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Pope Saint Pius X

In the first 1000 years of the Church there were 73 Popes who were declared Saints.  But since that time, during the last 1000 years, there have only been 5 Popes who have been canonized saints, and all of these remain in the liturgical calendar. 

First we have three of the great medieval Popes: Saint Leo IX (1049-54), Saint Gregory VII who is better known as Hildebrand (1073-85), and the holy hermit who was placed on the throne of Saint Peter because the Cardinals could not decide on anyone else and who after reigning for several months humbly recognized his inability to perform his appointed task and thus resigned from the papacy to live out the rest of his life in silence and prayer and who we know as Saint Celestine V (1294).

More than two and half centuries later the church was blessed with the glorious Dominican Friar: Pope Saint Pius V (1566-72) who did so much to begin the process of instituting the reforms of the Sacred and Ecumenical Council of Trent and who codified the ancient Roman Liturgy and set it up as the example for the rest of the Church and which was then adopted nearly universally in the west.


Then after the laps of another three and half centuries at the dawn of one of the darkest centuries the world has ever seen our Lord sent us a vicar for his Church that is unquestionably one of the greatest of all time.  The great Popes of the 19th century [Gregory XVI (1831-46), Blessed Pius IX (1846-78), and Leo XIII (1878-1903)] had seen the darkness coming and you can hear the warning in their words when you read their encyclicals.  But when in 1903 Cardinal Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto was raised to the throne of Saint Peter and took the name Pope Pius X the darkness was then upon us.


Pope Pius is unique in many ways but the fact that he was of peasant stock and that he actually spent time working as a lowly pastor in a parish as a simple priest for some time before being made a Bishop, Cardinal, and finally the very Vicar of Christ is a singular distinction that he can claim of all the Popes of the last 100+ years.


There are so very many contributions of the Holy Pontiff to Holy Mother Church, but few I believe are quite as important as what he did to revive the Sacred Liturgy.  He was elected Pope on August 4th 1903 and just few short months later on November 22nd, the Feast of Saint Cecilia, he released his famous Motu Proprio: Tra le Sollecitudini (Instruction on Sacred Music).  The promulgation of this teaching and it’s faithful implementation over the next half a century is of incredible importance when one considers the incredible fruits it produced.


What most do not know is that Gregorian Chant, to say nothing of Polyphony, had been all but lost by the start of the 19th century.  The destruction wrought upon the mystical body of Christ by the protestant revolt had taken its toll, among other things, upon the sacred liturgy.  It was that great incorrupt Benedictine Abbot the Rev. Dom Prosper Gueranger who re-founded the great and ancient monastery of Solesmes in France there to begin another restoration of the Church as the Irish Benedictine Monks of medieval times had done.


Apart from his amazing masterpiece, The Liturgical Year, Gueranger also built up a monastery that has given birth to the Solesmes Congregation which is the whole family of monasteries that are foundations of Solesmes and now we even have foundations of these foundations such as our very own Our Lady of the Assumption Abbey in Clear Creek Oklahoma which is a foundation of Notre-Dame de Fontgombault a daughter house of Solesmes.  One of the most important tasks that was undertaken by Gueranger and his spiritual children of Solesmes and the Solesmes Congregation was the restoration of Gregorian Chant.  They spent countless hours, days, months, and even years working to rebuild the compendium of chant texts for the sacred liturgy, Holy Mass and the Divine Office.  They spent countless hours squinting at the nearly unintelligible scribblings of medieval monks to work up a usable text for modern man.


By the time Pope Pius X became the Bishop of Rome this work had been completed but had not yet been implemented except in the Monasteries of the Congregation.  His Motu Proprio was then the vehicle to codify and promulgate to the whole church this priceless work of the monks.  In the years that followed there was an incredible restoration of chant.


In the United States the results were even greater than in many places because of the work of one woman: Justine Ward.  She was born on 7 August 1879 and in 1904 she converted to Catholicism.  It was then in gratitude for her conversion, and at the behest of the Rev. Fr. Thomas E. Shields (chair of the first department of education at The Catholic University of America) that she decided to support and promote the reform of sacred music begun by Pope Pius X.  She developed what we know now as the “Ward Method” which is “a progressive method of teaching elementary school children – through vocal instruction – music theory, composition and conducting. The Method was developed to teach American Catholic school children the fundamentals of music so that they would be able to sing the vast repertoire of sacred music which is a part of the Roman Catholic Church’s tradition.”(Credit: Amy Zuberbueler)  This method of chant instruction was so effective that by the 1940’s and ‘50s it was commonplace to have children in parochial schools not only singing Gregorian Chant but even Polyphony! Sadly of course, this great revival was smashed by the liturgical revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s, but there is ever the potential to bring back this wonderful method.


Pope Pius X is also a special patron of the reception of the Holy Eucharist because it was only with the advent of his pontificate that children began universally to be able to receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament once they had reached the age of reason and he also promoted daily communion.  These both had long been the desire of our Lord that He had made known to us through His mystics throughout the centuries preceding but it was not until He sent us His special servant Pius X that it came to fruition.  This is why even just a decade earlier Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face had to get special permission to receive our Lord as often as she did and even then it was not always every day.  Of course it was this very Pius X who took such an interest in this little Carmelite Nun from France who had been one of his own contemporaries and who he called: “The greatest Saint of modern times” and he also promoted the special devotion that she (and many others in France at that time) followed to the Holy Face of Jesus and proclaimed that the Holy Face ought to be displayed in the home of every Catholic.


But what then was the aforementioned darkness that Pius would have to face during his pontificate?  It was, as Pope Pius X called it, the: “synthesis of all heresies” (Pascendi dominici gregis, 1907).  And we know it by the name of the terrible heresy of Modernism.  It was this force of evil that ultimately caused the chastisements of the First and Second World Wars which are the worst the world have ever seen.  It was a mercy that our Lord delivered His servant from this vale of tears after the first world war had only been raging for but two months.


Now is all of this why Pius X is a Saint and deserves our admiration and our imitation?  Not necessarily.  What really makes him a saint and a great saint indeed was the incredible holiness of his life and his deep care for the faithful as a true pastor of souls.  Here is what the Venerable Pope Pius XII had to say about his predecessor in the Allocution Si Diligis to the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops following the canonization of Saint Pius X on 31 May 1954:


“If you love . . . feed.” These words which are a command of our Divine Redeemer to the Apostle Peter are the commencement of the Mass in honor of one or more Supreme Pontiffs. They show clearly the meaning of apostolic labor, its exalted virtue, and the reason for its merit.

Jesus Christ is the eternal High Priest and Shepherd of souls, Who taught, labored, and suffered greatly for our sakes. Pius X, Bishop of Rome, whom it has been Our great joy to enroll in the list of the Saints, following closely in the footsteps of his Divine Master, took that command from the lips of Christ and strenuously fulfilled it: he loved and fed. He loved Christ and fed His flock. He drew abundantly on the heavenly treasures which our merciful Redeemer brought to the earth, and distributed them bountifully to the flock: namely, the nourishment of truth. heavenly mysteries, the munificent grace of the Eucharistic sacrament and sacrifice, charity, earnestness in governing, fortitude in defense. He gave fully of himself and of those things which the Author and Giver of all good things had bestowed on him.

Care of all the Church, and the daily vigilance which Our supreme office demands of Us, compel Us to consider and weigh certain ideas, sentiments, and ways of acting. We draw your attention to them, and ask you to unite your vigilant care with Ours, in order thus to provide more quickly and effectively for the needs of Christ’s flock. There are evident the symptoms and effects of a certain spiritual contagion, which require your pastoral care, in order that they may not spread, but may be remedied in time and extirpated.


Our purpose will be best effected by explaining the triple office and privilege, which by divine institution belongs to you, the successors of the Apostles, under the authority of the Roman Pontiff (cf. can. 329): namely, of teacher, priest, and ruler. But since time will not permit today, We will limit Ourselves to the first point, putting the others off to another occasion, if God so permits.


Christ Our Lord entrusted the truth which He had brought from heaven to the Apostles, and through them to their successors. He sent His Apostles, as He had been sent by the Father (Jn. 20:21), to teach all nations everything they had heard from Him (cf. Matt. 28:19 f.). The Apostles are, therefore, by divine right the true doctors and teachers in the Church. Besides the lawful successors of the Apostles, namely the Roman Pontiff for the universal Church and Bishops for the faithful entrusted to their care (cf. can. 1326), there are no other teachers divinely constituted in the Church of Christ. But both the Bishops and, first of all, the Supreme Teacher and Vicar of Christ on earth, may associate others with themselves in their work of teacher, and use their advice; they delegate to them the faculty to teach, either by special grant, or by conferring an office to which the faculty is attached (cf. can. 1328). Those who are so called teach not in their own name, nor by reason of their theological knowledge, but by reason of the mandate which they have received from the lawful Teaching Authority. Their faculty always remains subject to that Authority, nor is it ever exercised in its own right or independently. Bishops, for their part, by conferring this faculty are not deprived of the right to teach; they retain the very grave obligation of supervising the doctrine, which others propose, in order to help them, and of seeing to its integrity and security. Therefore the legitimate Teaching Authority of the Church is guilty of no injury or no offense to any of those to whom it has given a canonical mission, if it desires to ascertain what they, to whom it has entrusted the mission of teaching, are proposing and defending in their lectures, in books, notes and reviews intended for the use of their students, as well as in books and other publications intended for the general public. In order to accomplish this, We do not contemplate extending the prescriptions of canon law on previous censorship of books to include all these kinds of teaching; for there are many ways and means at hand for investigating and acquiring accurate information on what professors are teaching. And this care and prudence of the legitimate Teaching Authority does not at all imply distrust or suspicion—(nor does the profession of faith which the Church requires of professors and many others; cf. can. 1406, nn. 7 f.)—on the contrary, the fact that the office of teacher has been bestowed implies confidence, high regard, and honor shown the person to whom the office has been entrusted. Indeed the Holy See, whenever it inquires and wishes to be informed about what is being taught in various seminaries, colleges, universities, and institutions of higher learning, in those fields which pertain to its jurisdiction, is led by no other motive than the consciousness of Christ’s mandate and the obligation by which She is bound before God to safeguard and preserve without corruption or adulteration sound doctrine. Moreover the exercise of this vigilance aims also at protecting and upholding your right and office of feeding with the genuine teaching of Christ and with His truth the flock entrusted to your pastoral care.

Not without serious reason, Venerable Brothers, have We wished to recall these things in your presence. For unfortunately it has happened that certain teachers care little for conformity with the living Teaching Authority of the Church, pay little heed to her commonly received doctrine clearly proposed in various ways; and at the same time they follow their own bent too much, and regard too highly the intellectual temper of more recent writers, and the standards of other branches of learning, which they declare and hold to be the only ones which conform to sound ideas and standards of scholarship. Of course the Church is very keen for and fosters the study of human branches of learning and their progress; she honors with special favor and regard learned men who spend their lives in the cultivation of learning. However matters of religion and morals, because they completely transcend truths of the senses and the plane of the material, pertain solely to the office and authority of the Church. In Our encyclical letter, Humani generis, We described the attitude of mind, the spirit, of those whom We have referred to above; We also recalled to mind that some of the aberrations from the truth which We repudiated in that Encyclical had their direct origin in a neglect of conformity with the living Teaching Authority of the Church. Time and again St. Pius X, in writings whose importance is known to all of you, urgently stressed the need for this union with the mind and teaching of the Church. His successor in the Supreme Pontificate, Benedict XV, did the same; in his first Encyclical, after solemnly repeating Pius’ condemnation of Modernism, he thus describes the attitude of mind of followers of that doctrine: “He who is influenced by its principles disdainfully spurns whatever appears old, and eagerly pursues the new: in his manner of speaking of divine things, in performance of divine worship, in Catholic usages, even in private devotions” (AAS VI [1914], 578). And if there are any present-day teachers making every effort to produce and develop new ideas, but not to repeat “that which has been handed down,” and if this is their whole aim, they should reflect calmly on those words which Benedict XV, in the Encyclical just referred to, proposes for their consideration: “We wish this maxim of our elders held in reverence: Nihil innovetur nisi quod traditum (Let nothing new be introduced but only what has been handed down); it must be held as an inviolable law in matters of faith, and should also control those points which allow of change, though in these latter for the most part the rule holds: non nova sed noviter (Not new things but in a new way).”

Here is the short biography given for this great Pope in the sacred liturgy for his Feast on September 3rd:

Pope Pius X, whose name previously was Joseph Sarto, was born in the village of Riese in the Venetian province. He enrolled among the students in the seminary of Padua and, when he had been ordained priest, was first curate in the town of Tombolo, then pastor at Salzano, then canon and chancellor of the bishop’s curia at Treviso. He was so outstanding in holiness that Leo XIII made him bishop of the Church of Mantua. Lacking in nothing that maketh a good pastor, he laboured particularly to teach young men called to the priesthood ; he fostered the beauty of divine worship and the growth of devout associations ; he saw to the needs of the poor with generous charity. Because of his great merits, he was made a cardinal and created Patriarch of Venice. After the death of Pope Leo XIII he took up the supreme pontificate as a cross, having refused it in vain. Placed upon the chair of Peter, he gave up nothing of his former way of life. He shone especially in humility, simplicity and poverty. He ruled the Church firmly and adorned it with brilliant teachings. As a most vigilant guardian of the Faith, he condemned and suppressed Modernism, the sum of all heresies ; as a most zealous defender of the freedom of the Church, he boldly resisted those who strove to bring about her downfall ; he provided for the sound education of clerics, brought the laws of the Church together into one body ; and greatly fostered the cult and more frequent reception of the Eucharist. Worn out with his labours and overcome with grief at the European war which had just begun, he went to his heavenly home on August 20th in the year 1914. Pope Pius XII numbered him among the Saints.


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