Acta Sanctorum: St. Pius X (Aug 21)
August 21, 2023
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

August 21
St. Pius X

Life (1835-1914)

In the 1960s, everybody was captivated by the winning charm of the rotund, outgoing, shrewd Pope John XXIII. Because of his lack of solemnity, Pope John was thought to be unique among popes. Actually, two generations before him, Pope Pius X had been admired for much the same reasons. “He was one of those chosen few men,” wrote one who knew him well, “whose personality is irresistible.”

If John XXIII proved to be a “pastoral” pope, Pius X had had even more extensive experience as a parish priest. He, too, was a native of northern Italy: Giuseppe Sarto, the second of ten children of a poor village postman. When little Giuseppe walked to school each day – a five-mile trip – he used to carry his shoes over his shoulders until he reached the schoolhouse so as to save the leather. Called to the priesthood, he was ordained a year early and then spent 17 years as an assistant pastor and pastor, learning the skills of shepherding from the ground up. He did so well that in 1884 he was named bishop of Mantua, and then, in 1892, promoted to Archbishop of Venice and created a cardinal.

When the cardinals met in 1903 to elect a pope to succeed Leo XIII, they were sharply divided along political lines. To achieve consensus, they looked for a nonpolitical candidate, settling on Cardinal Sarto. It was a providential compromise.

Taking the name Pius X, the new pope brought his skills as a country pastor into play as “parish priest of the whole world.” The motto he adopted was: “To renew all things in Christ.” Pius took a pastoral approach even to political issues. Thus, he forbade any future interference by monarchs in papal elections. He allowed Italian Catholics to vote in the local elections of the Kingdom of Italy, despite this government’s earlier offenses against the Church. Also, when the anticlerical government of France proclaimed separation of Church and state in order to further harm the Church by withdrawing public funding, Pius X turned defeat into a victory. He personally consecrated 14 French bishops hitherto impeded by government finagling.

St. Pius is remembered particularly for his prompt efforts to uproot the heresy that he termed “theological modernism.” Basically, this was an outlook which, by the imprudent application of new scientific methods to religious studies, reached the radical conclusion that what is a truth of faith today may cease to be so tomorrow. It is unfortunate that this necessary campaign against modernistic errors became, in the hands of some lesser enforcers, a sort of witch hunt. During the campaign, unwarranted charges were registered against, or even worse, whispered about, some perfectly orthodox churchmen. One victim of these accusations was the Lithuanian bishop George Matulaitis. Pope John Paul II would beatify him in 1987. Another victim of character assassination was Angelo Roncalli, the future (Saint) John XXIII!

Other phases of Pius’ renewal of the Church were the codification of Church law and the adoption of a worldwide catechetical program. But he became best known as the “pope of the Eucharist.” He launched a reform of church music. He initiated a revision of the Latin bible. Most of all, he encouraged frequent communion. For a couple of centuries, the rigoristic heresy of Jansenism had produced among Catholics the custom of infrequent communion. Pius X countered this attitude by urging frequent communion and by allowing children to receive the Eucharist as soon as they had reached the age of reason. Today we automatically accept this idea. But it was a novelty to our grandparents in the first decade of the 1900s.

Pius, a man of simple life, was not fond of the ceremonious aspects of the papal court. Thus it had been customary for earlier popes to confer noble titles on their families. This rural mailman’s son refused to make his three spinster sisters princesses. He insisted that the just be called “the sisters of the pope.” But even he could not prevent his master of ceremonies from referring to them as “Their Excellencies, the Sisters of the Pope.”

During his regime as pope, people attributed cures to this witty, kind and deeply spiritual pontiff. He died at the outbreak of World War I, and perhaps even as a result of the shock that it caused him. From the time of his entombment in St. Peter’s, pilgrims visited his grave to leave flowers and pray for his intercession. Pope Pius XII canonized this pastoral successor of St. Peter in the Holy Year of 1950. He was the first pope to be declared a saint since 1672.

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture (1 Thess. 2:2b-8)

We drew courage through our God to speak to you the Gospel of God with much struggle. Our exhortation was not from delusion or impure motives, nor did it work through deception. But as we were judged worthy by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, that is how we speak, not as trying to please men, but rather God, who judges our hearts. Nor, indeed, did we ever appear with flattering speech, as you know, or with a pretext for greed – God is witness – nor did we seek praise from men, either from you or from others, although we were able to impose our weight as Apostles of Christ. Rather, we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.

(Year A) How many there are who mimic Christ and abhor the Church and the Gospel more through ignorance than through badness of mind, of whom it may well be said: “They blaspheme whatever things they know not” (Jude ii., 10). This is found to be the case not only among the people at large and among the lowest classes, who are thus easily led astray, but even among the more cultivated and among those endowed moreover with uncommon education. The result is for a great many the loss of the faith. For it is not true that the progress of knowledge extinguishes the faith; rather is it ignorance, and the more ignorance prevails the greater is the havoc wrought by incredulity. And this is why Christ commanded the Apostles: “Going forth teach all nations” (Matth. xxviii., 19).

But in order that the desired fruit may be derived from this apostolate and this zeal for teaching, and that Christ may be formed in all, be it remembered, Venerable Brethren, that no means is more efficacious than charity. “For the Lord is not in the earthquake” (III Kings xix., II) — it is vain to hope to attract souls to God by a bitter zeal. On the contrary, harm is done more often than good by taunting men harshly with their faults, and reproving their vices with asperity. True the Apostle exhorted Timothy: “Accuse, beseech, rebuke,” but he took care to add: “with all patience” (11. Tim. iv., 2). Jesus has certainly left us examples of this. “Come to me,” we find Him saying, “come to me all ye that labor and are burdened and I will refresh you” (Matth. xi., 28). And by those that labor and are burdened he meant only those who are slaves of sin and error. What gentleness was that shown by the Divine Master! What tenderness, what compassion towards all kinds of misery! Isaias has marvelously described His heart in the words: “I will set my spirit upon him; he shall not contend, nor cry out; the bruised reed he will not break, he will not extinguish the smoking flax” (Is. xlii., 1, s.). This charity, “patient and kind” (1. Cor. xiii., 4.), will extend itself also to those who are hostile to us and persecute us. “We are reviled,” thus did St. Paul protest, “and we bless; we are persecuted and we suffer it; we are blasphemed and we entreat” (1. Cor., iv., 12, s.). They perhaps seem to be worse than they really are. Their associations with others, prejudice, the counsel, advice and example of others, and finally an ill-advised shame have dragged them to the side of the impious; but their wills are not so depraved as they themselves would seek to make people believe. Who will prevent us from hoping that the flame of Christian charity may dispel the darkness from their minds and bring to them light and the peace of God? It may be that the fruit of our labors may be slow in coming, but charity wearies not with waiting, knowing that God prepares His rewards not for the results of toil but for the good will shown in it. (E supremi;  On the Restoration of All Things in Christ)

Musical Selection (Palestrina)
Tu es Petrus
Et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam
Et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus eam.
Et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum.
You are Peter,
And upon this Rock I will build My Church:
and the gates of hell shall not overcome it.
And I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
O God,
to protect the Catholic faith
and to renew all things in Christ,
you filled Pope Saint Pius X
with apostolic courage and heavenly wisdom.
Grant that we may follow his teaching and example
and so receive the reward of eternal life.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen. (ICEL; 1998)