WITH the greatest affection and admiration, Catholics throughout the world will celebrate next Friday, with Masses, Holy Communion and prayers, the MOth birthday of Pope Pius XII and the 17th anniversary of his election to the Chair of St. Peter.
In England and Wales the Hierarchy have granted permission for evening Mass on that day and have urged the faithful to receive Holy Communion for the Holy Father's intentions.
In Westminster Cathedral, High Mass, followed by the "Te Doom", will be celebrated at 6 p.m. in the presence of the Cardinal Archbishop.
In Rome and the Vatican the greatest celebrations are being reserved for Sunday, March 11, the day preceding the anniversary of the Holy Father's coronation,
At least 500,000 people are expected to gather in and around St. Peter's Square and in the basilica itself to greet His Holiness when he goes to celebrate Mass.
It will be a day of tremendous thanksgiving for the preservation of the life of the Sovereign Pontiff who has brought the nations personally and individually closer to the Chair of the Vicar of Christ than they have ever been before and has brbught Untold spiritual and religious benefits to Catholics in every corner of the world.
Thanksgiving will be the deeper because it could hardly be expected in these last few years that His Holiness would still be alive. let alone appear to have regained the marvellous vitality that has helped to make this in many ways the most astonishing Supreme Pontificate in the whole history of the Papacy.
It seems humanly impossible that one man, comparatively late in life, can bear for more than perhaps five years' not only the responsibility of the Papacy but also continue day after day, seven days a week, month after month and year after year, to face and finish the mountain of work that now falls upon the Pope.
Yet here we have a Pope reaching his 80th birthday who had to leave the seminary and attend only as a day student because his health was so frail.
But this " miracle ' has happened five times in the past 110 years. Every Pope begins his reign knowing the old saying : " You will never reign as long as Peter ". St. Peter reigned in Rome for 25 years. No other Pope, indeed, did last 25 years — until Pope Pius IX who, elected in 1846, reigned for over 31 years.
Immediately after him came Pope Leo XIII — and he too exceeded 25 years, dying in 1903 at the age of 93. (He, like the present Holy Father, was born on March 2.)
Pope St. Pius X also reached the age of 80. Pope Benedict XV died comparatively young, but then came " Fides Intrepida ", Pope Pius XI, the mountaineer, who battled through a mounting series of afflictions in his last years and reached 80 years.
And now we have " Pastor Angelicus " celebrating his 80th birthday.
An English priest at a Papal audience during one of his two Holy Years remarked to Pope Pius XI : " Holy Father, you are looking tired." His Holiness took it almost as a criticism. He replied : " For the Pope, there is no time to be tired."
People have tried again and again to make the present Holy Father rest. He answers : " The Pope must always be well." And when they say : " Yes, Holy Father, but working' like this will kill you — what will happen then? " he replies : " They will elect a new Pope."
They urge him to take one day's rest a week. " Then, " he answers, " there will be twice as much work to-morrow. "
The only thing one suggests to this Pope is that he should decrease the enormous numbers of audiences he grants, or cease that extremely tiring custom of his of tramping from group to group and individual to individual, asking questions, listening, counselling, during audiences that sometimes last for hours on end.
True, it was once suggested that these audiences should be limited to fewer days in the week. But His Holiness said : " Then someone who could be in Rome, perhaps from a far country, only on a certain day, would not see the Pope. Everyone who comes to Rome has the right to see the Common Father." Since everyone is a child of God, His Holiness insists, everyone is most welcome and is expected to visit the home of the Vicar of Christ..
But there is another reason why the number of audiences will never be decreased. The simple truth is that Pope Pius XII visibly improves in health and vigour when he meets the ordinary people — and the more the better. He himself has said that one of his greatest afflictions during illness is the inability to be among them; talking to them, hearing their voices. •