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Catholic Heroes… Champion Of Catholic Europe: Pope St. Pius V

July 9, 2020 saints No Comments


The times of Pope St. Pius V contain many history lessons. Now as then, there were many abuses in the Church. Increasing numbers of Catholics had left the faith due to the Protestant Reformation, and the faith was in tatters. And meanwhile Pius V also faced the encroachment of the Ottoman Empire on Europe, as today we encounter terrorist threats, precipitated by radical Muslims rejecting the West and Christianity.
Many say our Popes owe their white garb to the Dominican habit Pope Pius V continued to wear after being elected Pope. While this may or may not be true — it is said white and red were worn before his time — it seems that he popularized white, being as it is a symbol of holiness and purity. Even as a cardinal he preferred his habit to those stellar red robes. Would that the religious of the twenty-first century wore their habits as he did!
Pius V was a pit bull for orthodoxy throughout his life, in a turbulent era. God chose him as particularly suited to implement the Council of Trent’s reforms, and help repair the damage caused by abuses, thus providing a holy response to the Protestant Reformation.
Born Antonio Ghislieri in 1504, Bosco, Liguria, the future monk, teacher, bishop, cardinal, and Pope at the young age of 14 entered the Dominican order. (One may still visit his childhood home today.) He made his solemn profession at age 16 and would assume the religious name of Michele (Michael). Eight years later, he was ordained a priest. Like St. Dominic, the founder of his order, he was a great devotee of the rosary.
Elected prior four times over the next 15 years in various monasteries, he was known to be strict, yet kind; he practiced exactly what he preached. He would not dispense from the Rule even when he himself was ill, and almost never allowed absence from saying the Divine Rule. All Dominicans who were allowed to travel did so only by foot.
As Michael rose in the ranks later to bishop and cardinal, he kept few servants, eating only two simple meals daily, and for those seeking favoritism of any kind, he recommended they pursue virtue instead of materialism.
Nor did he shirk his duty. His papal predecessor realized that Michael wished to remain poor in spirit, though obedient. So it was, through obedience, that Pius IV ensured Michael accepted increasingly important offices. And when Pius IV attempted himself to appoint a teenage relative as cardinal, Michael showed no partiality, insisting this was an abuse of the papal office. When the German Emperor Maximilian II urged celibacy be abandoned by priests, he had no greater opponent than the future Pope Pius V!
One must assume that Michael admired his Predecessor, as he took his name when elected — Pius — for together they accomplished much for the glory of God.
Backtracking, after 15 years as a monk, he was appointed an Inquisitor for the Faith, starting a year after the Inquisition was reinstituted by Pope Paul III. European faith was characterized by widespread dissent, sin, and the spread of heretical beliefs. For several years he put his life at risk, working to stop the entry of all heretical texts into Italy from Switzerland.
Under Pope Julius III he was then raised to Commissary-General of the Inquisition. He did not simply “victimize” but the goal was always to win souls, and he would visit and counsel the heretical in prison. While there is no time here to do a study of the Inquisition, harsh as the punishments were, one should remember that they were no different than the civil justice inflicted by governments then, as well.
What is key to remember is, this “Hound of Heaven” was uniquely prepared to take the bit in his teeth come his election as Pope Pius V in 1566, as he intimately knew and counteracted sin in our Holy Catholic Church. Aged 62, he would live and serve as Pope only six years.
He still avoided much papal grandeur. He wore a hair-shirt under his habit and sometimes went barefoot, gave alms to the poor when he was elected (instead of rich celebrations), founded CCD classes for children, personally visited the sick in hospitals, even kissed and embraced those suffering from everything from ulcers to leprosy. Throughout his life he was devoted to helping the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed. This continued even when he was Pope. (And he dispensed with unnecessary luxuries — such as the court jester!)
He immediately began reforms, in the spirit and letter of the Council of Trent, including issuing a new catechism, and requiring all bishops and priests to live where assigned, not Rome or where they wished, so as to shepherd their flocks. He issued a new catechism. He founded CCD classes for children. During his tenure he would also eliminate cruel sports — such as bullfighting — and required prostitutes to leave, marry, or enter a convent. He issued a new breviary, requiring all priests to daily say the Divine Office. Celibacy for priests was enforced. And in 1570, he standardized the Roman Missal, the Mass of the Ages, used exclusively for 400 years until Pope Paul VI adopted the Novus Ordo. Today any priest may still say this Mass, now known popularly as the Tridentine Rite (per Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum). Before his passing May 1, 1572, probably from cancer, Pius V was also deeply involved in the politics of Europe.
The Battle of Lepanto (October 7, 1571) was a jewel in the crown of his pontificate. Christian Europe was fighting for her very existence against the Ottoman Empire. Turks had tortured, murdered, enslaved, and conquered wherever they could. This was by no means the first encounter where Pius V had intervened with prayer and processions, but before this battle, he prepared massively for the encounter. He dedicated the entire endeavor to Our Lady of Victory, and the rosary was said daily on every Christian ship assembled in his “Holy League” alliance. All soldiers were required to live piously.
Led by Don Juan of Austria, all men all fasted three days, confessed, and received Communion before departure. Each was given a rosary. Pius saw that each ship had religious on board, who continued offering Mass and the sacraments. And finally, he also granted the men a plenary indulgence and absolution was administered before the battle.
The fighting lasted five hours. The Turks had over a hundred more ships and double the number of fighting men. But the Turks lost massively, with two-thirds of their ships sunk and over 30,000 of their men killed. The Holy League by comparison lost only 12 ships instead of roughly 200 vessels like the Turks, and 10,000 men. Up to 18,000 enslaved Christians were also freed from their captivity. Miraculously, at the time of the victory, Pope Pius V went to his window, flinging it open wide. He stood there a moment or two, as though looking at something far away. Then he said, “Let us set aside business and fall on our knees in thanksgiving to God, for He has given our fleet a great victory!”
Confirmation was only received two weeks later by land. He declared Our Lady of Victory a feast day, now celebrated October 7 as Our Lady of the Rosary.
He was beatified in 1682 and canonized in 1712. His feast day is April 30. Pope Pius V, intercede to mend the errors in our age. Pope Pius V, ora pro nobis!

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