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Our Lady of the Rosary
(feast first instituted by Pope St Pius V in 1572 under the title of “Our Lady of Victory”)
You are not the first of my nieces to be struggling hard at the start of this year. It seems as if efforts for evangelization are being thwarted left and right. Never fear, in the end, you will be victorious. And that victory will come sooner if you learn a lesson from today’s feast day.
Back in 1571 things looked almost as dismal for Christian Europe as the do today for your Compass chapter. A Muslim empire was gradually steamrolling westward, sweeping Christians away as they went. It didn’t help that the Protestant Reformation had spawned horrible disunity and even war among the Christians. Add to that a recent fire that had devastated the great Venetian fleet, and a famine invading almost the whole of Italy, and you get most adverse situation. In any case, the Pope at the time (St Pius V) added fervent prayers to brilliant diplomacy, and gathered a fleet of over a hundred ships to repel the onslaught of the Ottoman Emperor Selimus II, whose fleet outnumbered the Christians by almost three to one. On October 7th, the first Sunday of October, the Europeans engaged the Turks, while all throughout Christendom prayers were being offered for the successful outcome. In Rome and in many other places, Rosary processions were held, and many Rosaries were offered as an expression of faith in Christ and in the intercession of Heaven’s Queen Mother, Mary. On the verge of battle, Don John of Austria, head general of the Christian army, gave the signal by hoisting a flag given him by the Pope on which an image of Christ crucified was embroidered. All the sailors and soldiers knelt in prayer before images of the crucifix as the two fleets drew together just as the sun rose in the east, illuminating the Greek harbor of Lepanto
The very day of the battle, in the afternoon, St Pius V was meeting with some Cardinals when he suddenly stood up from the table, walked briskly to the window, opened the shutters, and peered into the heavens for a few moments. Then he shut the window and called the meeting to a close. “It is not now time to talk any more on business, but to thank God for the victory had has given to the arms of the Christians.” Just as he attributed the military victory to God’s miraculous intervention, equally miraculous was his prescient knowledge thereof.
And that is how Mary’s title “Our Lady, Help of Christians” made it into the Litany of Loreto, and today’s feast of “Our Lady of the Rosary” made it into the liturgical calendar. Of course, Christians haven’t won every battle they’ve fought under the protection of fervent prayers, but in the end, Christ’s victory alone will last, so if you’re fighting for him, you’ve got hope to spare.
Your devoted uncle, Eddy