Our Lady of the Rosary and the Victory at Lepanto
On October 7, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, also known as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory. This feast honors Mary as a powerful intercessor, and helps us understand that through her lies a path to Christ unlike any other. Throughout the Church’s history of honoring Mary, it has been recognized that possibly the strongest way for Catholics to seek her intercession is by devoutly praying the Rosary.
The Rosary has consequently been lauded and promulgated by saints, popes and holy men and women for hundreds and hundreds of years. Archbishop Fulton Sheen spoke of the power of the Rosary beautifully when he said, “The Rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the Rosary is beyond description.” This quotation, found with several others here, perfectly illustrates that the Rosary is a truly universal prayer, just as the Church is a truly universal Church. Learning more about the strength and power contained in the Rosary, as well as the history of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, can help us to better find our way to Jesus through Mary.
According to Catholic tradition, St. Dominic was given the concept of the Rosary by the Blessed Mother in the early thirteenth century. St. Dominic is given some credit in spreading devotion to the Blessed Mother through the recitation of the Rosary, but it is largely due to the devotion of many Dominicans in the next several centuries that the Rosary was disseminated to such a great extent. Devotion to Mary as she appeared to St. Dominic also increased with the devotion to the Rosary, and so it was that Our Lady of the Rosary began to be venerated in a significant way. Catholics throughout the world began to develop more intense and more personal relationships with the Blessed Mother, especially after Alanus de Rupe, a fifteenth-century Dominican preacher, is said to have experienced a private revelation from the Blessed Mother in which she made fifteen promises to those who would faithfully recite the Rosary. Love for her as Our Lady of the Rosary grew, especially as Catholics realized that growing closer to Mary was one of the best ways in which one could grow closer to God Himself.
The actual feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was not, however, established until 1571, the year of the Battle of Lepanto. This battle, which occurred on October 7, marked the victory of a league of combined forces, including those belonging to the papacy, over the forces of the Ottoman Empire. Among other things, this battle prevented the Ottoman Empire from seizing control of the Mediterranean at that time. Although this single battle may not seem like a pivotal historical event at first glance, it is said that the importance of this battle cannot be overstated. This event was responsible for changing relations between the East and the West at the time, and in a great way, it preserved the Church as we know it in the West. It is likely that our picture of the history of Catholicism would be much different today had the Ottoman Empire prevailed over the Catholic powers they fought that day, known as the “Holy League.”
Prior to the battle itself, Pope Pius V opened the churches of Rome day and night and called the faithful to pray that the Holy League be able to overcome the Turks. He asked specifically that Catholics everywhere petition the Blessed Mother for victory through faithful recitation of the Rosary. The news of the Holy League’s defeat of the Turks came as a welcome surprise, since the Holy League was outnumbered by the forces of the Ottoman Empire. It was through this unlikely turn of events that Pope Pius V came once again to recognize the power of Marian intercession. He went on to establish an annual feast to celebrate Our Lady of Victory, as he believed her to be responsible for the miraculous victory of the Holy League over the Turks. Two years later, Pope Pius V’s successor, Pope Gregory XIII, changed the name of the feast to the Feast of the Rosary, thus explicitly acknowledging the enormous intercessory power of the Rosary, especially in dire times.
The feast remained somewhat geographically localized until the latter seventeenth century, at which time Pope Clement X extended the commemoration of this feast day to the entirety of Spain. Later on in the early eighteenth century, Pope Clement XI commanded that the Feast of the Rosary be extended to all corners of the world and be celebrated by the universal Church. The feast continued to undergo a few small changes until it became the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, thus honoring both the power of Our Lady and the power of the Rosary specifically, and was set permanently on October 7.
As we exit the month of September and arrive at October 7, we can take this time to consider the importance of growing closer to Jesus through Mary, especially by praying the Rosary. Something that may help us realize the true import of praying the Rosary is reading through the fifteen promises that Our Lady privately revealed to Alanus de Rupe. The promises are:
- Whoever shall faithfully serve me by the recitation of the Rosary, shall receive signal graces.
- I promise my special protection and the greatest graces to all those who shall recite the Rosary.
- The Rosary shall be a powerful armor against hell, it will destroy vice, decrease sin, and defeat heresies.
- It will cause virtue and good works to flourish; it will obtain for souls the abundant mercy of God; it will withdraw the heart of men from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire of eternal things. Oh, that souls would sanctify themselves by this means.
- The soul which recommends itself to me by the recitation of the Rosary shall not perish.
- Whoever shall recite the Rosary devoutly, applying himself to the consideration of its sacred mysteries, shall never be conquered by misfortune. God will not chastise him in His justice, he shall not perish by an unprovided death; if he be just he shall remain in the grace of God, and become worthy of eternal life.
- Whoever shall have a true devotion for the Rosary shall not die without the sacraments of the Church.
- Those who are faithful to recite the Rosary shall have, during their life and at their death, the light of God and the plenitude of His graces; at the moment of death they shall participate in the merits of the saints in paradise.
- I shall deliver from Purgatory those who have been devoted to the Rosary.
- The faithful children of the Rosary shall merit a high degree of glory in heaven.
- You shall obtain all you ask of me by the recitation of the Rosary.
- All those who propagate the Holy Rosary shall be aided by me in their necessities.
- I have obtained from my Divine Son that all the advocates of the Rosary shall have for intercessors the entire celestial court during their life and at the hour of death.
- All who recite the Rosary are my sons, and brothers of my only son Jesus Christ.
- Devotion of my Rosary is a great sign of predestination.
Meditating on these promises shows us that the Rosary is not something we should pray mindlessly, infrequently or without intention. These promises are of such magnitude that they can aid us in thinking more deeply about the meaning of prayer itself, as well as Mary’s power as an intercessor to her Son on our behalf. As we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, let us seek to understand the power of the Rosary wholeheartedly, and pray for the diligence to keep the Rosary deeply involved in our prayer lives now and always. Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!