August 20, 2017

Pope St. Pius X, Undaunted Champion of the Faith

Pope Saint Pius X

Memorial - August 21st

St, Pius X did great things for the Church during his relatively brief pontificate — he was pope from 1903 until 1914. He is perhaps best remembered as the "pope of the Eucharist," because he transformed the way ordinary Catholics regarded reception of Holy Communion. Among the modifications he introduced included lowering the age at which children received their first Communion to seven, the "age of reason." He believed that earlier reception of the Eucharist would lead to an earlier and deepened devotion to Jesus Christ in the most Blessed Sacrament.

He was born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto on June 2, 1835, in the village of Riese near Venice, Italy, the second of ten children to a poor postman and his wife. He was baptized the following day. Though exceedingly poor, his devout parents valued education. At every stage of study, Giuseppe's intelligence and high moral character attracted notice. On September 18, 1858, Father Sarto was ordained at the cathedral in Castelfranco. Though his father died when Giuseppe was 17, his mother lived long enough to see her son become a cardinal in the Church.

Despite the fact that he eventually rose beyond that office to become the Bishop of Rome, Pope Pius X never forgot his humble beginnings, “I was born poor, I lived poor, and I will die poor,” he observed — and was frequently embarrassed by the trappings of his office. “Look how they have dressed me up,” he once said tearfully to a friend. It was his close acquaintance with life’s hardships and unhappiness that made him into the pope, and saint, he eventually became.

As a young priest, he recognized that many of the poor in the small Italian parishes he served were participating in the rites and devotions of the Church without understanding. For the rest of his life, he devoted large amounts of his time to the religious education of the faithful, both adults and children. He sponsored the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, or CCD, which is now an integral part of the educational program of Catholic parishes around the world. He encouraged Catholics who were in the habit of receiving Communion once a year, to receive the sacrament weekly, if not daily. He also sought to revitalize liturgical music, especially Gregorian chant, to improve the quality of worship.

He became involved in the political events of his day, ending the supposed “right of governments to interfere by veto in papal elections,” a controversial practice that dated from the Middle Ages. When, in 1905, France threatened to confiscate Church property if the government were not allowed to control Church affairs, Pius X refused to back down. Instead, he insisted that Church property be turned over to the government voluntarily rather than permit French authorities to control matters rightfully within the Church’s domain. This move would greatly rejuvenate both the spirituality and morale of the beleaguered French Church.

The Modernist crisis in biblical exegesis occurred during his pontificate. At that time, Protestant and Catholic scholars were exploring the meaning of Scripture using new methods of historical and literary criticism. Such methodology produced erroneous conclusions that called into question many dogmas about Christ and the Church. In response, Pope Pius X published a strongly worded encyclical, “Pascendi dominici gregis,” denouncing the Modernist heresy. While some observers viewed this as an overreaction, the pope’s prudence saved the Church from going down paths that would have compromised its basic teachings.

To his great distress, Pius witnessed the outbreak of the First World War. “This is the last affliction the Lord will visit upon me,” he said prophetically,. “I would gladly give my life to save my poor children from this ghastly scourge.” A few weeks after hostilities commenced, Pope Pius X died. Although he held office for only eleven years, he ranks as one of the greatest reforming popes in history since Trent. He was canonized in 1954 by Pope Pius XII. St. Pius X, pray for us!

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