"IN PATRIA" (1572.)
|August Kraus Pius V verehrt den Gekreuzigten|
He confessed almost daily. Daily, until he could no longer stand at the Altar, he offered the Holy Sacrifice in his private oratory. On Holy Thursday, Cardinal Alexandrin gave him Holy Communion. As he said the words: " Custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam" the Saint stopped him. " Perducat animam tuam," he whispered. Believing he was dying, he wished to receive the Body of Christ as Viaticum.
On Good Friday he caused a large crucifix to be laid on the floor of his chapel, and prostrate on the ground the Saint made a long Adoration of the Cross, kissing with tears of devotion the Five Sacred Wounds. Public audiences having been suspended, a rumour of his death spread through Rome, and the mourning people collected in thousands outside the Vatican, to ask news of the beloved Pope. His prophecy was fulfilled. The Eternal City was full of lamentation. So touched was the Saint's tender heart that he determined once more to give his Benediction to his people. On Easter Day, clad in pontifical vestments, he was carried to the loggia above the porch of St. Peter's, and there gave his final Benediction to the city and the world in a clear penetrating voice. For a few days hope revived. It being the seventh year of his reign the Saint insisted on blessing the Agnus Dei, 2 as was customary.
Early in April he made a general confession, and a special preparation for death, receiving the plenary indulgence of the Holy Rosary for those in articulo mortis. Greatly strengthened, on 21 April he insisted on visiting the Seven Basilicas on foot, though his friends feared that he would die on the way. Near San Sebastiano he was met by Marc' Antonio Colonna, who, kneeling, implored the Saint to take care of a life so precious. The Pope's only—and most characteristic—answer was to bid him seek Don Juan at Naples, and plan a fresh campaign against the Turks! At St. John Lateran his strength seemed exhausted, but after fervent prayer he was able to proceed, and by a supreme effort would have mounted the Scala Santa on his knees. 3
But even the supernatural strength granted to him was insufficient for this tremendous effort, and the Saint could only kneel on the first step, which he kissed thrice, with tears of devotion. As he rose he beheld a little group of English Catholics, exiles for their faith, waiting to kiss his feet. He spoke to them with fatherly affection, bid Cardinal Alexandrin take their names, and show them every hospitality; and raising his eyes to heaven, cried: "My God ! Thou knowest I would shed my blood for that nation ! "
How little we in England realize what we must owe to the prayers of St. Pius!
Returning to the Vatican he glanced through several important dispatches before going to the bed from which he was never to rise. To the end he preserved his faculties, and continued to make Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity, Thanksgiving, and Contrition. He caused the Penitential Psalms and the Passion to be read aloud very slowly. Every time the sacred Name of Jesus was pronounced his dying hand moved upwards to uncover his head; and when he was too weak to stir he begged Cardinal Alexandrin to do it for him. Four days before his death, unable to say Mass, he received Holy Communion, offering himself finally as a holocaust to God, "with the devotion of a seraph ". On 30 April he received extreme Unction, afterwards praying on his knees for hours for that Church he had served so gloriously. To the group of Cardinals, six of whom scarcely left his bedside, and among whom were his beloved nephew and his dear friend Cardinal Felix of Montalto, he made a pathetic speech. Since the first day of his pontificate he had vowed, he said, to Almighty God, to spend himself utterly for the Church. He had tried to keep that promise. He recommended the Church to them—that stupendous charge he was about to resign. " Give me a successor," he cried with his old fire, " full of zeal for the glory of God, who will seek the honour of the Church and the Apostolic See! There are enough Cardinals in Rome to open a conclave without delay!" He spoke of his passionate desire to follow up the victory of Lepanto, but adored God's Holy Will, which forbade this. Earnestly, with tears, he commended the cause to them. The idea of the Crusade was so fixed in his mind that it was with him even in his agony.
Henceforth, he only spoke to God. He lay with closed eyes, kissing the Five Wounds of the Crucifix which was never out of his hands, only his lips moving. The last prayers on earth of this Pater patrum were for his people. Suddenly in a clear voice he repeated the last verse of the Paschal Hymn:—
Qucesumus, Auctor omnium
In hoc Paschali gaudio
Ab omni mortis impetu
Tuum defende populum.
Then, as his dying lips once more sought the Pierced Feet, he crossed his hands on his breast, and the sweet soul of perhaps the greatest son of St. Dominic entered into the Easter Joy of Heaven.
It was five o'clock in the evening of 1 May, 1572. The Saint was in the sixty-eighth year of his age, and the seventh of his pontificate.
His embalmed body was laid next day in St. Peter's, for the veneration of the faithful. For four days the vast Basilica could scarcely contain the crowds of people who surged round the Chapel of St. Thomas, where numerous miracles of healing were already taking place. It was necessary strongly to reinforce the Swiss Guard, or the thousands who pressed to kiss the Saint's feet, or to touch his holy body with rosaries and medals, would have carried off pieces of his habit, and even his hair, as relics. Almighty God had already canonized the Saint by acclamation!
With ceremonies of surpassing solemnity the holy body was laid to rest in a temporary tomb. St. Pius had wished to be buried at Bosco, being, he said, unworthy to be numbered amongst so many holy Popes in Rome. But his children judged otherwise. On 9 January, 1588, the translation of his relics took place to the tomb in Sta. Maria Maggiore, prepared by the reigning Pope, Sixtus V. 4 for the friend he had loved so well.
In 1617 St. Pius was declared by Paul V to have possessed all the virtues in an heroic degree. Already for several years permission had been given to sing on his anniversary, instead of a Requiem, a Votive Mass of the Blessed Trinity. But his Beatification did not take place till 1672, under Clement X, at the instances of the King of France and the Master-General of the Order. The facts attested in 1617 were re-affirmed, and two miracles added: (1) the instantaneous cure of a sick man by a fragment of the habit of St. Pius; and (2) the miraculous preservation of two paintings of the Saint in a fearful fire which destroyed everything else in the palace of the Duke of Sezze, 5 even melting two heavy silver candelabra.
On 11 September, 1669, the holy relics, placed within a life-sized effigy, 6 were enclosed in the casket in which they now lie. It is interesting to know that Pope Pius X, the day after his coronation, sent the pontifical vestments he had then worn, together with the slippers, ring, and pectoral cross, to replace those which already clothed the mortal remains of his sainted predecessor.
On the Feast of St. Dominic, 1710, Clement XI signed the Decree for the Canonization of St. Pius, which took place 22 May, 1711. No other Pope has been canonized since; not one had been previously canonized for 350 years. May 5 was appointed as his Feast, and the Proper Office (of which Dom Gu£ranger says it equals in beauty any of those of the thirteenth century) was authorized.
St Pius possessed the gift of prophecy, as well as that of miracles. Of the former three instances may be quoted: the cases of Father Felix of Montalto and of Sixtus of Sienna, whose glorious future was foreseen and foretold by St. Pius, and his miraculous announcement of the victory of Lepanto. Among miracles too numerous to mention, both before and after his death, such as the deliverance of the possessed, the cure of the sick, the punishment of sinners, one most beautiful story must be related:—
The Polish ambassador, leaving Rome, was bidding farewell to the Saint outside St. Peter's. He begged the Holy Father to give him some relics to take home. St. Pius stooped, gathered a handful of dust, placed it in a piece of clean white linen, and handed it to him, saying: "Here are very precious relics". The ambassador was inclined to be offended; but was astounded, on reaching his lodging, to find the white linen stained with blood! When the Pope was told, he said quietly : " I knew it 1 the soil of the Vatican is so soaked with the blood of the martyrs that each grain of its dust is a precious relic!" Countless miracles were also wrought by the Agnus Dei consecrated by his holy hands.
This imperfect sketch of our glorious Dominican Pope can perhaps best be concluded in those words of his successor which proclaimed him a Saint:—
"To the honour of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and the increase of the Christian religion, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, that of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and Our Own, after earnestly deliberating, and continually imploring the Divine Assistance . . . We declare . . . that the Blessed Pius V is a Saint, and We inscribe him in the Catalogue of Saints, declaring that his memory shall be celebrated in the Universal Church with the piety and devotion . . . due to all Holy Confessor-Pontiffs . . .
" In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
1 " The Emperor has been asked by the Pope and the Venetians to join the League against the Turks" (Foreign Papers, 189, 25 March, 1572). Till his death he was faithful to the cause he had at heart.
2 Agnus Dei are blessed by the Pope every seventh year of his reign. Those blessed by St. Pius wrought extraordinary miracles, all of which are attested. Ferdinand II wrote to Urban VIII that in a great fire which broke out in his chapel everything on the altar, including silver candlesticks, was destroyed . . . except an Agnus Dei of St. Pius, which was lying there!
3 Touron asserts that he made the ascent (bk. xxviii. p. 388), and he is followed by Cardinal Newman.
4 Who is buried exactly opposite.
5 It will be remembered that the Saint's first Mass was said at Sezze. One of these pictures was presented to a Dominican monastery in Spain.
6 The bones of the head have only recently been enclosed in a case of silver.