SAINT CELESTINE V (1210-1296), pope
Today, the Church honors Saint Celestine V, who will always be remembered for the bizarre manner in which he was elected pope, and for the distinction of being the first of only two pontiffs to have ever resigned in Church history (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI being the second in modern times).
Pietro di Murrone was born in the year 1210 in the Neapolitan province of Moline in northern Italy. He was of humble parentage and became a Benedictine monk at the age of seventeen, eventually being ordained a priest at Rome.
Pietro’s love for solitude led him into the wilderness of the Abruzzi Mountains in Italy, where he took for his model John the Baptist. He fasted every day except Sunday; and each year he kept four Lents, passing three of them on bread and water. He would spend the entire day and a great part of the night consecrating himself to prayer and personal labor.
Pietro’s desire for solitude was not always realized, for there were many who gathered about him, eager to imitate his Rule of life; and before his death, there were thirty-six monasteries, numbering 600 religious based upon His Rule. The Order was approved as a branch of the Benedictines by Pope Urban IV in 1264.
In July, 1294, two years and three months after the death of Pope Nicholas IV, Pietro’s pious exercises were suddenly interrupted by a scene unparalleled in ecclesiastical history. Three eminent dignitaries, accompanied by an immense multitude of monks and laymen, ascended the mountain and announced to Pietro that he had been chosen pope by unanimous vote of the Sacred College of twelve cardinals on July 5, 1294, and humbly begged him to accept the honor. In tears, he sorrowfully accepted and took the name Celestine V on August 29th.
He was pope for only about five months. Because he was so humble and simple, many took advantage of his gentleness. In his kindheartedness, Pope Celestine was unable to say “no” to anyone, and soon matters in the Church of Rome were in great confusion. Realizing his inability to effectively manage the affairs of the Church, Pope Celestine V, on December 13, 1294, officially notified the cardinals of his resignation and proclaimed that they were free to proceed to a new election.
Ten days later, Boniface VIII was elected pope, revoking many of the provisions made by Celestine. At the age of eighty-four, Celestine yearned to live the life of a hermit once again and rejoined his brother monks on Mount Majella. For his own protection, Pope Boniface eventually kept Celestine hidden for the last ten months of his life in a small room in a Roman palace. Celestine may have appreciated it, for he never lost his love for the hermit’s life, and spent his last days in prayer and fasting. He died on May 19, 1296.
Pope Celestine V was canonized a saint in 1313 by Pope Clement V. His remains are interred in the Church of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in Aquila, Italy.
We commemorate his feastday on May 19.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, catholic.org/saints and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Pastors ~ pope)
“All-powerful and Ever-living God, You called Saint Celestine to guide Your people by his word and example. With him, we pray to You: watch over the pastors of Your Church with the people entrusted to their care, and lead them to salvation.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”