Padre Pios mission of sanctifying souls
began with a solemn Mass sung at his birthplace in Pietrelcina, Italy, on Sunday, August
14, 1910. His last Mass was also a High Mass,
sung fifty-eight years later, on September 22, 1968, at San Giovanni Rotondo. Cardinal Corrado Ursi wrote that Holy Mass and
confession were at the core of Padre Pios legacy.
He added that the enormous influx of pilgrims had as its goal, not so much
the person of Padre Pio as much as his Mass and confessional, by which they were
spiritually renewed in Christ.
The Holy Father himself, Pope Paul
VI, musing on why the whole world flocked to Padre Pio, said it was not because he was a
great philosopher or a wise man or a rich man, but because He said Mass humbly, and
heard confessions from morning to evening. The friar was once asked by one of his
spiritual children, Father, just who are you to us? He replied, In your midst I am a brother, on
the altar a victim, in the confessional a judge.
The altar was his own personal
Calvary, where he lived out the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, in order to understand Padre Pio one must
enter the mystery of his Mass. Cardinal Ursi
wrote that Padre Pio lived in his own life the passion of Jesus. He expressed this in his Mass, which renewed
hearts, and families, and society. This is
the secret, the mystery of Padre Pio.
The Eucharistic sacrifice was the
visible and tangible sign of his mission and his spirituality. A visiting priest who attended his Mass for many
days wrote: For me it was everything
I did not miss one gesture or
expression. This priest had already
celebrated thousands of Masses himself, but considered himself a poor priest in
comparison. He observed that Padre Pio
truly spoke with God in every instant of the Mass, I should say he struggled
with God as did Abraham. And God was present
in his Mass, but not only a Eucharistic presence, as in my Mass. At San Giovanni he had found a priest who fully
and intensely loved God, in suffering and in prayer,
even to the point of
agony: a true saint.
While Padre Pio celebrated the same
formal ritual as other priests, there was a tangible difference in the fervor of his Mass. His facial expressions could be ardent, pallid,
transfigured, and sometimes tearful. He
underwent painful contractions in his body. His
angelic comportment and silent sobs during the almost two-hour Mass, showed that he was
living the Passion of Christ. Witnessing his
intense love and suffering, the congregation believed and prayed, and many became aware of
their own failings and turned back to God. To
the people, his Mass was everything, just as it was everything for Padre Pio.
In the early 1920s one of the
physicians who was allowed to examine the saints stigmata was Dr. Giorgio Festa. He later wrote a book supporting the supernatural
origin of these holy wounds, and also the sanctity of Padre Pio as evidenced by his
Masswhich, as he describes here, moved many worshipers to tears: The serious recollection and the fervor
which shined forth from the expression on his face during the unfolding of the mystical
rite, the perfect abstraction of his spirit at the solemn moment of consecration, the way
in which he pronounced the sacred invocations offering to the Eternal Father the sublime
holocaust . . . exercised such a profound fascination on the souls of those present that
many times I myself have seen fall from the cheeks of the incredulous and the suspicious
the redeeming pearls of deep feeling, of sorrow, and of love.
A Salesian priest commented that
although he himself offered the Holy Sacrifice for many years, his heart and mind had
never been so penetrated by its marvelous grandeur until he witnessed Padre Pio celebrate.
The most intimate fibers of my being vibrated with sentiments of emotion and
sweetness which I had never before experienced.
Another observer, quoted in one of
the first books ever written about Padre Pio (Per la Storia, by Alberto del
Fante), testified that the Capuchin officiated at Mass with the simplicity of Christ
praying in Galilee. Extremely pale, his
eyes half-closed as if he were seeing a bright light, Padre Pio said Mass as if he were
from another level of humanity superior to ours, presiding in an other-worldly atmosphere
at that simple and rustic altar. And the
people crowd around the altar of the mystical Mass like an immense rose-bush of suffering
humanity . . . certain that this man, when celebrating the Mass, is truly with God. In his book, del Fante observed that from his own
experience, All was still, one could
not even hear the usual shuffling of feet, nor the sound of people moving around in their
seats, everything was in suspense.
An article in a major Catholic
publication, La civilta cattolica, described how his Mass dissolved all distances
of time and space between the altar and Calvary. The
Divine Host, elevated in his hands, rendered sensibly to the eyes of the faithful the
mystical union of the officiating priest and the Eternal Priest. In his Mass, Padre Pio relived each day that
painful event of September 20, 1918, when he was wounded in his body and soul. He personally suffered during the celebration, as
if he were re-stigmatized, with torments both physical and spiritual.
His interior state the consolations and the bitterness
Both joy and suffering were
reflected in Padre Pios body and soul before, during and after he celebrated Mass. Temptations accompanied him to the altar, as he
described in a letter from his hometown of Pietrelcina, shortly after his 1910 ordination.
Even when I ascend the altar . . . I
experience these assaults, but Jesus is with me, so what have I to fear? He considered himself a sinner, and during the Confiteor
(I confess at the start of Mass) he struck himself on the chest with great
violence, as if to emphasize the unworthiness and insufficiency of the human condition
before the wonderful gifts of the Most High.
At the close of Mass, he retired for
a short time of private prayer and thanksgiving before emerging to greet his devotees. During these moments, Jesus often gifted him with
divine sweetness and consolation. He wrote in
one of his letters from Pietrelcina, The Mass over, I spent time with Jesus to
render him thanks. Oh how sweet was the colloquy with Paradise this morning! . . . The
heart of Jesus and my heart, excuse the expression, became fused. There were not two hearts that beat, but only one.
My own heart disappeared, like a drop of water lost in the ocean . . . Delightful tears
flowed down my face.
In the early mornings, prior to
Mass, he anxiously awaited his union with Jesus in Holy Communion. Writing again from Pietrelcina, he described how
he was wounded by the thought of Jesus in the sacrament. My heart feels
drawn by a superior force before uniting myself sacramentally with him in the morning. I have such hunger and thirst to receive him that
I almost die of anguish. He proceeds to
say in the same letter, When I am finally in possession of this highest good, then
the sweetness of the consolation is so immense that I am tempted to say to Jesus: enough,
I can bear no more. I almost forget that I am
living in this world.
He elaborated further on the joys of
union with Jesus in a letter from 1912 to his spiritual director. I would like to bare my interior to
you for one moment so you can see the wound which the most sweet Jesus has lovingly opened
in this heart of mine. It has finally found a Lover that loves it so much that he cannot
be hurt by it . . . He is so much in love with my heart that he makes me completely burn
from his divine fire, from the fire of his love. What
is this fire that consumes me?
Padre Pio truly believed that
everyone, especially priests, burned with this same divine fire when in the presence of
the Eucharist, and that the hearts of others were greater than his own. Often I ask
myself if there are souls that do not feel their hearts burning with divine love,
especially when they are before him in the sacrament. To me this seems impossible,
especially in regards to a priest or a religious. Perhaps
these souls who say that they do not feel this flame, do not experience it because their
hearts are greater.
When he was deprived of this divine
sweetness because he was unable to celebrate Mass while hospitalized during his army
service, he lamented: I am extremely discouraged for the sole reason that here it is
not possible to celebrate . . . what
desolation! When he was able to say
Mass again, he experienced great joy, because it was the only consolation left
Occasionally during Mass he felt
within himself a consuming fire which enveloped his whole person. Writing from Pietrelcina in 1911, where his Mass
would last for four hours, he said, The
beatings of my heart, when I am with Jesus in the sacrament, are extremely forceful. At times it seems to want to burst from my chest. Sometimes at the altar I feel such a fire within
that I cannot describe it. My face especially
seems as if it would burst into flames.
After his Mass on the feast of St.
Joseph on March 19, 1912, he wrote: My heart and head were on fire; but it was a
beneficial fire. My mouth tasted all the
sweetness of the immaculate flesh of the Son of God.
Oh, in this moment when I feel all this again, if I could bury in my heart
these consolations, I would certainly be in paradise!
How happy Jesus makes me! How
sweet is his spirit!
But his consolations during Mass did
not succeed in dispelling his unique sufferings. I was getting ready to vest for
Mass, but I had to leave the sacristy in order to ease my bitterness by weeping. During the celebration of Mass, precisely at the
time of the consecration, Jesus gave me a little comfort for a brief time, and then back
to the bitterness. (June 3,
Often the thought of his own
unworthiness tormented him. In 1918 a few
months before receiving the stigmata, he wrote to his spiritual director,
approach the altar in disgust and repugnance for the monstrous and brutal feelings that
accompany me. What happens within me during
that awesome time on the altar I am unable to describe . . . I dont know if I am
really part of this noble ceremony; a lethargy seems to accompany me before it, and
swallow me up afterwards.
A month later he experienced at Mass
an inner divine touch from God, which, rather than consoling him, caused him
Offertory of Holy Mass, I was touched by a living breath.
I am unable to explain exactly what occurred within me during that fleeting
moment; I was completely shaken, filled with extreme terror and came close to dying. This was followed by a total calm, such as I had
never before experienced. All of this terror, trembling, and calm coming in succession
were not caused by anything I saw, but rather by something which I experienced in the most
secret and intimate recesses of my soul.
While this was transpiring, during
that same Mass he found the strength to offer himself completely to the Lord for the
intentions of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XV, who had begged for prayers to end the war
(WWI). As soon as Padre Pio finished this
self-offering, he felt himself figuratively falling into a harsh prison, and sensed the
clanging of the prison door as it closed behind him.
I seemed to be bound by strong shackles, and sensed that my life was
ebbing away. From that moment on, I have been
experiencing hell, without a respite even for an instant. With these words, it can be seen how the Mass of
Padre Pio was a participation in Calvary.
The above overview is taken from the ninth chapter of "Padre Pio da
Pietrelcina: crocifisso senza croce," Edizioni "Padre Pio da Pietrelcina,"
Convento dei Padri Cappuccini, 71013 San Giovanni Rotondo (Foggia), 2002.