“I was born poor, I lived poor, I will die poor” are the words of a humble man. And yet, Pope St. Pius X is venerated not only for his piety, but also for the many accomplishments of his papacy. During his 1903-1914 pontificate, Pius X wrote an incredible defense of the Church from modern era heresies like relativism and religious indifferentism; he eliminated foreign vetoes from papal elections; he created the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (i.e., the group that organizes “Sunday school,” or CCD classes, for the entire Church); he established the production of the 1917 Code of Canon Law; he developed a popular and simple catechism for the laity; he provided permission and financial support to establish the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.; and, perhaps most notably, he lowered the age of First Holy Communion from 12 to 7 years of age, citing the sacrament as “the shortest and surest way to Heaven.”
By lowering the reception age of the sacrament, Pope Pius X hoped to instill in the minds of the young communicants a deeper appreciation for the sacred intimacy of Holy Communion. In his 1994 “Letter to Children,” Pope Saint John Paul II built upon this theme, stating that frequent reception of communion is necessary “in order to remain in close friendship with Jesus.” One of the best benefits of Pius X’s invitation to the young is that it renewed a general liturgical emphasis on the Eucharist and encouraged more frequent reception of Christ’s Body and Blood among the faithful of all ages. With people receiving the Eucharist more frequently, there was also a surge of dependence on the Sacrament of Penance so as to receive worthily. Thus, the faithful of all ages were brought more frequently to the Sacraments thanks to Pius X’s pastoral insight.
For me, the spiritual preparation I received for my first Eucharist was unlike any other instruction I was taught in school. Up until the day of my First Holy Communion, my participation at Mass was seemingly limited during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I had questions about everything: Jesus had already died for me, my second-grade self would wonder, so what more is He offering? The answer, I would soon learn, could be summarized in the words of Bishop Barron, “The Cross has saved us, but our participation in that salvation can waver. So, what does the Lord give us? Bread for the journey.” Thinking about the Eucharist as spiritual food was very helpful and comforting, though I would continue to wrestle with the deception of my senses as described by St. Thomas Aquinas (who incidentally was a favorite of Pope St. Pius X) in his Eucharistic hymn, Adore te Devote:
O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me;
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.
Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed:
I believe all the Son of God has spoken,
Than Truth’s own word there is no truer token.
The occasion of one’s First Holy Communion is indeed a cause for celebration and thanks to the “Pope of the Eucharist” children are invited to share in the Mystery of the Real Presence. But beyond the photos and party and presents received, the true gift is partaking completely in the sacrifice of the Mass as offered by the priest and then striving to remain worthy to do so again and again at and in between each subsequent Mass. May we – throughout our whole lives - call to mind the significance of this invitation and, in the spirit of St. Pius X’s awe-struck humility, continuously seek to deepen our relationship with the Lord whose Body whose Body we dare to consume. And, as we are strengthened by this awesome spiritual food, let us do what we can to bring others to it. Whether we serve as Eucharistic ministers to the homebound, or volunteer with a First Communion CCD class, or even invite our friends whom we know haven’t been to mass in a while to receive the sacraments with us, let us use Christ’s body in the Eucharist to fuel our spirits as we daily serve as missionary disciples.