Monday, September 3, 2012

St Pius X, Pope and Confessor

1 Thessalonians 2:2-8 / John 21:15-17

For many, St Pius X stands as a sign of the Church's tradition, standing fast against the unwholesome desire to change and adulterate the Gospel delivered once for all to the saints. He is remembered for his tireless work to put an end to the errors of Modernism which were distorting the teaching of seminarians, and so threatened to touch the lives and souls of all the faithful. He is also recalled for his work in the restoration of music in the Church, both the Gregorian chant and the polyphony which time and fashion had allowed to be discarded, even as he worked to resist the roots to "modernize" and in so doing also to deracinate the musical heritage of Latin Christendom. Restoration, not innovation, was his motto: To restore all things in Christ. To this day, even the wayward followers of traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre retain this saintly pope as the patron of their association, the Society of Saint Pius X.

Yet, for all of his associations with restoring and maintaining tradition, St Pius was no stranger to innovation, to taking bold steps without historical precedent, when he thought they served the needs of the faithful committed to his care. In his reworking of the Breviary, Pius authorized a reorganization of the Psalter that departed from ancient patterns of prayer shared across Christendom since the days of the Fathers. In authorizing the codification of Canon Law, Pius swept away much of the the complexity, but also the historical jurisprudence, of the Church's understanding of her own inner life and governance. In permitting and encouraging the reception of Communion as young as the age of seven, Pius broke from the ancient order of initiation into the sacramental life, from Baptism to Confirmation, and then eucharistic Communion. In all of these, Pius enacted what had never been done, inspired by his mission not merely to preserve what had been handed down through the ages, but more crucially "to have a care, not only for all the faithful, but for every soul for whom Christ died."

 Like St Paul, and like St Pius, our task is not to invent our own Gospel. We are not supposed to develop our own theology, as though the Gospel itself and its authentic transmission by the successors of the apostles were not enough. We are to exhort people to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, without addition or subtraction, without trying to hide what we think may turn others away from the faith, nor to add pleasing words which attract, but which falsify the Word we have been given. This may well mean forsaking the glory of men, of abandoning the approval of the worldly wise and respectable, of seeming out of touch or two hundred years behind the times. None of this matters. Our task is the preaching of the Gospel as we have received it.

All the same, like St Peter, and like St Pius, we show our love of Christ first and foremost not in the untouched transmission of everything of the Church's treasure in pristine form, but to feed the lambs of Christ. Our fidelity to the unchanging Gospel is seen above all in our bringing the life of Christ to those who have been called into the one flock of the Incarnate Word of God. If we can do so through the restoration and preservation of ancient and timeless practice, then this is all for the good. All the same, if more lives can be touched by Christ and his saving grace through practices and precepts newly formed to sate their hunger for God, then so we must do.

No innovation is justified if it would make false or unheard the Gospel handed on faithfully over the ages through the Church, yet no preservation or restoration is justified where an innovation can spread more widely and generously the Good News of the Savior. This is the witness of Peter and Paul, the witness of Pius, and the continuing witness of the Church, a witness to the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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