By Antonio Gaspari
ROME, 28 OCT. 2009 (ZENIT)
Pius XII today is often associated
with the debate surrounding his assistance to Jews during World
War II. But as his first encyclical turned 70 this month, a
conference was held to reflect on one of the truly momentous
contributions of this Pope to history: his Marian devotion and
The Tuesday conference marked the anniversary of "Summi
Pontificatus," as well as considering other topics of Pius XII's
pontificate and magisterial teachings.
The meeting, organized by the Pope Pacelli Committee and the
journal "Cultura & Libri," took place in Rome's Basilica of St.
Lawrence Outside the Walls.
Father Stefano De Fiores spoke on "Pius XII and Mariology";
other themes included the encyclical "Mediator Dei" on sacred
liturgy, Pius XII and World War II, ecclesiology, and this
The full texts of the speakers' talks will be published in a
special issue of "Cultura & Libri."
Father De Fiores explained that with Pius XII's pontificate
(1939-1958), the Catholic Church lived a golden age of the post-Tridentine
Marian movement, oriented to the promotion of Marian devotion
and Mariological doctrine.
Special veneration of the Mother of Jesus made its greatest
impact in the first half of the 20th century, to the point that
Blessed John XXIII would refer to it as the age of Mary.
Pius XII's devotion to Mary was fervent, and his Mariology was
very rich. On Dec. 13, 1894, when he was 18, Eugenio Pacelli
enrolled in the Marian Congregation of the Jesuits in Rome.
Five years later, on April 3, 1899, when celebrating his first
Mass, he chose the Borghese Chapel of St. Mary Major.
He was consecrated bishop on the same day that the Virgin
appeared to the three little shepherds in Fatima (May 13, 1917).
And when elected the Bishop of Rome in 1939, he entrusted his
pontificate to her.
Father De Fiores confirmed that, "gratified by the vision of the
dancing sun, Pius XII expired in Castel Gandolfo on Oct. 9,
1958, with the rosary in his hand."
The Pontiff's devotion was also expressed through a series of
official events (Roschini lists 400 documents) whose objective
was to promote Mary's presence in the life and thought of the
The noteworthy events of Pius XII's Marian magisterium are
numerous. There is the famous encyclical "Mystici Corporis
Christi" (of June 29, 1943), in which the Pope specifies the
Virgin's place in the Mystical Body of Christ, presenting her as
"alma socia Christi," that is, Mother associated to the Son in
all his redemptive work.
He was the Pope to consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart
of Mary (on Oct. 31, 1942), thus heeding the request of the
Portuguese episcopate on the 25th anniversary of the apparitions
of the Virgin in Fatima.
At the height of the War, the Pope invoked Mary as "refuge of
the human race" and entrusted the whole world to her maternal
Pius XII reiterated this act of confidence in Jesus' Mother
consecrating Russia to her in 1952 and Spain in 1954.
As a continuation of these gestures, Pius XII established the
feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the universal Church on
March 4, 1944.
To Pius XII is owed the promulgation of the first Marian Year in
history (in 1954), on the occasion of the centenary of the
definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
This Marian Year was solemnly opened Dec. 8, 1953, in St. Mary
Major, and closed in St. Peter's on Nov. 1, 1954, with the
crowning of the Salus populi romani [salvation of the Roman
people] icon of Mary and with the institution of the feast of
Mary Queen of Heaven.
He had explained the theology of this feast in the encyclical
"Ad Caeli Reginam" (of Oct. 11, 1954), taking into account
biblical and ecclesial foundations.
Pius XII loved the rosary, which he described as the "compendium
of the whole Gospel"
Paul VI would take up this expression in "Marialis Cultus" (No.
and he considered it the meditation of the Lord's mysteries,
evening sacrifice, crown of roses, hymn of praise, prayer of the
family, sure promise of heavenly favor, pledge of hoped for
salvation and hope to heal the evils that afflict our time.
Father De Fiores explained to ZENIT that "Pius XII will remain
in the history of the Catholic faith above all for the dogmatic
definition of Mary's assumption in body and soul to heaven."
Following the example of Pius IX for the dogma of the Immaculate
Conception, with the encyclical "Deiparae Virginis" (of May 1,
1946), he consulted all the Catholic bishops to see if they
considered timely the definition of the Assumption (there were
already 8,036,393 signatures in favor).
The Nov. 1, 1950, proclamation was a memorable event in the
history of the Church, which Pius XII himself interpreted with
these words: "As though shaken by the beat of your hearts and by
the commotion of your lips, the very stones of this patriarchal
basilica vibrate and together with them it seems the innumerable
and ancient churches cry out with mysterious trembling, raised
everywhere in honor of the Assumption."