Synod closes day before 75th anniversary of pro-family encyclical

(Originally published in, and adapted from, Catholic Voice.)

May Christ the King and Mary the Queen of Heaven reign over the Synod

The 20th day of this month marks the 75th anniversary of a magnificent – yet today mostly ignored – encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, the first encylical of Venerable Pius XII.  The encyclical’s title in English is usually given as “On the Unity of Human Society”. Pius’s great concern at that time was the outbreak of the Second World War several weeks earlier, and the division of the human race along warring lines of nations, races and classes.

Pius XI, his esteemed predecessor, had in 1925 established the feast of the Social Kingship of Christ. Pius XII remarked:

“We see ever more clearly the sacred significance of that consecration of mankind to Christ the King … What age had greater need than ours of these benefits? What age has been, for all its technical and purely civic progress, more tormented than ours by spiritual emptiness and deep-felt interior poverty?”

The holy Pontiff was clearly deeply passionate about the rights, dignity and mission of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth:

“Can there be anything nobler than to unfurl the “Ensign of the King” before those who have followed and still follow a false standard, and to win back to the victorious banner of the Cross those who have abandoned it?”

This intense energy is apparent from the very start of the encyclical, and remains unwaned throughout the whole document.

Summi Pontificatus may have been written in what seems to us to be a wholly-different era, but Pius’s diagnoses and remedies for the ills of his day are highly applicable to our post-modern, neo-pagan age:

“Before all else, it is certain that the radical and ultimate cause of the evils which We deplore in modern society is the denial and rejection of a universal norm of morality as well for individual and social life as for international relations; We mean the disregard, so common nowadays, and the forgetfulness of the natural law itself, which has its foundation in God…”

The Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome is about to close. Pius’s words in Summi Pontificatus are very apt for the Synod’s discussions:

“the primary and essential cell of society [is] the family … man and the family are by nature anterior to the State, and that the Creator has given to both of them powers and rights and has assigned them a mission and a charge that correspond to undeniable natural requirements.”

The society of pre-Second World War Italy was based deeply on family life. Early, sacramental marriage and large, intact families were the norm. Abortion, contraception, and divorce were largely unknown. Yet the sacred institution of the family was being undermined by various political theories. Freemasonry, Socialism, and Fascism were all in different ways seeking to usurp the sovereignty of the family and hand it over to an over-powerful State. Pius wrote:

“Before Us stand out with painful clarity the dangers We fear will accrue to this and coming generations from the neglect or non-recognition, the minimizing and the gradual abolition of the rights peculiar to the family.” 

Pius was not crippled, however, by this fear:

“Therefore We stand up as determined defenders of those rights in the full consciousness of the duty imposed on Us by Our Apostolic office.” 

and his pastoral heart was moved:

“The stress of our times, as well external as internal, material and spiritual alike, and the manifold errors with their countless repercussions are tasted by none so bitterly as by that noble little cell, the family.”

He declared that the State must hold “the rights of conscience [to be] sacred and inviolable” and must respect “the inalienable duties and rights of the Christian family”. By doing so, the State “promotes its own internal peace and lays foundations of a happy future for the country.”

Pius turned from the responsibilities of the State to the vocation of the family, saying that it has “a special mission”, including forming new generations who will “oppose those who wish to exclude [Christ] from society or wrongly to usurp His rights.”

This month also marks a joyful anniversary of another great encyclical of Pius XII, Ad caeli Reginam, 11 October 1954, in which the Holy Father declared that:

“Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, reigns with a mother’s solicitude over the entire world …. [W]hen Christians reflected upon the intimate connection that obtains between a mother and a son, they readily acknowledged the supreme royal dignity of the Mother of God.”

May our Lady, Queen of Heaven, reign over the Synod and all our families!

About Voice of the Family:

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Voice of the Family is an international lay coalition of major pro-life and pro-family organizations that has formed to offer expertise and resources to leaders of the church, the media, NGOs, and governments before, during, and after the Catholic Church’s Synod on the Family. The Synod will end on 19 October.