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St. Pius X and the Liturgical Reform

Pope St. Pius X, whose feast day is celebrated today, is a lightning rod of the liturgical reform.

The group founded by Bishop Marcel Lefebvre adopted him as the patron of their society, The Society of Pius X. This selection is one of the most ironic choices I can think of for a group that, apart from theological problems with Vatican II, has adopted a position that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is permanently locked in the form it had in 1962 and that any changes to it are one step or no steps away from heresy. I think St. Pius would be most surprised by such a position, especially since the Missal had been altered as recently as 1960 when St. Joseph's name was added to the canon and even more recently in 1962 when the second Confiteor was dropped. The various Prefaces and Sequences have also been added to and removed over the centuries.

If you think that Paul VI and John XXIII were great worship reformers, you have to realize that St. Pius X gave impetus to the modern liturgical reform movement. St. Pius X made more liturgical reforms than had been made since the the Council of Trent, 400 years earlier. Based on the Syllabus of Errors, Lamentabili Sane, it is pretty clear that many of those who seized the liturgical reforms in the 1930's and on were the very people whose theological inclinations were condemned by St. Pius X and later by Pius XII.

On his feast day we should remember and give thanks that he was responsible for:

  • Encouragement for frequent exposition of the Eucharist and Eucharistic devotions in Mirae Caritatis in 1902:

Wherefore, works of this kind which have been already set on foot must be ever more zealously promoted; old undertakings must be revived wherever perchance they may have fallen into decay; for instance, Confraternities of the holy Eucharist, intercessory prayers before the blessed Sacrament exposed for the veneration of the faithful, solemn processions, devout visits to God's tabernacle, and other holy and salutary practices of some kind; nothing must be omitted which a prudent piety may suggest as suitable. But the chief aim of our efforts must be that the frequent reception of the Eucharist may be everywhere revived among Catholic peoples. For this is the lesson which is taught us by the example, already referred to, of the primitive Church, by the decrees of Councils, by the authority of the Fathers and of the holy men in all ages. For the soul, like the body, needs frequent nourishment; and the holy Eucharist provides that food which is best adapted to the support of its life. Accordingly all hostile prejudices, those vain fears to which so many yield, and their specious excuses from abstaining from the Eucharist, must be resolutely put aside; for there is question here of a gift than which none other can be more serviceable to the faithful people, either for the redeeming of time from the tyranny of anxious cares concerning perishable things, or for the renewal of the Christian spirit and perseverance therein. To this end the exhortations and example of all those who occupy a prominent position will powerfully contribute, but most especially the resourceful and diligent zeal of the clergy.

  • Attempted to restore the proper use of Sacred Music in the Church – obviously a constant problem through Church history – in Tra Le Sollecitudini, 1903:

2. Sacred music should consequently possess, in the highest degree, the qualities proper to the liturgy, and in particular sanctity and goodness of form, which will spontaneously produce the final quality of universality.

It must be holy, and must, therefore, exclude all profanity not only in itself, but in the manner in which it is presented by those who execute it.

It must be true art, for otherwise it will be impossible for it to exercise on the minds of those who listen to it that efficacy which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her liturgy the art of musical sounds.

But it must, at the same time, be universal in the sense that while every nation is permitted to admit into its ecclesiastical compositions those special forms which may be said to constitute its native music, still these forms must be subordinated in such a manner to the general characteristics of sacred music that nobody of any nation may receive an impression other than good on hearing them.

  • The encouragement to receive Holy Communion frequently, even daily was made official in Sacra Tridentina in 1905:

1. Frequent and daily Communion, as a practice most earnestly desired by Christ our Lord and by the Catholic Church, should be open to all the faithful, of whatever rank and condition of life; so that no one who is in the state of grace, and approaches the Holy Table with a right and devout intention (recta piaque mente) can be prohibited therefrom.

2. A right intention consists in this: that he who approaches the Holy Table should do so, not out of routine, or vain-glory, or human respect, but that he wish to please God, to be more closely united with Him by charity, and to have recourse to this divine remedy for his weakness and defects.

3. Although it is especially fitting that those who receive Communion frequently or daily should be free from venial sins, at least from such as are fully deliberate, and from any affection thereto, nevertheless, it is sufficient that they be free from mortal sin, with the purpose of never sinning in the future; and if they have this sincere purpose, it is impossible by that daily communicants should gradually free themselves even from venial sins, and from all affection thereto.

  • Affirming that the age for First Confession and First Communion is the age of reason and called the delaying of reception to later ages an abuse in Quam Singulari, 1910:

1. The age of discretion, both for Confession and for Holy Communion, is the time when a child begins to reason, that is about the seventh year, more or less. From that time on begins the obligation of fulfilling the precept of both Confession and Communion.

2. A full and perfect knowledge of Christian doctrine is not necessary either for First Confession or for First Communion. Afterwards, however, the child will be obliged to learn gradually the entire Catechism according to his ability.

3. The knowledge of religion which is required in a child in order to be properly prepared to receive First Communion is such that he will understand according to his capacity those Mysteries of faith which are necessary as a means of salvation (necessitate medii) and that he can distinguish between the Bread of the Eucharist and ordinary, material bread, and thus he may receive Holy Communion with a devotion becoming his years.

4. The obligation of the precept of Confession and Communion which binds the child particularly affects those who have him in charge, namely, parents, confessor, teachers and the pastor. It belongs to the father, or the person taking his place, and to the confessor, according to the Roman Catechism, to admit a child to his First Communion.

5. The pastor should announce and hold a General Communion of the children once a year or more often, and he should on these occasions admit not only the First Communicants but also others who have already approached the Holy Table with the above-mentioned consent of their parents or confessor. Some days of instruction and preparation should be previously given to both classes of children.

6. Those who have charge of the children should zealously see to it that after their First Communion these children frequently approach the Holy Table, even daily if possible, as Jesus Christ and Mother Church desire, and let this be done with a devotion becoming their age. They must also bear in mind that very grave duty which obliged them to have the children attend the public Catechism classes; if this is not done, then they must supply religious instruction in some other way.

7. The custom of not admitting children to Confession or of not giving them absolution when they have already attained the use of reason must be entirely abandoned. The Ordinary shall see to it that this condition ceases absolutely, and he may, if necessary, use legal measures accordingly.

  • A reform of the Liturgy of the Hours in 1911

The proximity of the Feast of St. Pius X to the announcement about the new translation of the Ordinary Form of the Mass going into effect on November 27th, 2011. Should not be ignored.

One of the criticisms that Pope Benedict XVI and many others who have lived through the current reform have of the current liturgy is that it is a break from the past instead of an organic development of the Liturgy as had occurred over the past 1900 years. The new translation brings the English Missal more in line with the Latin Mass texts which is a great step towards re-sacralizing the current Liturgy.

St. Pius X was a liturgical reformer who understood that worship is a continuous thread and changes needed to be made in such a way that the thread wasn't broken. We can only hope that the changes to the Liturgy that go into effect next year would meet with his approval had he still been alive.


  1. Please let me know when the The Parish Book of Chant is available. Thank you.

  2. Late in life I came to discover that my parents and grandparents were great liturgical liberals (everyone thinks their parents are strict and conservative). Or, I might better write, paleo-liberals. They had great enthusiasm for the liturgical reforms that progressive Catholics of their time yearned for. They spoke warmly of Pius X who lowered the age for Holy Communion and relaxed the fasting requirement, promoting more frequent reception of communion. They embraced the Dialogue Mass, consider controversial in many traditionalists circles of their time. Free standing altars and gothic vestments were welcomed liturgical reforms.

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