Pope St. Pius X: A Life of Renewal

Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly catechesis.

Pope Benedict XVI offered some reflections on Pope St. Pius X, whose feast day is Aug. 21, during his general audience on Aug. 18.

The Holy Father pointed out that St. Pius X left an indelible mark on many aspects of the Church’s life and activity. St. Pius X’s primary goal, he noted, was to “renew all things in Christ” through an intimate and personal relationship with Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to offer some reflections on my predecessor, St. Pius X, whose feast we will commemorate in this Saturday’s liturgy. I would like to highlight some of his traits that might be useful for pastors and for the faithful of our time.

His Life

Giuseppe Sarto, as he was named, was born in Riese (in the Italian province of Treviso) in 1835 to a peasant family. After studying at the seminary in Padua, at age 23 he was ordained a priest.

First, he was the assistant pastor at a parish in Tombolo, and then pastor of a parish in Salzano. Later, he was canon at the cathedral in Treviso, where he served as the diocese’s chancellor and as spiritual director at the diocesan seminary.

During these years of valuable and extensive pastoral experience, the future pope showed deep love for Christ and for his Church, along with that humility, simplicity and great love for the poor that were characteristic of his entire life.

In 1884, he was named bishop of Mantua and in 1893 he was appointed patriarch of Venice. He was elected Pope on Aug. 4, 1903, a ministry he accepted with hesitation because he felt unworthy of such an important position.

Work of Renewal

St. Pius X’s pontificate left an indelible mark on the history of the Church and was characterized by a notable effort for reform, summarized in his motto: Instaurare Omnia in Christo (Renew All Things in Christ). His efforts indeed touched upon all aspects of the Church.

From the very beginning, he dedicated himself to restructuring the Roman Curia. Later, he began to work on compiling the Code of Canon Law, which was promulgated by his successor, Pope Benedict XV. He also pushed for the revision of the course of studies and the formation program for future priests, even establishing several regional seminaries equipped with good libraries and competent professors.

Another important area was the doctrinal formation of God’s people. While still a parish priest, he himself had written a catechism, and as bishop of Mantua, he worked for a single catechism for the Church, if not for the universal Church then at least for Italy.

Being the true shepherd he was, he understood that both the situation and the emigration of that time made a catechism that all the faithful could refer to at any place or time all the more necessary.

As pope, he prepared a textbook of Christian doctrine for the Diocese of Rome that was later used throughout all of Italy and throughout the world. This catechism, called the “Pius X” catechism, was for many a sure guide in learning the truths of the faith, thanks to its simple, clear and precise language and its direct style.

Liturgical Reform

He also dedicated great effort to reforming the liturgy, particularly in the area of sacred music, in order to guide the faithful to a deeper prayer life and to fuller participation in the sacraments. In his motu proprio entitled Tra le Sollecitudini (1903 — the first year of his pontificate), he pointed out that a true Christian spirit has its primary and indispensable source in the active participation in the sacred mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church (see AAS 36 [1903], 531).

For this reason, he recommended receiving the sacraments often, promoting daily, well-prepared reception of holy Communion and moving up the age of children’s first Communion to 7 years of age, “when the child begins to reason” (see Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments, Decree Quam Singulari: AAS 2 [1910], 582).

Faithful to his responsibility of confirming his brothers and sisters in the faith, St. Pius X, faced with some of the tendencies arising in theological circles at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, intervened in a decisive way by condemning “modernism,” in order to defend the faithful from erroneous doctrine and promote a deeper theological reflection on revelation in harmony with Church tradition.

On May 7, 1909, with his apostolic letter entitled Vinea Electa, he established the Pontifical Biblical Institute.

The outbreak of war overshadowed the last months of his life. An appeal to Catholics worldwide, which he issued on Aug. 2, 1914, to express the “bitter sorrow” of the present hour, was the cry of a suffering father seeing his children take up arms against each other. He died soon after, on Aug. 20, and his reputation for sanctity immediately began to spread among the Christian people.

Dear brothers and sisters, St. Pius X teaches all of us that a deeply personal relationship with Christ that we cultivate and grow day by day must always be at the foundation of our work to spread the faith, wherever it may be.

This is the core of all his teaching, of all his pastoral activity. Only if we are in love with the Lord will we be capable of bringing people to God and opening them up to his merciful love, thereby opening up the world to God’s mercy.

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