14 - 19 minutes readMay 5 – St. Pius the Fifth, Pope ~ Dom Prosper Gueranger

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May 5 – St. Pius the Fifth, Pope

We have already met with the names of several Pontiffs on the Paschal Calendar. They form a brilliant constellation around our Risen Jesus, who, during the period between his Resurrection and Ascension, gave to Peter, their predecessor, the Keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anicetus, Soter, Cauis, Cletus and Marcellinus, held in their hands the palm of martyrdom: Leo was the only one that did not shed his blood in the cause of his Divine Master. Today, there comes before a holy Pope who governed the Church in these latter times; he is worthy to stand amidst the Easter group of Pontiffs. Like Leo, Pius the Fifth was zealous in combating heresy; like Leo, he saved his people from the Barbarian yoke.

The whole life of Pius the Fifth was a combat. His Pontificate fell during those trouble times when Protestantism was leading whole countries into apostasy. Italy was not a prey that could be taken by violence: artifice was therefore used, in order to undermine the Apostolic See, and thus envelope the whole Christian world in the darkness of heresy. Pius, with untiring devotedness, defended the Peninsula from the danger that threatened her. Even before he was raised to the Papal Throne, he frequently exposed his life by his zeal in opposing the preaching of false doctrines. Like Peter the Martyr, he braved every danger, and was the dread of the emissaries of heresy. Placed upon the Chair of Peter, he kept the innovators in check by fear, he roused the sovereigns of Italy to energy, and, by measures of moderate severity, he drove back beyond the Alps the torrent that would have swept Christianity from Europe, had not the Southern States thus opposed it. From that time forward, Protestantism has never made any further progress: it has been wearing itself out by intestine anarchy of doctrines. We repeat it: this heresy would have laid all Europe waste, had it not been for the vigilance of the Pastor who animated the defenders of Truth to resist it where it already existed, and who set himself as a wall of brass against its invasion in the country where he himself was the Master.

Another enemy taking advantage of the confusion caused in the West by Protestantism, organized an expedition against Europe. Italy was to be its first prey. The Ottoman fleet started from the Bosphorus. Here again, there would have been the ruin of Christendom, but for the energy of the Roman Pontiff, our Saint. He gave the alarm, and called the Christian Princes to arms. Germany and France, torn by domestic factions that had been caused by heresy, turned a deaf ear to the call. Spain alone, together with Venice and the little Papal fleet, answered the Pontiff’s summons. The Cross and Crescent were soon face to face in the Gulf of Lepanto. The prayers of Pius the Fifth decided the victory in favor of the Christians, whose forces were much inferior to those of the Turks. We shall have to return to this important even when we come to the Feast of the Rosary in October. But we cannot omit mentioning today the prediction uttered by the holy Pope on the evening of the great day of October 7th, 1571. The battle between the Christian and Turkish fleets lasted from six o’clock in the morning till late in the afternoon. Towards evening, the Pontiff suddenly looked up towards heaven, and gazed upon it in silence for a few seconds. Then turning to his attendants, he exclaimed, “Let us give thanks to God! The Christians have gained the victory!” The news soon arrived at Rome; and thus, Europe once more owed her salvation to a Pope! The defeat at Lepanto was a blow to the Ottoman Empire from which it has never recovered: its fall dates from that glorious day.

The zeal of this holy Pope for the reformation of Christian morals, his establishing the observance of the laws of discipline prescribed by the Council of Trent, and his publishing the new Breviary and Missal—have made his six years’ Pontificate to be one of the richest periods of the Church’s history. Protestants themselves have frequently expressed their admiration of this vigorous opponent of the so-called Reformation. “I am surprised,” said Bacon, “that the Church of Rome has not yet canonized this man.” Pius the Fifth did not receive this honor till about a hundred and thirty years after his death—so impartial is the Church, when she had to adjudicate this highest of earthly honors even to her most revered Pastors!


Of the many miracles which attested the merits of this holy Pontiff, even during his life, we select the two following. As he was one day crossing the Vatican piazza, which is on the site of the ancient Circus of Nero, he was overcome with a sentiment of enthusiasm for the glory and courage of the Martyrs, who had suffered on that very spot, in the first Persecution. Stooping down, he took up a handful of dust from the hallowed ground, which had been trodden by so many generations of the Christian people since the peace of Constantine. He put the dust into a cloth, which the Ambassador of Poland, who was with him, held out to receive it. When the Ambassador opened the cloth, after returning to his house, he found it all saturated with blood, as fresh as though it had been that moment shed: the dust had disappeared. The faith of the Pontiff had evoked the blood of the Martyrs, which thus gave testimony, against the heretics, that the Roman Church, in the 16th Century, was identically the same as that for which those brave heroes and heroines laid down their lives in the days of Nero.

The heretics attempted, more than once, to destroy a life which baffled all their hopes of perverting the Faith of Italy. By a base and sacrilegious stratagem, aided as it was by an odious treachery, they put a deadly poison on the feet of the Crucifix, which the Saint kept in his Oratory, and which he was frequently seen to kiss with great devotion. In the fervor of prayer, Pious was about to give this mark of love to the image of his Crucified Master—when suddenly the feet of the Crucifix detached themselves from the Cross and eluded the proffered kiss of the venerable old man. The Pontiff at once saw through the plot, whereby his enemies would fain have turned the life-giving Tree into an instrument of death.

In order to encourage the Faithful to follow the sacred Liturgy, we will select another interesting example from the life of this great Saint. When lying on his bed of death, and just before breathing his last, he took a parting look at the Church on earth, which he was leaving for that of Heaven. He wished to address a final prayer for the Flock which he knew was surrounded by danger; he therefore recited, but with a voice that was scarcely audible, the following stanza of the Paschal Hymn: “We beseech thee, O Creator of all things! that, in these days of Paschal joy, thou defend thy people from every assault of death!”

[The Stanza recited by the dying Pontiff was, in the Breviary of his time, as follows:

Quæsumus, Auctor omnium,
In hoc Paschali gaudio,
Ab omni mortis impeta
Tuum defende populum.

When the Hymns were corrected under the pontificate of Urban the Eighth, this stanza was totally changed: Ut sis perenne mentibus, &c. The Monastic Breviary has retained the original.]

Let us now read the eulogy of this Saintly Pope of modern times, as given in the Divine Office.

Pius in oppido Insubriæ, quod Boscum vocant, natus, sed e Bononia oriundus ex nobili Ghisleriorum familia, cum quatuordecim esset annorum, Ordinem Prædicatorum ingressus est. Erat in eo admirabilis patientia, profunda humilitas, summa vitæ austeritas, continuum orationis studium, et regularis observantiæ, ac divini honoris ardentissimus zelus. Philosophiæ vero, ac Theologiæ incumbens, adeo in iis excelluit, ut illas docendi munus magna cum laude per multos annos exercuerit. Sacras conciones pluribus in locis cum ingenti auditorum fructu habuit. Inquisitionis officium inviolabili animi fortitudine diu sustenuit, multasque civitates, non sine vitæ discrimine, ab hæresi tunc grassante immunes servavit. Pius was born at Bosco, a town in Lombardy, though his parents were the Ghisleri, a noble family at Bologna. He entered the Order of the Friars Preachers, when he was fourteen years of age. He was remarkable for his patience, deep humility, great mortifications, love of prayer and religious discipline, and most ardent zeal for God’s honor. He applied himself to the study of Philosophy and Theology, and with so much success, that, for many years, he taught them in a manner that gained him universal praise. He preached the word of God in many places, and produced much fruit. For a long period, he held with dauntless courage the office of Inquisitor; and, at the risk of his life, preserved many cities from the then prevalent heresy.
A Paulo Quarto, cui ob eximias virtutes charissimus erat, ad Nepesinum et Sutrinum Episcopatum promotus, et post biennium, inter Romanæ Ecclesiæ Presbyteros Cardinales adscriptus fuit. Tum ad Ecclesiam Montis Regalis in Subalpinis a Pio Quarto translatus, cum plures in eam abusus irrepsisse cognovisset, totam diœcesim lustravit; rebusque compositis, Romam reversus, gravissimis expediendis negotiis applicatus, quod justum erat apostolica libertate, et constantia decernebat. Mortuo autem Pio, præter omnium exspectationem electus Pontifex, nihil in vitæ ratione, excepto exteriori habitu, immutavit. Fuit in eo religionis propagandæ perpetuum studium, in Ecclesiastica disciplina restituenda indefessus labor, in extirpandis erroribus assidua vigilantia, in sublevandis egentium necessitatibus indeficiens beneficentia, in Sedis Apostolicæ juribus vindicandis robur invictum. Paul the Fourth, who esteemed and loved him on account of his great virtues, made him bishop of Nepi and Sutri, and, two years later, numbered him among the Cardinal Priests of the Roman Church. Having been translated by Pius the Fourth to the Church of Mendovi, in Piedmont, and finding that many abuses had crept in, he made a visitation of the whole diocese. Having put all things in order, he returned to Rome, where he was intrusted with matters of the gravest importance; all of which he transacted with an apostolic impartiality and firmness. At the death of Pius the Fourth, he was, contrary to everyone’s expectations, chosen Pope. With the exception of his outward garb, he changed nothing of his manner of life. The following are the virtues in which he excelled: unremitting zeal for the propagation of the Faith, untiring efforts for the restoration of Ecclesiastical discipline, assiduous vigilance in extirpating error, unfailing charity in relieving the necessities of the poor, and invincible courage in vindicating the rights of the Apostolic See.
Selimum Turcarum tyrannum multis elatum victoriis, ingenti comparata classe ad Echinades insulas, non tam armis, quam fusis ad Deum precibus, devicit. Quam victoriam ea ipsa hora, qua obtenta fuit, Deo revelante, cognovit, suisque familiaribus indicavit. Dum vero novam in ipsos Turcas expeditionem moliretur, in gravem morbum incidit; et acerbissimis doloribus patientissime toleratis, ad extreme deveniens, cum Sacramenta de more suscepisset, animam Deo placidissime reddidit, anno millesimo quingentesimo septuagesimo secundo, ætatis suæ sexagesimo octavo; cum sedisset annos sex, menses tres, dies viginti quatuor. Corpus ejus in Basilica sanctæ Mariæ ad Præsepe summa fidelium veneratione colitur, multis a Deo ejus intercessione patratis miraculis. Quibus rite probatis, a Clemente Undecimo, Pontifice Maximo, Sanctorum numero adscriptus est. A powerful fleet having been equipped, at Lepanto, against Selimus, the emperor of the Turks, who was flushed with the many victories he had gained—the Pontiff won the battle, not so much by arms as by prayers. He, by a divine revelation, knew of the victory the moment it was won, and announced it to his household. Whilst engaged in preparing a new expedition against the Turks, he fell dangerously ill. He suffered the most excruciating pains with exceeding great patience. When his last hour approached, he received the Sacraments, according to the Christian practice, and most calmly breathed forth his soul into God’s hands in the year 1572, and in the sixty-eighth year of his age, after a pontificate of six years, three months, and twenty-four days. His body is honored by the devout veneration of the Faithful; it lies in the Church of Saint Mary Major. Through his intercession, many miracles have been wrought by God; which being authentically proved, he was canonized by Pope Clement the Eleventh.

St. Pius is one of the leading glories of the Dominican Order. We find the following Responsories and Hymns in the Breviary of that Order.

℟. Dum novus hic Moyses in colle pansis manibus Deum precabatur, ad Naupactum Amalec Israeli perfidus mari profligatur: ∗ Partaque victoria Pio revelatur. Alleluia. ℟. Whilst this new Moses was praying to God on the mount, with hands extended, the perfidious Amalec, Israel’s foe, was put to flight on the gulf of Lepanto, ∗ And the victory was revealed to Pius. Alleluia.
℣. Dum extendit virgam Rosarii, demerguntur hostes nefarii. ∗ Partaque victoria Pio revelatur. Alleluia. ℣. Whilst he stretched forth the rod of the Rosary, the wicked enemies were drowned in the sea. ∗ And the victory was revealed to Pius. Alleluia.
℟. Ad ceram Agni candidi, a Pio benedicti, captant salutem languidi: resiliunt piroboli: ∗ Sclopos evadunt icti. Alleluia. ℟. The white waxen lambs, that were blessed by Pius, gave health to the sick: the bullets that were fired, rebounded: ∗ They that were shot at, escaped injury. Alleluia.
℣. Dat farinis incrementa, sedat ignium tormenta: tranquillantur maria. ∗ Sclopos evadunt icti. Alleluia. ℣. They multiplied flour, they quenched fire, they calmed the sea. ∗ They that were shot at, escaped injury. Alleluia.
℟. Priscos agones martyrum ostentans Romanorum, ingens edit miraculum: ∗ In turba populorum. Alleluia. ℟. To show the ancient combats of the Martyrs of Rome, he works a great miracle: ∗ Before a crowd of people. Alleluia.
℣. Oratori Christiano dans e campo Vaticano cruentatos pulveres. ∗ In turba populorum. Alleluia. ℣. He gives to a Christian Ambassador some dust impregnated with blood, which he took up from the Vatican ground. ∗ Before a crowd of people.
℟. Christi plantas osculari fixas cruci gestiit; sed pro vita sui chari pedes ista retrahit: ∗ Toxico imbutis dari oscula prohibuit. Alleluia. ℟. He wished to kiss the feet of Christ fastened to the Cross; but the feet withdrew, that the life of Christ’s dear servant might be saved: ∗ They were covered with poison, and would not be kissed. Alleluia.
℣. Absit mihi gloriari, absit oscula venari, nisi in cruce Domini: ∗ Toxico imbutis dari oscula prohibuit. Alleluia. ℣. God forbid that I should glory, God forbid that I should seek to imprint my kisses, save in the Cross of my Lord. ∗ They were covered with poison, and would not be kissed. Alleluia.

Pio beato jubilos
Canora pangant organa:
Ninbosque pellant nubilos
Sacræ diei gaudia.
Let our sweet organs give forth their glad sound in honor of blessed Pius! Let the joys of this sacred day dispel all dismal storms.
Hic Michael certamine
Fregit draconis impetum:
Piique sumpto nomine,
Hostem repressit impium.
His name in baptism is Michael, and he conquered the devil in battle: he took the name of Pius, and repressed the impious foe.
Ecclesiæ perincula
Umbone firmo depulit:
Sectariorum spicula
Mucrone forti messuit.
He was the firm shield against the dangers that attacked the Church: he was the strong sword that mowed down the ranks of the heretics.
Zelosus iste Phinees
Sacris stetit pro mœnibus,
Ut barbaros acinaces
Arceret a fidelibus.
He was the zealous Phinees who stood for the defense of the Holy City, that he might protect the Faithful from the scimitar of the Turks.
Hic disciplinam moribus
Cura revexit sedula:
Et impiis erroribus
Objecit hic repagula.
His strenuous care redisciplined morals; and to impious errors he opposed a barrier of restraint.
Pii talenta largitas
Non vinxit in sudario
Necessitates publicas
Toto juvans ærario.
Pius had too generous a heart to hide his wealth in a napkin; he threw open his whole treasury, that he might relieve the necessities of his people.
Pater benignus pauperum,
Manus habens tornatiles,
Pavit greges famelicos
Effusione munerum.
Kind father of the poor, with his hands ever pouring forth charity, he fed and amply provided for his subjects when suffering famine.
Quæsumus nuctor omnium,
In hoc paschali gaudio,
Ab omni mortis impetu
Tuum defende populum.
We beseech thee, O Creator of all things! that, in these days of Paschal joy, thou defend thy people from every assault of death. Amen.

The following Hymn is placed near the tomb of our Saint, in the Church of Saint Mary Major, for the use of those who visit his Shrine.

Belli tumultus ingruit,
Cultus Dei contemnitur:
Ultrixque culpam persequens,
Jam pœna terris imminet.
The scourge of war is on us, for the worship of God is despised: the chastisement that avenges guilt is menacing our earth.
Quem nos, in hoc discrimine,
Cœlestium de sedibus
Præsentiorem vindicem
Quam te, Pie, invocabimus?
In this peril, which of the heavenly citizens can we invoke in our defense, better than thee, O Pius?
Nemo, beate Pontifex,
Intensiore robore
Quam tu, superni numinis
Promovit in terris decus;
O blessed Pontiff! no mortal ever labored with such zealous vigor to prompt God’s glory on earth as thou didst;
Ausiave fortioribus
Avertit a cervicibus,
Quod christianis gentibus
Jugum parabant barbari.
No mortal ever struggled, as thou didst, to free Christian lands from the yoke which barbarians were seeking to put upon them.
Majora qui cœ potes,
Tu supplices nunc aspice;
Tu civium discordias
Compesce et iras hostium.
Thy power is greater now that thou art in heaven:—look upon us thy clients! Keep civil discord down, and repel our enemies.
Precante te, pax aurea
Terras revisat, ut Deo
Tuti queamus reddere
Mox lætiora cantica.
May thy prayers bring golden Peace upon the earth; that, being in calm security, we may sing our canticles to God with a gladder heart.
Tibi, beata Trinitas,
Uni Deo sit gloria,
Laus et potestas omnia
Per sæculorum sæcula.
To thee, O Blessed Trinity, one God, be glory, praise and power, for ever and ever. Amen.

Pontiff of the living God! thou wast, while on earth, the pillar of iron and wall of brass spoken of by the Prophet. Thine unflinching firmness preserved the flock entrusted to thee from the violence and snares of its many enemies. Far from desponding at the sight of the dangers, thy courage redoubled, just as men raise the embankments higher when they see the torrent swell. By thee was the spread of Heresy checked; by thee was the Mussulman invasion repelled, and the haughty Crescent humbled. God honored thee by choosing thee as the avenger of his glory, and the deliver of the Christian people: receive our thanks, and the homage of our humble praise! By thee were repaired the injuries done to the Church during a period of unusual trial. The true reform—the reform that is wrought by authority—was vigorously applied by thy strong and holy land. To thee is due the restoration of the Divine Service, by the publication of the Books of holy Liturgy. And all these glorious deeds were done in the six short years of thy laborious Pontificate!

Hear, now, the prayers addressed to thee by the Church Militant, whose destinies were once in thy hands. When dying, thou didst beseech our Risen Jesus to grant her protection against the dangers which were then threatening her: oh! see the state to which licentious error has now reduced almost the whole Christian world! The Church has nothing left to her wherewith to make head against her countless enemies, save the promises of her Divine Founder; all visible support is withdrawn from her; she has been deprived of everything except the merit of suffering and the power of prayer. Unite, O holy Pontiff, thy prayers to hers, and show how unchanged is thy love of the Flock of Christ. Protect, in Rome, the Chair of thy Successor, attacked as it now is by open violence and astute hypocrisy. Princes and Peoples seem to have conspired against God and his Christ—disconcert the schemes of sacrilegious ambition, and the plots of impiety which would fain give the lie to the word of God. Avert, by thine intercession, the scourged which are threatening Europe, that has become ungrateful to the Church, and indifferent to the attempts made against her to whom they owe all they have. Pray that the blind may see, and the wicked be confounded. Pray that the True Faith may enlighten those numberless souls that call error truth, and darkness light.

In the midst of this dark and menacing night, thine eyes, O holy Pontiff, discern them that are the faithful sheep of Christ: bless them, aid them, increase their number. Ingraft them to the venerable Tree which dieth not, that so they may not be drifted by the storm. Get them docility to the Faith and traditions of holy Church; it is their only stay amidst the tide of error, which is now threatening to deluge the whole world. Preserve to the Church the holy Order, in which thou wast trained for the high mission destined for thee; keep up within her that race of men, powerful in work and word, zealous for the Faith and sanctification of souls, of which we read in her Annals, and which has yielded Saints such as thyself. And lastly, O Pius, remember that thou wast once the Father of the Faithful: oh! continue to be so, by thy powerful intercession, till the number of the elect be filled up!


This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)