Friday, April 30, 2021
How St. Paul of the Cross Celebrated Holy Mass

A wonderful reflection on the care for the Most Blessed Eucharist and how St. Paul of the Cross celebrated the Sacrifice of the Mass. His feastday was a few days ago and his devotion can surely inspire us all even nowadays.

He often perceived from a great distance whether the Blessed Eucharist was in any particular place, and these celestial favours excited him to still more ardent affections of devotion. This fervour never showed itself in a more lively manner than when he was celebrating mass. At those times the venerable Father appeared all tenderness and ardour, transformed into a seraphim of love. After a long and fervent preparation he ascended the altar, and then his face was often seen to change colour and become inflamed, while his eyes overflowed with tears of interior sweetness. 

For many years he could never say mass without weeping. Afterwards, being placed by our Lord in the crucible of aridities and desolations, his tears were not so continual, but he was often observed to shed them from the consecration to the communion. When he sang high mass, he generally fell into so deep a contemplation, that he was obliged to do violence to himself before he could proceed ; in chanting the Preface and Pater-Noster, he was constantly interrupted by his sobs, which gave edification to all who heard him. 

He was particularly exact in the observance of the rubrics, and of the prescribed holy ceremonies. After mass he retired to some quiet spot, where he could give vent to the burning affections of his heart, and enjoy the possession of his only love. He was most careful that everything belonging to the altar should be suitable for so high a service, and he was not content with bare decency, but he desired to see the most extreme cleanliness and purity. He sometimes sent away one corporal after another, until he got one that was perfectly clean. The smallest thing he said that is employed in the holy sacrifice, ought to be spotless. Our Lord was pleased to show by prodigies, how grateful in His sight was the faith and devotion of His servant in that sacred function.

Upon one occasion, when he was celebrating in the monastery of St. Lucia, at Corneto, the assistant, who was Signor Domenico Costantini, observed, to his great surprise, that when the venerable Father drew near to the consecration, there arose from the steps of the altar a kind of smoke like that of incense, which after the elevation gave forth a marvellous fragrance, quite indescribable and unlike any common odour. A still greater wonder was seen at the same time, which was that the servant of God was raised in the air, two palms above the altar steps, both before and after the consecration. 

Each time that he offered up the holy sacrifice, Father Paul imagined it to be the last mass that he should say, and he told one of his religious, "Whenever I celebrate I receive the holy communion as a viaticum.'' He recommended others to perform not only this sacred function, but every action of the day, as if it were the last of their lives.

As it is natural to one who loves, enjoys, and possesses an immense good, to desire to communicate his happiness to those especially who are capable of appreciating it, so Father Paul's ardent wish was that all priests, and particularly that the fathers of our congregation, should know how to enrich themselves with the priceless treasures of the adorable sacrifice, and that for this end they should prepare their hearts with the utmost care for the presence of Jesus Christ. " Endeavour," he said, “to be always ready to celebrate with the deepest devotion, watch day and night before the interior tabernacle, which is in the hearts of all priests. Guard with anxious care this living temple, keep always burning there the lamps of faith and charity, and let it be decorated as for a perpetual festival, with all Christian virtues. Jesus celebrated the divine mysteries in a furnished room, “ Cenaculum stratum.'" He inculcated to his religious that they should not only prepare themselves for mass by serious meditations upon the mysteries of faith, but that even while celebrating they should follow Jesus in spirit through the different stages of His passion, performing His obsequies with the mournful tenderness of Mary, St. John, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, and then depositing Him in the sepulchre of their hearts, " in quo nondum quisquam positus fuerat." 

He said that the mass was the most appropriate time for negotiating with the Eternal Father, while we offer to Him His only Son Incarnate for our salvation. "Before you celebrate,'' he wrote to a priest, "clothe yourself with the sufferings of Christ, by a sacred colloquy, placidly made in the midst of aridities. Carry to the altar the necessities of the whole world." With the same earnestness he sought to impress upon all the priests of the congregation, the utmost exactness in the observance of the rubrics. He particularly insisted that those who were newly ordained, should be well instructed and exercised in the ceremonies, and he often took upon himself the charitable duty of assisting them. He could not bear to see the least disorder or mistake in the sacred functions, and if he noticed any who failed in the correct performance of them, he took an opportunity of reproving them, saying, " The rubrics ought to have been studied beforehand." 

He could not tolerate the idea of a priest abandoning Jesus almost immediately after mass, without making the proper thanksgiving. He declaimed eagerly , and upon every opportunity, against this abuse, and he employed all the power of his ministry in engaging priests to render thanks to their loving Lord for so inexpressible a benefit. As far as he could, he endeavoured to prevent from approaching the altar, all those who testified little reverence for the tremendous mysteries, or who were not attired in the clerical garb.

An ecclesiastic of distinction came to say mass at one of our retreats, dressed in a coloured coat, and without the dignity required by the sacer- dotal character ; the good Father immediately reproved him, and would not permit him to celebrate, saying, “This is not the dress for a priest to wear at the altar." Full of these zealous sentiments, he wrote thus to a devout soul, •' You must fly in spirit to the heart of Jesus, in the adorable sacrament, and there weep with grief for the insults He receives from worldlings, from wicked priests, and from tepid religious, who return ingratitude and sacrileges for His infinite love. In reparation for all these outrages, let your soul offer herself upas a holocaust, all burning with love and praise, and thank Him in place of those who ill-treat Him. Above all, go to visit Him at those times when He is most neglected and forgotten," The love which consumed Father Paul while he offered the holy sacrifice, manifested itself in no less striking a manner when he administered holy communion. " When he uttered the words, "Ecce Agnus Dei," he spoke with so much energy, fervour, and reverence, that it might well have been imagined that he beheld his Divine Redeemer with his own eyes. And so also it was observed in carrying the Blessed Sacrament on the feast of Corpus Domini, his face was bathed in a torrent of tears. This festival was to him a day of peculiar solemnity, and he kept it with a marvelous spirit of faith. If he was at one of the retreats, he himself sang high mass, and carried the Sacred Host in procession round the enclosure; but if some urgent business separated him from his brethren, as was the case one year when he was at Ronciglione, he disposed himself with equal devotion to do homage to the Blessed Sacrament. Beholding the procession, he melted into tears, exclaiming, “0, what wondrous love! O, what a day this is O Charity, O love !" Alluding to this feast, he spoke thus in a letter to a devout person, "As the moth flies round and round a light until it is burnt in the flame, so does the soul turn about and within Divine Love, until it is utterly consumed in this great and blessed octave of the adorable sacrament.  “ O my daughter, eat, drink, and inebriate yourself, fly, sing, exult, and feast with the Divine Spouse."

Taken from The Life of the B. Paul of the Cross by Venerable Monsignor Strambi

Thursday, April 8, 2021
How St. Pius X & the 1917 Code of Canon Law Liberalized Fasting, Abstinence, and Holy Days of Obligation

Pope St. Pius X is regarded as a champion by traditionalists for good reasons. There is no doubting his personal sanctity and the motivations that inspired some of his actions (e.g., lowering the age for First Holy Communion and recommending frequent - even daily - reception of our Lord in Holy Communion). His crusade against modernism and his actions for the liberty of the Church and for the spread of Christ's reign are certainly praiseworthy.

But we who have the luxury of seeing how history unfolded can observe how this holy pope's actions in regards to holy days of obligation, fasting, and abstinence sadly led to a collapse of Catholic practice. We would do well to keep the practices before St. Pius X, which had already been eroded by dispensations and changes for several centuries. St. Pius X merely helped accelerate this erosion.

What exactly did he change in regards to these disciplines? There are three main changes which concern the Church's discipline: reducing the number of Holy Days of Obligation for the Universal Church, altering the days of fasting, and altering both when and how to observe days of abstinence.

There are more actions done by St. Pius X that some also rightfully criticize such as the change in the Breviary (e.g. abandoning the use of 12 psalms at Matins, abolishing the "Laudate Psalms" at Lauds) and effectively abolishing in practice the five simple octaves but those are outside the scope of this article.

St. Pius X Drastically Reduced the Number of Holy Days of Obligation

The first catalog of Holy Days comes from the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX in 1234, which listed 45 Holy Days. In 1642, His Holiness Pope Urban VIII issued the papal bull "Universa Per Orbem" which altered the required Holy Days of Obligation for the Universal Church to consist of 35 such days as well as the principal patrons of one's locality. 

However, due to dispensations, differences ranged drastically as to which days were kept as holy days throughout the world. As of the founding of the United States, the Holy Days of Obligation, in addition to every Sunday, were as follows: the feasts of Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Annunciation, Easter Monday, Ascension, Whitsun Monday, Corpus Christi, Ss. Peter and Paul, Assumption, and All Saints. In 1837, Pope Gregory XVI dispensed all Americans from the obligation as to Easter Monday and Whitsun Monday and in 1840 from that of the feast of St Peter and St Paul. The Feasts of Epiphany, Annunciation, and Sts. Peter and Paul were abolished as Holy Day of Obligation in the United States in 1885.

But, in the largest change to Holy Days in centuries, Pope St. Pius X in Supremi disciplinæ in 1911 drastically reduced the number of Holy Days of Obligation in the Universal Church to merely eight!
  1. Christmas
  2. Circumcision
  3. Epiphany 
  4. Ascension
  5. Immaculate Conception
  6. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin
  7. Sts. Peter and Paul 
  8. All Saints 

This reduction, rather than just tweaking one country's disciplines, reset the Universal Church to a minimal number of Holy Days - the lowest ever. While some localities kept other feastdays of importance (e.g. St. Patrick's Day as a Holy Day of Obligation in Ireland), most did not. Shortly thereafter in 1917, however, Corpus Christi and St. Joseph were added back by his successor, bringing the total to 10. The 10 currently observed on the Universal Calendar are the same as from 1917.

The 1917 Code Liberalized Fasting

Called the Pio-Benedictine Code, the 1917 Code of Canon Law was started by St. Pius X in 1904 and completed under his successor, Pope Benedict XV, in 1914. The Code had a number of effects on fasting and abstinence, beyond codifying the changes to Holy Days of Obligation.

Fasting and abstinence were no longer observed should a vigil fall on a Sunday as stated in the code: "If a vigil that is a fast day falls on a Sunday the fast is not to be anticipated on Saturday, but is dropped altogether that year." Before 1917, the fast of a Vigil that fell on a Sunday was observed instead on the preceding Saturday, which helped prepare the faithful not only for the feast that was transferred to Monday but also for Sunday.

Likewise, effective per the 1917 Code of Canon law, the Wednesdays and Fridays of Advent were no longer fast days for the Universal Church. The last remnant of St. Martin's Lent and the Advent Fast was gone. Wednesdays of Advent had previously been abrogated as fast days in America in 1837. Now Fridays in Advent likewise ceased being required days of fast not only in America but universally. The Vigil of St. Peter and Paul also ceased as a fast day on the Universal Calendar, although it had already been abrogated in the United States. 

The 1917 Code Liberalized Abstinence

The 1917 Code also universally removed Saturday abstinence. Unknown to most Catholics, abstinence from meat was previously required on both Fridays and Saturdays! In the United States, Saturday abstinence ceased around 1837 because the Baltimore fathers requested from Pope Gregory XVI a dispensation from Saturday abstinence. It was a 20-year dispensation that was renewed up until the 1917 Code dispensed the venerable practice of Saturday abstinence universally. 

But one of the more drastic changes was that eggs and dairy products (i.e. lacticinia) became universally permitted on fasting days - continuing the weakening of discipline introduced by Pope Leo XIII in 1887. The 1917 Code explicitly and universally stated: "The law of abstinence prohibits meat and soups made of meat but not of eggs, milks, and other condiments, even if taken from animals" (1917 Code, Canon 1252 § 4). [Translation taken from THE 1917 OR PIO-BENEDICTINE CODE OF CANON LAW in English Translation by Dr. Edward Peters]. Gone was the significance of Easter eggs, celebrating the end of a long Lent. 

Dispensations From Abstinence Were Previously Required Even for Holy Days of Obligation Outside of Lent

The 1917 Code also introduced the radical notion that a Holy Day of Obligation would eo ipso overrule the requirement of Friday abstinence for any Holy Days of Obligation outside of Lent. Previously the only day that would automatically abrogate the requirement of Friday abstinence was Christmas Day. On this singular exception, Dom Gueranger writes in the Liturgical Year published in 1886:

"To encourage her children in their Christmas joy, the Church has dispensed with the law of abstinence, if this Feast fall on a Friday. This dispensation was granted by Pope Honorius III, who ascended the Papal Throne in 1216. It is true that we find it mentioned by Pope St Nicholas I, in the ninth century; but the dispensation was not universal; for the Pontiff is replying to the consultations of the Bulgarians, to whom he concedes this indulgence, in order to encourage them to celebrate these Feasts with solemnity and joy: Christmas Day, St Stephen, St John the Evangelist, the Epiphany, the Assumption of our Lady, St John the Baptist, and SS Peter and Paul. When the dispensation for Christmas Day was extended to the whole Church, these other Feasts were not mentioned."

Before the time of St. Pius X, a dispensation was required by the Holy Father to dispense from Friday abstinence on any other Holy Day of Obligation. Two examples indicating this are Pope Leo XIII's 1890 dispensation for Assumption Day and a 1907 dispensation issued for Canada for All Saints Day. All Saints Day was at that time a Holy Day of Obligation in Canada.

The Catholic Encyclopedia on St. Pius X's Supremi disciplinæ indicates that fasting was abolished eo ipso only starting in 1911 for all Holy Days of Obligation (which were at the same time reduced to only 8): "The present Motu Proprio institutes another important change in legislation. As feasting and fasting are incompatible Pius X has abolished the obligation of fasting as well as that of abstinence for the Universal Church, should such obligation coincide with any of the eight feasts, as above." In practice, we know that the exception was Lent - Lenten abstinence and fast always remained unless explicitly dispensed from even after the weakening changes in 1911, as the 1917 Law explicitly stated: "On [Sundays] or feasts of precept, the law of abstinence or of abstinence and fast or of fast only ceases, except during Lent, nor is the vigil anticipated; likewise it ceases on Holy [Saturday] afternoon" (1917 Code, Canon 1252 § 4). [Translation taken from THE 1917 OR PIO-BENEDICTINE CODE OF CANON LAW in English Translation by Dr. Edward Peters]

Interestingly, the notion that penance was incompatible with Sundays stands in sharp contrast to centuries of Catholic Tradition, which required strict abstinence on all the Sundays of Lent.

It must be further noted that the removal of the obligation of penance on Holy Days of Obligation outside of Lent, effective with the 1917 Code, only applies to areas that observe the day of precept. It is not based on the Roman calendar, as affirmed by the Commission on the Code in a 1924 article in American Ecclesiastical Review. Hence, when January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, falls on a Friday, it is still a mandatory day of abstinence in America and France and other places where it is not a Holy Day of Obligation. In contrast, Canada, Rome, and places that keep it as a Holy Day do not have to observe fasting and/or abstinence on that particular Friday. This, however, only applies to Holy Day of Obligation outside of Lent. And this change only started with the 1917 Code - beforehand, it was still a day of abstinence on Fridays regardless of whether it was a day of precept or not, unless a specific dispensation was issued by the Pope himself.


Saints are not perfect. While we can certainly praise many of St. Pius X's actions, it would be imprudent to endorse all of them - and conversely to always dismiss any modern churchmen by the fact that they are not from before Vatican II. Discernment and critical thinking is necessary with anything. As it concerns Holy Days of Obligation, fasting, and abstinence, St. Pius X introduced liberal practices that only accelerated the collapse of Catholic practices. The practices in place under St. Pius X are shadows of former times, and those practices were weakened quickly so that by 1962 they were even weaker

To reclaim Catholic Tradition requires a radical return to the Faith of our ancestors and their observances. May our forefathers and ancestors who are in Heaven and who see the face of God pray for us and for the entire Church Militant to return to the happy days of eras past when Catholics widely and joyfully practiced the Faith. And may St. Pius X intercede for us on this request.

Want to learn more about the history of fasting and abstinence? Check out the Definitive Guide to Catholic Fasting and Abstinence.

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