Padre Pio's Mass

Many pilgrims affirmed, “Finally I have heard a true Mass!”    

Important highlights from the official biography of Padre Pio

   The official biography, “Padre Pio da Pietrelcina: Crocifico senza Croce” (Crucified without a Cross), is written in Italian by Padre Fernando da Riese Pio X.  The ninth chapter, dealing with Padre Pio’s Mass, consists of thirty-one pages, and is entitled “Sull’Altare,” (On the Altar, pp. 233 – 263).     First published in 1975 by saint’s friary in San Giovanni Rotondo, the biography was part of the vast documentation submitted to the Vatican during his Cause for Beatification and Canonization.

    St. Padre Pio (1887 – 1968) celebrated the traditional Latin Tridentine Mass during his entire priesthood.  The first stigmatized Catholic priest, he bore the stigmata for 50 years.

Edited and translated by Frank M. Rega, SFO

   Padre Pio’s 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 Pio’s 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 1920’s one of the physicians who was allowed to examine the saint’s 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 Mass—which, 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 Pio’s 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 to him. 

     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, 1921). 

     Often the thought of his own unworthiness tormented him.  In 1918 a few months before receiving the stigmata, he wrote to his spiritual director, “ …I 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 don’t 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 unspeakable terror.  “…during the 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.

 Controversial, bold and thought-provoking, the above book is available in print or Kindle format.



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Frank Rega is the author of:  Padre Pio and America,
St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims,

The Greatest Catholic President: Garcia Moreno of Ecuador
  Life of the Mystic Luisa Piccarreta - Journeys in the Divine Will 
vols. 1 and 2
Life of the Mystic Luisa Piccarreta - volume 3 in preparation
 The Truth about Padre Pio's Stigmata and Other Wonders of the Saint
Vatican II, Evolution, and Medjugorje: Hubris, Heresy, and Mystery

Disclaimer All translations in any of my Web pages made from various Italian language sources are intended as an informal, good faith sharing from my own personal notes, and are not otherwise authorized, official, or presented as completely accurate.

This page was last updated on 02/13/14