Pope St. Pius X was an influential successor of St. Peter at the turn of the 20th century. Born Giuseppe Mechiorre Sarto in 1835, he lived near Venice, Italy. Coming from a poor family of ten children, Giuseppe acquired an education aided through his keen intellect and high moral character. Eventually, he rose the ranks of the Catholic Church and became Supreme Pontiff in 1903. He led the Church until 1914.
My initial knowledge about Pius X was overshadowed by his predecessor and later successor bearing the same appellation—Pius IX and Pius XII. However, the more I read and learned about the sainted bishop of Rome the more I gained an appreciation for what he offered the Church.
1. Marian devotion
Following the tradition of his predecessor, Pius IX, Pius X held a strong devotion to Mary. He dedicated an entire encyclical on the Mystery of the Immaculate Conception. The Italian pope definitively declared the significance of Mary in Ad Dieum Illum Laetissimum:
For can anyone fail to see that there is no surer or more direct road than by Mary for uniting all mankind in Christ and obtaining through Him the perfect adoption of sons, that we may be holy and immaculate in the sight of God?… it surely follows that His Mother most holy should be recognized as participating in the divine mysteries and as being in a manner the guardian of them, and that upon her as upon a foundation, the noblest after Christ, rises the edifice of the faith of all centuries (5).
Pius X lauded the intercessory nature and power of Mary throughout this encyclical letter. Safeguarding and passing on the teaching of the Church, the Italian pope cited his predecessor’s clear and definitive language on the importance of Mary. “By this companionship in sorrow and suffering already mentioned between the Mother and the Son, it has been allowed to the august Virgin to be the most powerful mediatrix and advocate of the whole world with her Divine Son (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 13)”, wrote Pius X.
2. Emphasis on the Eucharist
The saint also held a deep reverence and adoration for the Sacrament of the Eucharist. If Pius X’s pontificate could be summed up in a single theme it would be the promotion of Holy Communion to young people. In his encyclical letter, Quam Singulari the Italian pope lowered the minimum age to receive the Eucharist to seven-years-old.
The ancient church allowed for children to receive the sacraments of initiation at a young age. Pius X condemned the error that delayed children from receiving the body and blood of Jesus until age ten or sometimes not until the adolescent years. Over time this practice dissipated and the age to receive the Eucharist was increased. The pope wasted no time in chastising the error which distinguished the age of reason between receiving Confession and Holy Communion. He boldly proclaimed in his encyclical:
The abuses which we are condemning are due to the fact that they who distinguished one age of discretion for Penance and another for the Eucharist did so in error. The Lateran Council required one and the same age for reception of either Sacrament when it imposed the one obligation of Confession and Communion.
Therefore, the age of discretion for Confession is the time when one can distinguish between right and wrong, that is, when one arrives at a certain use of reason, and so similarly, for Holy Communion is required the age when one can distinguish between the Bread of the Holy Eucharist and ordinary bread-again the age at which a child attains the use of reason (Quam Singulari).
If this language is not clear enough, Pius X point blank states, “To postpone Communion, therefore, until later and to insist on a more mature age for its reception must be absolutely discouraged” (Quam Singulari). As a father of three young children, I am indebted to the leadership of Pius X to unify the Catholic Church by lowering the age to seven for Holy Communion.
Children acquire countless graces from this sacrament to ward off evil. Today’s world is as challenging to raise a family in the faith perhaps as any time in history. I am grateful I will have the weapon of the Eucharist to help my children fight the spiritual battles they will face daily.
3. Clarity of Truth
Truth has a penchant for grabbing people’s attention. Pope St. Pius X’s encyclicals are loaded with truth as the Italian pope acted as a guardian of Christ’s teaching. He wrote in Ascendi Dominici Gregis a lengthy refutation of the various errors and heresies surrounding his time. Pius X found the root cause of the prevalent heresy of his time: modernism. He detailed this in his encyclical letter,
According to this teaching Modernism] human reason is confined entirely within the field of phenomena, that is to say, to things that are perceptible to the senses, and in the manner in which they are perceptible; it has no right and no power to transgress these limits. Hence it is incapable of lifting itself up to God, and of recognising His existence, even by means of visible things. From this it is inferred that God can never be the direct object of science, and that, as regards history, He must not be considered as an historical subject (Ascendi Dominici Gregis, 6).
In other words, faith and science, to the Enlightened Man, are never meant to intermingle or coexist. According to the Modernist, a harmony between the two sources of man’s knowledge of God is simply a moral machination on the part of the Catholic Church.
From my experiences, the error of modernity certainly eclipses truth (no pun intended). Creation is a revelation of God’s divine providence. Christianity is insistent that Christ became man. Knowledge through the senses is a path toward which God elects to reveal his grandeur. It is against the backdrop of cosmic events like the August 21st solar eclipse that man realizes his littleness in the universe. Despite our seemingly insignificance in this world, I have found that sometimes I actually grow closer to God when I encounter his august nature.
I discovered two concise quotes from St. Pius X to close my reflections on his life. The first concerns Mary [fun fact—the symbol of the Moon is traditionally associated with Her!] and the second relates to Christ—the true sun!
Of Mary he proclaimed, “Let the storm rage and the sky darken — not for that shall we be dismayed. If we trust as we should in Mary, we shall recognize in her, the Virgin Most Powerful who with virginal foot did crush the head of the serpent.” Regarding Jesus’ body and blood, the pope said, “Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to heaven.”
I am blessed that I had an increased encounter with the true Sun—the Son of God. I am grateful for the gift of St. Pius X the Eclypser of Error who made Eucharist a priority for young people.