Today, October 7th, is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. On this day in 1571, a small and heavily-outnumbered allied Catholic naval force under the command of Don John of Austria defeated a Turk Muhammedian fleet of over 300 ships. This naval battle kept the Western Mediterranean from falling into Muslim hands and preserved the place of Christianity in the Western world. Before the battle, Pope Pius V commended the forces of the Holy League fighting for the survival of Christendom to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, and urged people to pray the Holy Rosary for the protection of the Church. As a result of the Providential outcome of the Battle of Lepanto, the Church has commemorated a feast day in honor of the Virgin Mary on this day ever since.
It was originally called the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, but Pope Gregory XIII changed the name to Our Lady of the Rosary, because it is said that Pope Pius had led a Rosary procession in St. Peter’s Square knowing that the battle was imminent. Pope Gregory wanted to highlight the power of praying the Holy Rosary, and of the intercession of the Blessed Mother.
Unlike people in the 16th Century, we aren’t in danger of being essentially enslaved (the Ottoman Turks used Christians to row their ships, among other things, as they saw certain tasks to be beneath Muslims) to non-Christians, we live in a society that has traditionally respected the freedom of conscience, and that means that unlike people in those days, we have much less fear that our ability to worship and serve God will be dependent on who rules over us.
While this reality has been wonderful for our own personal freedoms, whether consciously or not, we and our society have become far less dependent on God. We share a certain collective guilt for believing that the things we have and the gifts we have been given are the products merely of our own efforts and doing, or of human ingenuity alone. We may not be like the militant secularists or atheists who openly flout and defy God, lacking the faith necessary to understand not only that he exists but that he loves them, but we often behave as though we are “atheists-in-practice.” Sunday is no longer a day of rest set aside for worship, and many employers (beyond essential personnel such as hospital staff or safety and security personnel) make their employees work on Sunday. It begs a question that I have personally wrestled with for some time, and that is whether I am contributing to these ills even in the smallest way if I do any unnecessary business on the Lord’s Day.
Another far more important area where it sometimes seems that the spirit of unhealthy modernism runs rampant is the increasing lack in some quarters of prayerful popular piety, which for Catholics means devotions like praying the Holy Rosary. I should point out that I am not pointing the finger in saying this so much as looking in the mirror, because I know that the the rosary is a powerful prayer of faith from personal experience. I know that I should pray it far more frequently than I do. We all make excuses for why we have no time for these important practices of prayer and piety. Work, or necessary chores, or assignments, you name it. The truth, however, is that if we have time for a football game or time to have a drink with our friends, we have time for the Holy Rosary or for other exercises of prayer. Mind you, those aforementioned things are in no way bad, God gave them to us in order to make our lives on this earth more enjoyable, but when we make time for those things but not the things of God, we have lost our sense of what is truly important.
In 1571, people believed in the power of prayer, and especially in the power of the prayer that is the Most Holy Rosary. They believed that if they prayed the Holy Rosary with a firm faith that God’s will would be done, and through the intercession of Our Lady of Victory that Christendom would be saved. That faith and those prayers did not go unheeded, nor did that firm faith go without reward.
When we pray the Holy Rosary, do we do so with that kind of faith? Think about how much could be accomplished in this world if more people prayed the rosary every day with what the Holy Father has called “just that much faith.” It could radically change the world for Christ.
When you next pray the Holy Rosary-and hopefully you will not long after you read this post-please remember the repose of the soul of Father Jay Flaherty, a priest of the Diocese of Knoxville who entered Eternal Life on Saturday. Father Flaherty celebrated my wedding Mass, and was one of the finest homilists that I have ever personally had the pleasure to hear. He had a passion for souls and for truth. Also remember Monsignor Xavier Mankel, our long-time Vicar General, who I understand is recovering from congestive heart failure. Pray for these and for all of our holy priests.