St. Pius X – our “Brother Giuseppe”


We are celebrating today the feast of a Franciscan saint, Pope Pius X. Born Giuseppe Sarto, he entered seminary at 15, was ordained at 23 and became pastor of Salzano (province of Venice) at age 32, where he remained for the following eight years.

Young_St_Pius_X

It is during his residence in Salzano where he became a professed member of the “Ordo Franciscanum Saecularis”. Originally known as the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, this was the third order founded by St. Francis after that of the Friars Minor (the Franciscans) and of the Poor Ladies (the Poor Clares). It welcomed those who wished to follow the life of the Gospel but could not join the “regular” orders – this included married men and women, diocesan clergy, and also those who were single but discerning the call to marriage.

“Brother Giuseppe” was known for his kindness to the poor. He restored the Church of Salzano, enlarged the hospital, and was known during his years as bishop of Mantua to give copies of texts of dogmatic and moral theology to poor seminarians.

Upon election as bishop of Rome, with the name of Pius X, he followed his spiritual father St. Francis in promoting devotion to the Holy Eucharist, even when this meant breaking with long-established customs in the Latin Church.

He encouraged the faithful to receive Holy Communion daily in a time in which frequent communion was far from being the customary practice. He also dispensed the sick from the pre-communion fast, which at the time was due from midnight of the previous day. Furthermore, he strongly promoted giving First Communion to children as soon as they manifested sufficient discretion, lowering the “age of reason” from 12 to 7 years old. Finally, he urged the frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order to worthily receive Holy Communion.

Intending to “restore everything in Christ”, he began a series of extensive reforms of the liturgy.

SMaria_degli_angeli_Porziuncula

The Porziuncula, a simple church where the first Franciscans praised and glorified God

The first step he took in this direction was to affirm the primacy of Gregorian chant in the Latin churches, but not for the reasons that some today wish to attribute it… He did so because it represented a much simpler musical style than the theatrical style that was predominant at the time, namely Classical and Baroque compositions. His intent was all-encompassing: by restoring the chanting by the people, he wished to restore the active participation of the faithful in the liturgy. In this he would be echoed by his successor to the Chair of Peter, who insisted that chant had to be restored to the use of the people since “it is very necessary that the faithful attend the sacred ceremonies not as if they were outsiders or mute onlookers“.

Insisting in the importance of the participation of the lay faithful in the life of the Church, St. Pius mandated that catechism classes be established in every parish in the world, and redacted a Catechism known for its “simplicity of exposition and depth of content”, which found its worthy successor in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not StPiusXatDeskaimed to the use of the clergy but to the entire People of God.
His most encompassing reforms were of the Code of Canon Law and of the Divine Office. The former received a universal structure. The latter was a major revision: he abolished and forbade the Breviary established by St. Pius V, promulgating a revision that rearranged the psalms, dividing them when too long, and significantly reducing the individual Hours. The changes also made necessary a reform of the Roman Missal, which was completed in the 1920 typical edition by his successor to the Apostolic See. This was the fourth revision of the so-called “Tridentine Mass” since the day that St. Pius V established it as the norm for most diocesan clergy of the Latin Rite.

During his pontificate, St Pius X was very close to the people in times of natural disasters – we recall the earthquake of Calabria and the eruption of Mount Vesuvio – and showed his paternal care towards the Secular Franciscan Order by asking the Franciscan friars to take spiritual care of them (see the Latin document here). The Franciscan spirit which permeated his life and pontificate could be summarized by his words concerning the Catholic attitude towards the Holy Father:

“How must the Pope be loved? Not in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth. When a person is loved, one tries to adhere in everything to his thoughts, to execute his will, to interpret his desires. When we love the Pope, we make no arguments around what he disposes or demands, or about how far obedience must go, and in what things one must obey; we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough…we do not place his orders in doubt…we do not limit the scope in which he can and should exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other people no matter how learned who dissent from the Pope, who may be learned but are not holy, because he who is holy cannot dissent from the Pope.

This is the cry of a hurting heart, that with deep bitterness I express, not for your sake, beloved brothers, but with you in order to deplore the conduct of many priests, who not only dare to debate and criticize the wishes of the Pope, but are not ashamed to reach impudent and shameless disobedience, with much scandal for the good and with so much ruin of souls. (Discorso 18-XI-1912)”

In this he echoes the words of the Seraphic Father who writes:

“Brother Francis, and whoever may be at the head of this religion, promises obedience and reverence to our Lord Pope Innocent and to his successors. And the other brothers shall be bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors. […] Let all the brothers be Catholics, and live and speak in a Catholic manner. Let none of the brothers preach contrary to the form and institution of the holy Roman Church. (Rule)

The Lord gave me and still gives me such faith in priests who live according to the manner of the holy Roman Church because of their order, that if they were to persecute me, I would still have recourse to them. And if I possessed as much wisdom as Solomon had and I came upon pitiful priests of this world, I would not preach contrary to their will in the parishes in which they live. And I desire to fear, love, and honor them and all others as my masters. And I do not wish to consider sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my masters.”  (Testament)

St Pius was known to have said: “I was born poor, I lived poor, and I wish to die poor.” Falling ill on the feast of the Assumption, also weighed down by the distress of the First World War that he had tried so difficultly to prevent, he expressively prohibited the embalming of his remains and was buried in a simple, unadorned tomb in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica.

tomb_Pius_X

To him the Lord entrusted the Church at a very difficult time – when the world was transitioning into the Great Wars that would forever change its face and usher a new era for civilization in terms of destruction and reconstruction. We are all indebted to him for the courage and simplicity with which he embraced the task of laying the foundations for a comprehensive renewal of the Church.

For those who wish to read some of his writings, you may visit the page dedicated to him on the website of the Holy See, here.

 

 

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