aggiornamento which was exactly what Pius feared but could never have imagined would actually occur. It did.
One would have thought, hoped and prayed that the Church he so loved would not have been pillaged as badly as it has. Pius adamantly and wisely refused to be persuaded to the false humanistic manifesto, reemphasizing over and over that if it was good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for His Church in the 20th Century. Strangely, John XXIII thought differently. One was Catholic (Pius), the other had abandoned Catholicism. He knew what Christ had set down would be attacked and he also knew that if he and his flock were loyal to Jesus, Christ's words in Matthew 16: 18 would encourage them to remain faithful.
Never one to compromise or capitulate when it came to Dogmas, Doctrines and the teachings of Christ and His Church, Pius X had more than a few run-ins with world powers Russia, the United States, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and of course, France. "Diplomacy be damned" was Pius' watchword if any of these countries promoted liberalism in any way. He sought to cut this evil off at the roots. He had meticulously studied Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum and realized the Communist threat as well as the even more insidious Freemasonry agenda and the clever way they had both crept in. Therefore he sought to prevent any reoccurrence or allow it to infiltrate the Church by educating the faithful to the errors of modernism, communism and nationalism. For this he made more than a few enemies of the Church in countries we have mentioned above. Though he did not die a martyr, he felt like one as the world press attacked him from all angles, yet Pius X stayed the course and would not waver from his convictions and his total dedication to Christ's holy cause. He cared not for what people thought, but what his Lord and Savior thought, unlike the popes of Vatican II who base their programs on pleasing man and incur the rebukes of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 1: 8-10.
One of the major crisis of his eleven year pontificate was the issue of separation of Church and State. While this had been one of the cornerstones in the foundation of America (though greatly misunderstood then and even moreso today in accepting religious freedom that makes all other religions equal to the One, True Faith), in France it was quite another story. Throughout the recent centuries there had been much turmoil in the land of the Franks. Just as the French Revolution had by enthroning the goddess of reason in a blasphemous act in the 18th century, as recently as 1870 those who had come to power in France sought to return to those times by usurping most of the Church's property and requiring Roman Catholic clergy to serve in the army. In addition, the leaders of the French republic had legalized divorce and Catholic children were forced to attend schools where no religious instructions were offered and their Catholicity was discouraged. Sadly it is still happening today in France where they are currently passing out the abortion pill R-UD2 and Muslims are taking over once-solid Catholic churches that have been abandoned because people no longer believe, evident by how they pray (lex orandi, lex credendi).
Leo XIII, who was admired for his patience, had negotiated with the French leaders to keep the government from totally usurping all Catholic freedoms. However, in 1901 the French leaders went back on the agreements they had made with Leo and a full-blown attack against the Church broke out in France again. Thousands of churches, schools, seminaries and convents were confiscated by the State and then converted into public buildings. Many of the clergy and religious were ordered either out of the country or to work in France in secular style. It was a sad fulfillment of what Our Lady had foretold at Rue de Bac and more specifically at La Salette. Just as the Church flourished during the early persecutions, so also during this time of great verbal and mental persecution the Church grew in France for the people were drawn closer to their embattled parish priests or curates who continued to disburse the sacraments and tend to their flocks despite the threats and punishments imposed by the government. As a result of this combined with Our Lady's appearances at Rue de Bac, La Salette, Lourdes, Pontmain, Pellevoisin and Bayeux all in France, the people were strengthened in their resolve to foster the faith. Out of this a deeper love for Holy Mother Church evolved among the faithful.
Though these times were fruitful in perseverance, many had stayed away from the Church out of fear of reprisal by the French government. This pressure continued until 1904 when Pius decided enough is enough. He vehemently protested the French Republic's treatment of the Church, refusing to agree to a concordat between France and the Church. He demanded a total separation of Church and State. With the French Republic's coffers hurting and the people close to rebellion, remembering the French Revolution over a century before, they relented and agreed that the state would not fund anything in the Church. In his encyclical Notre charge apostolique of August 15, 1910 he ordered the Sillonists to place their organizations under the authority of the bishops. By agreeing to this the French government also agreed that the state would have no say in Church matters, thus freeing the bishops, clergy and all the faithful once again to focus freely on total allegiance to Rome. It was a victory for Pius and one the Mother of God had promised at numerous French apparition sites during the nineteenth century if the people were faithful and prayed. Through the Providence of God the French people were strengthened in grace while the French government were forced to avert their full attention to the mounting tension in Europe.
On the world scene, Pius X knew in his heart that war was on the horizon. As Pope of the people of the world, he loved all. But all did not love each other as was evident from the growing distrust of multiple nations and the emergence of the bi-polar system of alignment powers. On one side was Great Britain, France and Russia as the Allied Powers; on the other Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria combined a solid eastern Europe bloc to become the Central Powers. Austria-Hungary was separated in land mass from Bulgaria by Romania on the east and Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia on the west. The latter had been administered by the Austro-Hungarian Empire since the time of the Hapsburgs, but in 1908 Bosnia was also annexed by the Triple Alliance, renaming the area Bosnia-Herzegovina. This annexation revived the fires of nationalism between Croat, Serb and Muslim. It was a mistake the Central Powers would eventually regret. Though the factions of Bosnia had always fought bitterly among themselves - just as they did in the last decade of the 20th century - they would have no part of outsiders. Kosovo illustrated this. This unity destroyed the unity of the Central Powers and in 1912 the unlikely alliance of Croat-Serb-Muslim formed the Balkan States in an effort to halt the influence of the Central Powers to the north and to expel the Turks from Macedonia to the south. After successfully fending off foreign influence, the Croats, Serbs and Muslims returned to internal feuding which inadvertently allowed the Serbs and Greeks to annex most of Macedonia and weakened their position of strength with the growing influence of the Central Powers.
Pius X warned over and over, admonishing all to "come together for the love of Jesus, for Jesus and with Jesus Who is present in all men." However, as we all know, his words went unheeded and on June 28, 1914 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand - nephew of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, and the next in line to succeed the Austrian ruler - was assassinated by Bosnian terrorists in the city of Sarajevo. Ironic, isn't it, that this city has been so strategic over the years in provoking war? As we also know, this murder provoked the outbreak of the First World War. Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were once again annexed by Austria-Hungary and forced into alignment with the Central Powers against their will. The one bait Austria-Hungary held over them: that Serbia had been recruited by Russia to fight on the side of the Allied Powers. Even today the resentment between Serb and Croat knows no limits.
Deeply saddened by the lack of love and disregard for human values throughout the world, Pius X died less than two months after the outbreak of World War I, many still believe of a broken heart. The month of August once more came into play, since eleven years after being elected and elevated, he was carried into St. Peter's in a papal bier for on August 20, 1914 bells rang out in mourning around the world as millions paid their respect to this beloved 79 year-old Pontiff who had fulfilled the Beatitudes (cf. Matthew 5: 3-12) as well as the words of the Magnificat in Luke 1: 46-55. His last will and testament was read shortly after his death and his words succinctly epitomized St. Anthony's influence as well as all that Pope Pius X believed and stood for: "I was born poor, I lived in poverty, I wish to die poor." He truly exemplified all that Christ asked in the Beatitudes and His Vicar on earth. Pius was eulogized by the Sacred Conclave, by hundreds of thousands of mourners in St. Peter's Square along with millions around the world. He was buried at the Vatican and it was not long after his death that the populace began clamoring for his canonization, but it wasn't until 1951 that he was beatified by another Pius: Pope Pius XII The same Pius XII canonized Pius X on May 29, 1954 proclaiming his feast day as September 3rd.
Like the French saint of his time, Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes, who was born nine years after Pius X and who died 35 years before him, Saint Pius X's body remains still incorrupt today. It is a fitting tribute to his sanctity and the fact that he was truly the "Rock" for the Church at the beginning of this century who fostered a deeper love, respect and yearning for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
The final thought must be if Catholics are to emulate and obey this holy Pontiff whose incorruptible body verifies his sanctity, then every Catholic must reject what is being promoted today by the Vatican II church for it is contrary to the truths and traditions passed on to and from Pope Saint Pius X, a simple priest whose love knew no bounds and who, indeed, fulfilled his ideal "to restore all things in Christ."
For a detailed story of his life, we recommend the book Saint Pius X by Yves Chiron available from Angelus Press.