Today is the feast day of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. Ora pro nobis.
“The Turks, swollen by their victories, will wish to take on our fleet, and God—I have the pious presentiment—will give us victory. Charles V gave you life. I will give you honor and greatness. Go and seek them out!”
Pope Pius V to Don Juan of Austria
by Abbot Gueranger
It is customary with men of the world to balance their accounts at the end of the year, and ascertain their profits. The Church is now preparing to do the same. We shall soon see Her solemnly numbering Her elect, taking an inventory of Her holy relics, visiting the tombs of those who sleep in the Lord, and counting the sanctuaries, both new and old, that have been consecrated to Her Divine Spouse. But today’s reckoning is a more solemn one, the profits more considerable: She opens Her balance-sheet with the gains accruing to Our Lady from the mysteries which compose the liturgical cycle. Christmas, the Cross, the triumph of Jesus, these produce the holiness of us all; but before and above all, the holiness of Mary. The diadem which the Church thus offers first to the august Sovereign of the world, is rightly composed of the triple crown of these sanctifying mysteries, the causes of Her joy, of Her sorrow, and of Her glory. Such is Mary’s Rosary; a new and fruitful vine, which began to blossom at St. Gabriel’s salutation, and whose fragrant garlands form a link between earth and Heaven.
The Rosary was made known to the world by St. Dominic at the time of the struggles with the Albigensians, that social war of such ill-omen for the Church. The Rosary was then of more avail than armed forces against the power of Satan; it is now the Church’s last resource. It would seem that, the ancient forms of public prayer being no longer appreciated by the people, the Holy Ghost has willed by this easy and ready summary of the Liturgy to maintain, in the isolated devotion of these unhappy times, the essential of that life of prayer, faith, and Christian virtue, which the public celebration of the Divine Office formerly kept up among the nations. Before the 13th century, popular piety was already familiar with what was called the psalter of the laity, that is, the Angelical Salutation repeated 150 times (once for each of the Biblical Psalms); it was the distribution of these Hail Marys into decades, each devoted to the consideration of a particular mystery, that constituted the Rosary. Such was the divine expedient, simple as the eternal Wisdom conceived it, and far-reaching in its effects; for while it led wandering man to the Queen of Mercy, it obviated ignorance of the Faith, which is the food of heresy, and taught him to find once more “the paths consecrated by the Blood of the Man-God, and by the tears of His Mother” (Pope Leo XIII, Encycl. Magnae Dei Matris, Sept. 8, 1892).
Thus speaks the great Pontiff who, in the universal sorrow of those days, had again pointed out the means of salvation more than once experienced by our fathers. Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclicals, has consecrated the month of October to this devotion so dear to Heaven; he has honored Our Lady in Her Litanies with the title, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary; and he has given the final development to the solemnity of this day, by raising it to the rank of Double of the II Class, and by enriching it with a proper Office explaining its permanent object. Besides all this, the Feast is a memorial of glorious victories, which do honor to the Christian name.
Soliman II, most powerful of the Sultans, taking advantage of the confusion caused in the west by Luther, had filled the 16th century with terror by his exploits. He left to his son, Selim II, the prospect of being able at length to carry out the ambition of his race: to subjugate Rome and Vienna, the Pope and the emperor, to the power of the crescent. The Turkish fleet had already mastered the greater part of the Mediterranean, and was threatening Italy, when, on October 7, 1571, it came into battle against the pontifical galleys supported by the fleets of Spain and Venice. It was Sunday; throughout the world the confraternities of the Holy Rosary were engaged in their work of intercession. Supernaturally enlightened, Pope St. Pius V watched from the Vatican the battle undertaken by the leader he had chosen, Don Juan of Austria, against the three hundred vessels of Islam. At the sacrifice of many lives offered with great heroism, the outnumbered Catholic fleet utterly devastated the diabolical Turks. But Our Lady would not have Her victory end there. While the Muslim fleet was fleeing, She raised such a storm at sea, that only a small fraction returned to tell of their humiliating defeat. The illustrious Pontiff, whose life’s work was now completed did not survive to celebrate the anniversary of this glorious triumph; but he perpetuated the memory of it by an annual commemoration of Our Lady of Victory. His successor, Pope Gregory XIII, altered this title to Our Lady of the Rosary, and appointed the first Sunday of October for the new Feast, authorizing its celebration in those churches which possessed an altar under that invocation.
A century and a half later, this limited concession was made general. As Pope Innocent XI, in memory of the deliverance of Vienna by General Sobieski, had extended the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary to the whole Church; so, in 1716, Pope Clement XI inscribed the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary on the universal calendar, in gratitude for the victory gained by Prince Eugene at Peterwardein, on August 5, under the auspices of Our Lady of the Snows. This victory was followed by the raising of the siege of Corfu, and completed a year later by the taking of Belgrade. (6)
The naval victory of Lepanto gained by Don John of Austria over the Turkish fleet on the first Sunday of October in 1571 responded wonderfully to the processions made at Rome on that same day by the members of the Rosary confraternity. St. Pius V thereupon ordered that a commemoration of the Rosary should be made upon that day, and at the request of the Dominican Order Gregory XIII in 1573 allowed this feast to be kept in all churches which possessed an altar dedicated to the Holy Rosary.
In 1671 the observance of this festival was extended by Clement X to the whole of Spain, and somewhat later Clement XI after the important victory over the Turks gained by Prince Eugene on 6 August, 1716 (the feast of our Lady of the Snows), at Peterwardein in Hungary, commanded the feast of the Rosary to be celebrated by the universal Church. A set of “proper” lessons in the second nocturn were conceded by Benedict XIII.
Leo XIII has since raised the feast to the rank of a double of the second class and has added to the Litany of Loreto the invocation “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary“. On this feast, in every church in which the Rosary confraternity has been duly erected, a plenary indulgence toties quoties is granted upon certain conditions to all who visit therein the Rosary chapel or statue of Our Lady. This has been called the “Portiuncula” of the Rosary.
Many banners wafted at Lepanto. The great one bearing an image of Christ Crucified was the gift of Pope Pius V to Don Juan of Austria. One of the admirals, Gianandrea Doria, a nephew of Andrea Doria often confused with his uncle, used as his ensign, if not a banner, an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, this only forty years after her appearance in Mexico. The bishop there had commissioned five copies, touching each to the original tilma. The one gifted to the King of Spain, Philip II, was in turn entrusted to Doria for the battle. Then there was the sixteen-foot long silk banner of the Ottoman admiral Ali Pasha decorated with Quranic verses and the image of a zulfiqar, the double-bladed sword said to have been what Mohammed had used in his slaughterings, with the name of Allah stitched in gold 29,800 times. (5)
At midday on the flagship Reale, Don Juan unfurled the blue banner the pope had given him and the troops cheered, trying to drown out the intimidating sound of cymbals, gongs, drums and conches from the Muslim fleet. The battle lasted five hours, during which a sudden 180-degree change in the wind favored the Christians who unfurled their sails as the Turks struck theirs. In blood-reddened water, the Reale clashed against the Sultana, and a musket ball killed the Muessunzade Ali Pasha, while Don Juan survived a leg wound. (5)
Our Lady of the Holy Rosary
To aid in this remembrance G. K. Chesterton in 1911 wrote his epic poem Lepanto:
White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.
Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young,
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain—hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.
Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri’s knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunset and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees,
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.
They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be;
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,—
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, “Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done,
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces—four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not ‘Kismet’; it is he that knows not Fate ;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey in the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth.”
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still—hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.
St. Michael’s on his mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.
King Philip’s in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that, is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial, and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John’s hunting, and his hounds have bayed—
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.
The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man’s house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that swat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign—
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!
Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade….
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.) (2)
Here is but a small fraction of the victories directly obtained from God through the Holy Rosary:
- The Battle of Lepanto which saved Rome and Vienna, and thus the Pope and the Emperor, from Moslem subjugation
- The deliverance of Vienna by Sobieski
- The victory given to Prince Eugene of Peterwardein
- The raising of the siege of Corfu
- The taking of Belgrade
- The withdrawal from Soviet Troops from Austria on Oct. 26, 1955
- The deliverance of Brazil from Communism in 1964 (8)
Image: Madonna del Rosario, artist: Luca Giordano, circa 1657
Research by REGINA Staff