For the week leading up to the feast of our patron on September 3, we will revisit seven articles that each tell something different about Pope St. Pius X. The following was originally published by The Angelus in its May, 2014 issue.
The day after the Pope’s death the praise for him was unanimous. In Rome the great liberal daily Il Giornale d’Italia, which had so often echoed the principles and catch-phrases of Modernism, gave pride of place to an article which well expressed the common feeling: “History made him a great Pope, and the Church will make him a great Saint.” Even the great Paris Socialist newspaper, L’Humanité, gave an admiring bow before the mortal remains of Pius X:
"The Pope is dead. It must be said that he was a great Pope. His policies were very simple, namely, to restore the values of faith with an apostolic firmness. He was able to conduct these policies with authority because of his simplicity of soul and the indubitable sincerity of his virtues. However he is judged, it must be said that Pius X has been a great Pope."
Even while he was alive, his prestige was very great. Guillaume Apollinaire, a poet far removed from classicism, wrote in one of his poems:
Seul en Europe tu n’es pas antique ô Christianisme, L’Européen le plus moderne c’est vous pape Pie X.
You alone in Europe, Christendom, have not grown old and ancient; Of all Europeans, you, Pope Pius the Tenth, are the most modern.
After his death, in conformity with the express terms of his will, Pius X’s body was not embalmed. This meant that the lying-in-state was very short, from the first evening of the day he died until the following morning. For one whole night the mortal remains of Pius X, clothed in a white pontifical habit, were exposed in the throne-room of the Vatican. The crowd of anonymous faithful filed uninterruptedly past the coffin. Many had brought small objects (a rosary, holy pictures, a crucifix) in the hope of touching them against the body of a Pope who, in popular piety, was already considered to be a saint. Two prelates willingly offered their services for this devotional rite, and touched Pius X’s mortal remains with these proffered objects.
According to his wishes, Pius X was interred in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica. Thus he broke with the tradition of his predecessors who were buried in one of the great Roman basilicas: Pius IX in St. Laurence-outside-the-Walls and Leo XIII in St. John Lateran. Pius X wanted to associate himself with a longer tradition, i.e., that of the many popes in the past who had regarded it as important to be buried close to the remains of St. Peter.
On the evening of August 23 the body of Pius X was taken down to the Vatican Grotto. The marble tomb was simple, austere and without ornament. Only the tympanum bore the monogram of Constantine and the name: PIUS PAPA X. The Pope’s wish to have a poor and simple tomb was respected. However, an addition was placed on a small stone tablet in front of the tomb, in the form of this inscription in Latin:
Pope Pius X
Poor in riches
Gentle and humble of heart
A firm defender of the Catholic faith
to restore all things in Christ
Died a holy death on August 20, 1914
Pius X’s reputation for holiness went back a long way. Even while he was alive, he was reputed to have the gift of healing. Here we mention just three cases from the time of his pontificate. One day, a Belgian nun who was suffering from consumption was admitted to a public audience with the Pope. When she came out, she found that she was completely cured and had no relapse. On another occasion, after a public audience, a German who had been blind from birth gained his sight after Pius X put his hands over his eyes and exhorted him to have trust in God. Similarly, a blind child was immediately cured after the Pope put his hand on its head and said to the mother: “Pray to the Lord and have faith.”
As soon as Pius X’s body had been placed in the tomb, the pilgrimages began. Soon reports came in of miraculous favors and graces received, attributed to his intercession. In February 1923 all the Cardinals resident in Rome—the only time in history—signed a request for the introduction of his cause for beatification. A postulator was appointed: Dom Benedetto Pierami, the Procurator General of the Benedictines of Vallombroso. In St. Peter’s, a few months later, on June 28, 1923, Pius XI inaugurated a monument in honor of Pius X. A marble statue shows him with his arms outstretched and his eyes lifted to heaven. At the base of the moment there are eight bronze panels representing the most prominent aspects and events of his pontificate: (1) The Pontiff of the Eucharist; (2) The Defender of the Faith; (3) The Supporter of Catholic France; (4) The Patron of the Arts; (5) The Guardian of Biblical Studies; (6) The Reorganizer of Canon Law; (7) The Reformer of Sacred Music; (8) The Father of Orphans and the Abandoned.
The Beatification Process
The diocesan processes (or “ordinary processes”) began. They took place in Pius X’s diocese of origin and in the dioceses where he had exercised his different functions. They were organized under the authority of the individual bishop responsible. There were four “ordinary processes”: in Treviso, 1923-1926; in Mantua, 1924-1927; in Venice, 1924-1930; and in Rome, 1923-1931. These processes began less than ten years after the Pope’s death, and so it was possible to question people who had known him: some of his sisters, some friends of his childhood and youth, some ecclesiastics who knew him in his different priestly and episcopal responsibilities, and also certain Vatican prelates and cardinals. In total, 205 witnesses to his life were interrogated and their statements, under oath, were collated. Each witness was asked the same questions (63 questions in all).
The collated statements from the ordinary processes (more than 10,000 manuscript pages) were published in the form of large extracts—summarium—in the Positio super introductione causae (Report on the introduction of the Cause). This Positio, which was finally edited and produced in 1941, has 1,130 pages. It was examined by the Congregation of Rites, which published the Decree for the introduction of the Cause in 1943. This meant that the cause for beatification and canonization had officially been judged worthy of being studied by the Holy See.
Now the new processes, termed apostolic, would be repeated in the same places as the “ordinary processes.” These apostolic processes lasted from 1943 to 1946. Eighty-nine witnesses were called, each having to reply to 81 questions. While some of the witnesses for the ordinary processes were no longer to be had, new witnesses were available to make their statements. In total, in this twofold series of processes, some 240 witnesses were interrogated and gave statements on the life and virtues of Pius X. A new Positio was drawn up, composed of extracts of the twofold series of processes; this was called the Positio super virtutibus. Published in 1949, it consisted of 897 pages. The “objections” (animadversiones) raised by the Promoter of the Faith—called the devil’s advocate—resulted, in 1950, in a Nova Positio super virtutibus and a Novissima positio super virtutibus (82 and 17 pages).
Meanwhile, a canonical examination of the remains had taken place. The remains of Pius X were removed from his tomb on May 19, 1944, and brought to the Vatican Basilica. The lead coffin was placed in the Chapel of the Holy Crucifix and was opened in the presence of the prelates who were members of the Tribunal of the Apostolic Process. The purpose of this examination is to be sure that the remains in the tomb are those of the person who is a candidate for beatification. By long tradition, however, the ceremony has also been to establish whether the corpse may be incorrupt. This non-corruption is not an additional proof of sanctity, but it is a miracle which can confirm a reputation of sanctity that has been otherwise established. This was the case with the remains of Pius X. One witness who was present at the exhumation and examination describes the state of incorruptibility discovered on May 19, 1944:
Opening the coffin they found the body intact, clothed in the papal insignia as it had been buried 30 years before. Under the taut skin which covered the face the outline of the skull was clearly recognizable. The hollows of the eyes appeared dark but not empty; they were covered by eyelids much wrinkled and sunk. The hair was white and covered the top of the head completely. The pectoral cross and pastoral ring shone brilliantly. In his last testament Pius X had specially requested that his body should not be touched and that the traditional embalming should not be done. In spite of this the body was excellently preserved. No part of the skeleton was uncovered, no bones were exposed. While the body was rigid, the arms, elbows and shoulders were quite flexible. The hands were beautiful and slender and the nails on the fingers were perfectly preserved.
Once the canonical examination had been completed, Pius X’s remains stayed in the Chapel of the Holy Crucifix, open to the veneration of the faithful, until the morning of July 3. Then they were placed in another chapel of the Vatican Basilica, the Chapel of the Presentation, the first on the left when one enters the Basilica, where they are still to be found, situated below the altar.
The beatification process continued. Some consultors of the Congregation of Rites felt that the testimonies regarding Pius X’s struggle against Modernism were too numerous and too controversial: they raised detailed objections on this subject and requested a supplementary report with documentary research. This work was carried out by the Reporter General, Antonelli, a Franciscan, who produced his Disquisitio circa quasdam obiectiones modus agendi Servi Dei respicientes in modernismi debellatione una cum summario additionali ex officio compilato, 1950. This long collection of documents and commentary (303 pages) won the support of the Congregation and of Pope Pius XII.
Blessed and Saint
On September 3, 1950, the decree was signed acknowledging that Pius X had practised heroically the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. All that remained, for beatification, was the canonical recognition of two miracles that had been the result of the Pope’s intercession. Among the hundreds of cures registered by the Postulator of the Cause that could not be attributed to medicine, two were selected for canonical recognition.
One was that of a French nun, Marie-Françoise Deperras, who had been suffering from a cancer of the left femur, and who was cured spectacularly after the imposition of a relic of Pius X and two novenas to the Sovereign Pontiff. The other was that of another nun, an Italian, who had been suffering from a malignant tumor in the abdomen. The healing took place in February 1938 after the imposition of a relic of Pius X and when the convent had begun a novena to ask his intercession. After a scientific study of the two cases, conducted by medical experts of the Congregation of Rites, the cures were declared to be instantaneous, perfect and definitive. Since they had been due to recourse to the intercession of Pius X, they were declared to be of the supernatural order, and on February 11, 1951, they were acknowledged, by decree, to be authentic miracles. On June 3, 1951, Pius XII was able to proceed with the solemn ceremony of beatifying his predecessor.
Finally, on May 29, 1954, after the examination of a further miracle, Pius XII proceeded to the canonization of Pius X. In his address, the Pope said:
“Sanctity, which was the inspirer and guide of Pius X in all his undertakings, shone even more brilliantly in his everyday actions. The task he set before him, to unite and bring back all things in Christ, was something he made a reality in himself before bringing it about in others.”