Pope Pius X
One hundred years and one day ago, on August 20th, 1914, Guiseppe Sarto, who was Pope Pius X, died. He was the first pope elected in the 20th Century. Also the last pope to have been a parish priest- all the others had either been teachers or diplomats.
He was canonized a saint in 1954. Two popes since, John XXIII and John Paul II have also been declared saints. In fact, we have been blessed that all the popes of the last century have been holy men.
Pius X was born in the north of Italy and grew up in poverty. When he was elected pope, some of the cardinals were upset that he wore a simple metal cross, only plated in gold and not solid gold with precious jewels. He also refused to make his sisters, nephews and nieces royal princess or countesses. That had been the usual custom. And this relatively insignificant act of humility upset some of the more traditionalist cardinals. Compared to those days, Pope Francis would really have upset them. His cross is also metal, plated in silver and he has done all he can to live a simple life. Despite the fact that these two popes are known for their simplicity, there are people in the Church who feel threatened by that.
The fact that Pope Pius X died 16 days after the guns of August began what would become World War I is significant. He had tried all he could to stop that war from happening, and when it did begin, it literally broke his heart. He died of a heart attack soon after the war began. The first war which would make the 20th Century the most violent in history.
Although he did many other things, he is best known to have encouraged Catholics to go to communion. He lowered the age of first communion from 12 to 7. But that too was controversial among these who thought that once children received communion, that would also be their last communion.
We are used to seeing almost all Catholics receive communion at Mass, but this had not always been the case. Many Catholics, although they went to Mass, rarely received communion.
The rules were strict. Had to fast from all foods and liquids, including water from midnight before. When I was an altar boy and served the noon Mass on Sundays, hardly anyone went to communion. I know one couple who married at St. John’s Cathedral at 2:00 in the afternoon, and the priest would not allow anyone in the wedding party (who all had to be Catholic in these days) to have so much as a glass of water-and this in the days when there was no air conditioning in the Cathedral.
Pope Pius X lived in obviously politically violent times. He was very strict and would not allow Catholics to vote. These were difficult times and demonstrated an isolation of the papacy from the lives of the people. Today, we see and hear Pope Francis all the time. But as far as I can find , no motion pictures or sound recordings of Pius X exist.
He has become something of a symbol of resistance to change in the present day, but I don’t think he would have approved that. He was always a pastor and did all he could to protect the Catholic Church.
I remember his canonization- I was in the 5th grade and had already received my 1st communion. It was not my last communion and one can be grateful to Guiseppe Sarto, Pope St. Pius X for that.