Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Fifth Sunday after Easter—5 May A.D. 2013
Pope Saint Pius V

Arms of Pope Saint Pius V

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Mass of Pope Saint Pius V

    In addition to being the fifth Sunday after Easter, today is the feast of Pope Saint Pius V, who is dear to many traditional Catholics.  At first I was simply going to tell you about this important Pope of the counter-reformation, but a few days ago we celebrated the feast of Saint Athanasius on May 2, and it occurred to me that there is a broader theme that should be discussed.  But, first, let me tell you a little about these two great saints.

    Michele Ghislieri, Pope Pius V lived in the sixteenth century, and was active in combatting the errors of Protestantism.  He studied with and became a priest of the Dominican Order.  In 1557 Paul II made him a cardinal and named him inquisitor general for all of Christendom. Saint Pius was the Pope who implemented the decrees of the Council of Trent.  Under Pope Pius, the Council’s very clear definitions of the Catholic Faith were issued in a Catechism for Parish Priests, edited by Saint Charles Borromeo.  Pope Pius enforced the directives of Trent, requiring bishops to hold only one diocese and to live within that diocese.  His was a very serious reform of the lives of the clergy.  Even before becoming Pope he had intervened to keep Pope Pius IV from admitting thirteen year old Ferdinand de' Medici to the Sacred College of Cardinals.  The Pope edited and codified The Roman Breviary, and then The Roman Missal, making their use mandatory for all western rite Churches not having their own rite of Mass for at least two-hundred years.  He issued the bull Quo primum tempore which invoked “the wrath of almighty God and the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul” on anyone who should try to force the use of any other missal on the priests and faithful of the Roman Church.[1]  And it was Saint Pius V who organized a coalition of nations that, with no help from the Protestant countries of Europe, was able to defeat the Moslem navy in the battle of Lepanto—the beginning of safety from invasion in the countries of the Mediterranean, which had been under siege for centuries.[2]

    Saint Athanasius lived in the fourth century, and was active in combating the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.  In 325 AD, the Emperor Constantine called the first Council of Nicæa to discuss the controversy.  At the age of twenty-seven, the Deacon Athanasius played a leading role in supporting the Catholic position against the Arians.  He was the Archbishop of Alexandria in Egypt for forty‑five years, but spent seventeen of these years, exiled by four different Emperors, at the bidding of the Arian heretics.  What made Athanasius’ position all the more difficult was that Pope Liberius was a weak man, who had agreed to sign a compromise of the Nicæan Creed that favored the heretics.  (Liberius, by the way, was the first Pope not to be called “Saint.”)  As his predicament became more widely known, our Saint began to be called “Athanasius contra mundum—Athanasius against the world.”  For a man who spent much of his life “on the run,” Athanasius had an incredible literary output, ranging from letters to other concerned Catholics to theological treatises on the Holy Ghost, the Incarnation, and asceticism;  a biography of Saint Anthony;  a history of the Council of Nicæa;  and a few volumes on biblical interpretation.

    He wrote to the Catholics whose churches had been taken over by Arians:

    May God console you! ... others have occupied the Churches ... while during this time you are on the outside. It is a fact that they have the premises—but you have the apostolic faith.  They can occupy our churches, but they are outside the true faith.  You remain outside the places of worship, but the faith dwells within you.... What is more important, the place or the faith?  The true faith, obviously.  Who has lost and who has won in this struggle—the one who keeps the premises or the one who keeps the faith?  ... They claim that they represent the Church but in reality they are the ones who are expelling themselves from it and going astray.[3]

    Athanasius is considered a Doctor of the Church.  Given the number of times attempts were made to murder him, it is surprising that he is not a martyr, but he died on his feast day (May 2), 373 AD, in his own episcopal see at the age of 77. [4]

    The stories of Pope Saint Pius V and Saint Athanasius brought to my mind something that Pope Pius XII wrote seventy years ago next month:

    [The Church’s] Divine Founder permits ... a regrettable inclination to evil ... even at times in the most exalted members of His Mystical Body.   But our Divine Savior governs and guides the Society which He founded directly and personally ... or by singling out from the body of the Church ... men and women of conspicuous holiness, who may point the way for the rest of Christendom to the perfecting of His Mystical Body.[5]

    Pope Pius XII’s words ought to serve to encourage us in the midst of the current disturbance in Church and state.  God Himself will guide “the Society which He founded directly and personally ... or by singling out from the body of the Church ... men and women of conspicuous holiness.”  I mentioned but two of those holy men, Athanasius and Pius V.  I could have added men like Saint Dominic and Saint Francis, and women like Catherine of Sienna, Theresa of Ávila, and Saint Joan of Arc—no doubt there are many others—who, through their holiness served to reform the society around them, both the Church and the state.

    One might ask what is necessary to summon up such “men and women of conspicuous holiness,” as Pius XII described—for, certainly, we need them now.  I would hope that the answer is obvious, but just in case it is not, Holy Mother Church has answered that question in Her liturgy as well.  Yesterday we commemorated the feast of Saint Monica, the widowed mother of Saint Augustine, another African Doctor of the Church.

    In his early days, Augustine was a bad man.  He describes himself as a vandal, the father of an illegitimate child, and a follower of the Manichaean heresy (one of those silly “dualisms” that claims a bad and a good “god” as creators of matter and spirit).  Monica also had a pagan husband, who was not a good influence on Augustine.  But we know that Monica was absolutely insistent with her prayers before God for the conversion of both men to the Catholic Faith.  We are told that Monica’s prayers were much more than the recitation of so many “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys”—Monica’s prayers were accompanied by her tears.  She was clear to God that her concern for her men was not just a passing thing that she asked for in addition to good weather, and for peace in northern Africa—she poured out her soul through the windows of her eyes.

    Through his mother’s prayers, through his mother’s tears, Augustine went on to become a Catholic, a Priest, a Bishop, and a great Doctor of the Church.  He became one of those men “of conspicuous holiness” whom God raises up when most needed by Christian society, defeating the heresies of Donatism and Pelagianism, and leaving the Catholic Church with a vast body of writings that are still vital and fresh to this day.

    I don’t know that I can move you to tears—I don’t think that I am that great a preacher.  But I do hope that I can move you to sincere and heartfelt prayer:

    The Church’s Divine Founder has permitted ... a regrettable inclination to evil in religious and secular Society, and we need Him, our Divine Savior, to govern and guide that Society,  either directly and personally ... or by singling out from the body of the Church ... men and women of conspicuous holiness, who will point the way for the rest of Christendom to the perfecting of His Mystical Body.

    Perhaps you can be one of those men or women of conspicuous holiness—perhaps you can weep—but certainly you can pray!

    Pope Saint Pius V, pray for us!

    Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, pray for us!

    Saint Augustine, pray for us!

    Saint Monica, weep for us!


[2]   Catholic Encyclopedia s.v. “Pope Saint Pius V”

[3]   Words of Encouragement from St. Athanasius

[4]   Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Saint Athanasius


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