Pope Leo XIII is depicted in this official Vatican portrait. The pope founded the Vatican School of Paleography, Diplomatics and Archive Administration in 1884, just a few years after he opened the archives to the world's scholars. CNS photo/Library of Congress

The Register Archive: A crowning achievement for Pope Leo XIII

  • February 12, 2018
To mark The Register’s 125th year, we are re-publishing some stories from our archive. February 1893 marked the 15th anniversary of the reign of Pope Leo XIII (below), who would go on to serve 25 years, the third longest reign in history. This excerpt from The Register of Feb. 2, 1893 looks at the Pope’s election and his accomplishments:

TheRegisterArchiveStamp Final BLUE transparentIt must indeed have been a solemn scene when, robed in his immaculate white cassock, mozzetta of crimson velvet, the Fisherman’s ring on his finger and on his head the white skull cap of the popes, the new Pontiff, after receiving the homage of the Cardinals, approached before the expectant multitude to raise his hand for the first time in Pontifical Benediction.

The whole basilica was one whole mass of heads, the people being packed so closely as to be unable to kneel! The Pope knelt down against the balcony and hid his face in his hands. When he rose to his feet and, in a voice powerful and sonorous though somewhat tremulous with feeling, intoned the blessing, the solemn hush that followed was broken by a cry that rang through that great space — “Viva Papa Leone.”
The ceremonies attending the coronation of a pope have been handed down from the earliest times and are many of them most impressive, not the least is that by which the Pontiff is gently reminded that humility is to be his crowning virtue even in the highest position of the Church; that the pomp is due to his office and should not blind him to his own unworthiness. An eyewitness of the last coronation thus describes this detail of the ceremony:

“When the Pope was borne out into the full light of the Sala Regla, clad in full pontificals, he appeared above the heads of all in the rays of the Roman, backed by the flabelli, a gorgeous picture framed by the door of the Sistine. The nave was kept absolutely clear for the wide and long cortege; when it had arrived at the point halfway between the door of the chapel and the cancello it stopped and a clerk bearing a pole surmounted by three iron prongs lighted at a taper the piece of tow on one of them and, kneeling in front of the Pontiff as the flame blazed up and as suddenly expired, chanted in a plaintiff minor, “Pater Sancte, sic transit gloria mundi” (“Holy Father, so passes worldly glory”).

“The animated face of Leo XIII assumed a grave expression, he slightly bent his head and leaned back in his throne with the look of one to whom the solemn truth was by no means strange. When the last Amen from all present rolled through the chapel, the sound of a mortar was heard without, and at this signal the bells of St. Peter and all of the churches announced to the city that a new Pope was crowned.”

The career of Msgr. Pecci as Pope Leo XIII is too well known to need comment here. One of the first acts was to restore the Hierarchy of Scotland and to give to England a new cardinal in the person of John Henry Newman. “Lumen in Coela” he had been called and Lumen in Coela he had proved himself. “In the successor of Pope Pius,” said the great English cardinal, “I recognize a depth of thought, a tenderness of heart, a winning simplicity, a power answering to his name.” Veritably this was a lion of the fold of Judah!

Time and again has his voice been raised and always in the interest of peace. . .

This is the man whose jubilee the world celebrates at the opening of ’93. Emperors and kings have their policies and statecraft; the policy of the pope relates to things of a higher realm than these — it is to preach peace on Earth and goodwill to men. “Vicegerent of Christ on Earth” — it is indeed a daring title in this age of warring social forces, of skepticism, of denial and of despair, but it is a title that has come down to us through centuries and that will last, we believe, when time, that “minute between two miracles,” as Ernest Renan calls it, is over.

It shines like a beacon star in the firmament, declaring to all earnestness seekers after Truth that Christ is not dead, but lives forever in the Church that He founded.

Great in intellect, noble in soul, pure in life. Leo XIII stands forth today as the embodiment of all that is highest and best on Earth, true representative of Him who once walked in Galilee. The “Viva Papa Leone” of the pilgrims may be echoed throughout the Christian world, for this white-robed Man of the Vatican has grown old in the service of God and of humanity.

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