“Good and devout souls, who walk in the light of the Holy Spirit: I do not think that you will mind my giving you this little mystical rose tree which comes straight from heaven and which is to be planted in the garden of your soul” — St. Louis De Montfort
Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of The Rosary, established by St. Pius V on the anniversary of the naval victory won by the Christian fleet at Lepanto in October of 1571. The battle took place on the northern edge of the Gulf of Patras, ending in less than a day with the decisive defeat of the main fleet of the Ottoman Empire, which dealt a fatal blow to Muslim domination of the Mediterranean.
The victory at Lepanto is considered to be one of the greatest in naval history, since the Christians easily defeated an army reported to be about three times larger in number. The quick and pronounced victory by the Holy League was attributed to the help of the Mother of God whose intercession was invoked by the soldiers through the praying of the Rosary for three hours, during which time the wind shifted in their favor.
Today, the entire month of October is dedicated to praying the Rosary, a mental and vocal prayer of great depth in which Christians are drawn into the healing and regenerative mysteries of Christ’s life, just as the Virgin Mary unceasingly directs all the faithful toward her Son: the Savior of humankind. It is no exaggeration to say that, if we desire to know Jesus Christ, we ought to diligently and with love seek to know the Mother of God whose holy womb nourished and protected the infant Jesus, and whose entire life was and is lived in complete union with her Son’s divine purpose.
Blessed John Paul II tells us: “The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at the heart a Christocentric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium. . . . Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Introduction).
The word rosary means “crown of roses.” St. Louis De Montfort professes the Rosary to be a “priceless treasure which is inspired by God,” and the “mystical rose tree of Jesus and Mary in life, death, and eternity.” He tells us that reciting the Rosary produces spiritual roses which will “never wilt or die, and they will be just as exquisite thousands of years from now as they are today” (The Secret Of The Rosary 9, 13).
St. Louis De Montfort teaches that the Rosary is principally and in substance composed of the Prayer of Christ (The Our Father) and the Angelic Salutation (The Hail Mary; see Lk. 1:26 ff.). Therefore, in a sense, the Rosary dates to that pivotal day when the angel Gabriel greeted Mary with the words: “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Lk. 1:28). The Rosary thus becomes the “first prayer and the first devotion of the faithful” (The Secret Of The Rosary 17).
However, it was in the year 1214 that the Catholic Church received the Rosary in its present form, when it was given to St. Dominic from our Blessed Mother to be used as a powerful instrument of conversion in order to turn the hearts of the Albigensians back to God.
From that day forward, then as now, the Rosary has been embraced by the Catholic faithful the world over as a prayer of great power, from which graces of repentance, conversion, love of truth, and inexplicable joy flow forth from the infinite wellspring of Trinitarian Love. For those of the faithful who seek to advance in the spiritual life, it is through praying the Rosary that the indispensable graces necessary for such a sublime journey are received.
Also, the Rosary is widely known to be an antidote against the diabolical poisons of Satan. In his encyclical Supremi Apostolatus Officio, Pope Leo XIII taught that the Rosary is an effective spiritual weapon against the evils of an ill society. Observing that there have been many “exceedingly great favors obtained” through the ages by the Christian peoples’ devotion to the Rosary, he tells us: “We desire that that same devotion [to the Rosary] should be offered by the whole Catholic world with the greatest earnestness to the Blessed Virgin, that by her intercession her Divine Son may be appeased and softened in the evils which afflict us” (Introduction).
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Those “evils which afflict us” in contemporary society are legion: we are daily confronted with numerous intrinsic and grave evils: the intentional killing of thousands of unborn children through abortion; the destruction of multitudes of embryonic children through IVF and embryonic stem-cell experimentation; and the continued widespread use of contraceptives in an attempt to destroy the procreative potential that should exist in each intimate union of man and wife.
As if these are not enough, we must deal with the numerous and increasing attacks on the indispensable institution of marriage; a militant relativism which seeks to annihilate — albeit futilely — the truth; and powerful secularists whose intent is to force the privatization of religion, relegating public worship to closet ritual and evangelization to imposed silence. It is no exaggeration to say that society itself is threatened.
The words of Pope Leo XIII, in which he exhorts the faithful’s devotion to the Rosary, echo those of Our Lady of The Rosary, when, at Fatima in 1917, she appeared to Lucia and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, as the Lady “more brilliant than the sun.” On that day, the Virgin Mary announced to the entire world in union with her Son:
“I am the Lady of the Rosary. I have come to warn the faithful to amend their lives and to ask pardon for their sins. They must not offend our Lord any more, for he is already too grievously offended by the sins of men. People must say the Rosary. Let them continue saying it every day.”