September 17, 2015

1954. The Life and Canonization of Pope Pius X

Pope Pius X's Canonization
Pope Pius XII in a papal sedia gestatoria presiding over the canonization ceremony of Pius X on May 29, 1954 (source)
From The Story of Our Time: Encyclopedia Yearbook 1955 (1955), pp. 56-58:
A New Saint is Proclaimed


CBS Radio Correspondent

It was "pope's weather" as more than a quarter of a million people began early to gather in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. Pilgrims and cardinals, bishops and lowly parishioners from all over the world stood for hours in the bright sunshine on May 29, 1954, to witness and participate in a solemn but joyous act of Roman Catholic history. At sundown, for the first time in 242 years, a pope of the Church was raised to sainthood. By nightfall Giuseppe Sarto, the humble son of an Italian postman, was proclaimed Saint Pius X.

It was the second time in the history of the Roman Catholic Church that such a ceremony had been held outdoors. There was a greater audience at this canonization than ever before. Uncounted additional thousands witnessed the event as it was broadcast on the Italian television network, and the Vatican radio retransmitted the ceremonies in more than twenty languages to the world.

The canonization ritual, which usually takes about five hours, was streamlined and condensed in deference to the present Pope's health. During the winter, the seventy-eight-year-old pontiff had suffered a severe attack of gastritis which caused concern for his life. However, his voice and actions were firm, and he showed no signs of tiring as he went through the difficult and wearing ceremonial. The rites marked a high point of the Catholic Marian Year and were one of the most impressive events in the fifteen-year reign of Pius XII.

At no time in modern history has any pope had the opportunity to confer sainthood on a man who was his friend and benefactor. Eugenio Pacelli, as the present Pope was born, was a protégé of the sanctified "Papa Sarto." Pius X recognized the outstanding qualities of the studious Father Pacelli and in 1904, when Pacelli was only twenty-eight, made him a monsignor.

It was Pius X who ordered him to refuse the chair of Roman law at Catholic University in Washington, D. C., and it was he who launched him on his successful Vatican diplomatic career which is credited with being an important factor in Cardinal Pacelli's elevation to the papal throne during the difficult days of 1939.

Thus it came about that the pupil bestowed on his teacher the highest posthumous honor the Roman Catholic Church offers.

It is barely forty years since Giuseppe Sarto died. His friends speak of him not as a legend but as a remembered personality. They recall that money never mattered to him—a rare quality in a man who was born poor and who was raised on the meager salary of a Treviso postman. Sarto was interested in finances only as they affected his various churches. In fact, Cardinal Sarto had to borrow money for his railroad fare from Venice to Rome to attend the Consistory of the College of Cardinals that elected him to the papal throne in 1903.

Pius X was used to hard work. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1858, he spent seventeen years as a parish priest. He performed his parish duties, among the most difficult tasks in Catholicism, with enthusiasm and skill. He refused the bishopric of Treviso, but four years later accepted that of Mantua when Pope Leo XIII commanded him to do so. Although he was created a cardinal in 1893 and was made a patriarch of Venice, he never lost his interest in the day-to-day work of the parish priest. Cardinal Sarto believed that a successful churchman is one who knows and understands his people. As patriarch of Venice, he always kept his office door open, and he brought his open-door policy with him when he moved into the Vatican as Pope Pius X.

Churchmen remember his great humility. When it was announced that he had the two-thirds vote of the Consistory and was the new Pope, Sarto fainted. He reluctantly accepted the papal crown, in his words, "as I would accept the Cross."

During his reign Pius X condemned "modernism" and tightened many church regulations. He established a special commission, of which Eugenio Pacelli was secretary, to codify canon law. He was interested in church music and decreed that Gregorian chant should be used in church services. It was during his pontificate that children were permitted to make their First Communion upon reaching the age of reason (seven).

The tragedy of Pius X is that of the present Pius XII. Despite their unceasing efforts, both men have failed to bring peace to the world.

International tensions were increasing during the last years of his reign—1913-1914. It became clear to Pius X that war would soon tear the continent of Europe to pieces if something was not done. By this time the Pope had contracted a serious illness which was sapping his strength. He dramatically offered to sacrifice his life if it would but reconcile the nations. One of his last acts was to reject a request from the Emperor of Austria, shortly after World War I broke out, that he bless the Austrian cause. The pope replied caustically: "I do not bless war: I bless peace." He died, a heart-broken man, on August 20, 1914, just three weeks after the war began.

What is the significance behind the canonization of Pius X? Some Catholic authorities explain it this way.

The first saints of the Christian church were the martyrs who suffered persecution and death for their belief in a single, all-merciful God. The most illustrious of these martyrs was St. Peter, who is said to have been put to death at the very spot where St. Pius was canonized. It was through the veneration of these early saints that the practice grew for the faithful to seek their protection and intercession in matters of the spirit.

Over the centuries the qualifications for sainthood have become increasingly stringent. A saint is created only after a suit at law before a special court of cardinals called the Congregation of Rites. The reigning pope is, however, the supreme judge of the matter.

In the legal procedure, a postulator or solicitor presents the case for the candidate. He furnishes the proofs of his virtues, attempts to establish his reputation for sanctity and presents the evidence of the working of the miracles.

Another ecclesiastical lawyer, the "promoter of the Faith," or more popularly, "the devil's advocate," points out the weak points in the arguments.

Canon law requires that before a man can become a saint he must pass the test of beatification. This is a necessary step toward canonization. Pius X was beatified in June 1951. After beatification two major miracles must be attributed to the candidate.

Vatican officials issued a decree early in 1954 recognizing the validity of Pius X's two miracles.

The first was said to have occurred in Naples on the night of August 26, 1951. Francesco Belsani, a lawyer, offered prayers to the beatified Pius. According to the Vatican report, his doctors confirmed that a dangerous lung abscess that had afflicted the lawyer was cured immediately. Lawyer Belsani lived to see his benefactor sanctified.

The second miracle recognized by the Vatican occurred when a Sicilian nun, Maria Luisa Scorcia, was cured of a serious attack of meningitis on May 14, 1952, after praying to Blessed Pius for aid.

The Congregation of Rites and the Pope decided that Giuseppe Sarto had fulfilled all the rigid requirements for sainthood and would be canonized in May 1954.

Although the occasion was one of the greatest solemnity, the exuberance of the native Romans added something of a festive atmosphere to the proceedings. They cheered their favorite cardinals as they walked in the papal procession chanting the haunting litany of the saints. The crowd burst into a roar when Pius XII appeared, accompanied by the colorful Swiss guards and the nobles of the papal court. People dropped to their knees by the thousands when the Pope raised his hand in blessing as he was carried in the sedia gestatoria (portable throne) to St. Peter's throne.

For the 400,000,000 Catholics throughout the world, the meaning of the action and of the canonization goes far deeper than the mere performance of the ceremonies. Proclaiming sainthood for a man whose living memory is still fresh in the minds of his followers confirms the continuity of the Church, its miracles and mysteries which have kept the religion alive for two thousand years.

As an act of devotion and faith, the ceremonies were timed to restore confidence to the Catholic world in a society now being shaken and threatened with a philosophy that denies Catholic belief.

The certification of miracles attributed to St. Pius X is a gesture symbolizing the original miracle of Christ's birth and resurrection and a confirmation of the hope of peace for all mankind.

This, then, was the significance of the final gesture at the end of the ceremonies when the silken curtain was drawn aside revealing the new saint's picture affixed to the balcony over the door of the basilica. The cheers were loud and happy when the crowd saw St. Pius X wearing his new halo.