“If you say the Rosary faithfully until death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins ‘you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory’ (1 Pet 5:4). Even if you are on the brink of damnation, even if you have one foot in hell … sooner or later you will be converted and will amend your life and save your soul, if – and mark well what I say – if you say the Rosary devoutly every day until death for the purpose of knowing the truth and obtaining contrition and pardon for your sins.” (The Secret of the Rosary by St Louis Marie de Montfort)
As we celebrate the feast day of Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary on the 7th of October, let us contemplate the power of the Holy Rosary. The origins for this feast go back and back many centuries ago, to when the Church of Europe was on the verge of collapse. In the 1500’s, the Ottoman Turks conquered the Middle East, Crete, and Cyprus and slaughtered millions of Christians, before moving to their next targets: Sicily, Venice and the city of Rome herself.
Amid this dark persecution, Pope Saint Pius V reminisced about King David who raised his eyes, weeping but full of hope, to the Lord of refuge:
“A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2).
And so, Pope Pius urged all Christians across Europe to invoke Our Lady’s intercession through the rosary: “ Following the example of our predecessors, seeing that the Church militant, which God has placed in our hands, in these our times is tossed this way and that by so many heresies, and is grievously troubled and afflicted by so many wars, and by the depraved morals of men, we also raise our eyes, weeping but full of hope, unto that same mountain, whence every aid comes forth…” (Pope Saint Pius V, Consueverunt Romani Pontifices, 17 September 1569).
He also called upon all the Christian princes of Europe to unite against this imminent threat and form the Holy League – to be commanded by the 24-year-old Don John of Austria. But on October 7, 1571, the morning of the Battle of Lepanto, the odds were stacked against the Holy League. Not only were they severely outnumbered by the Ottoman army, but the wind was against them. Clinging to their last glimmer of hope, Don John and his army turned to prayer. Suddenly, by the end of the day, the wind shifted in favor of the Holy League who defeated the Ottomans and liberated the 12,000 Christian slaves.
The powerful weapon of the rosary saved Christendom from the clutches of the Ottoman invaders. And so, Pope Pius V established that October 7 would be the feast day in honor of Our Lady of Victory as their triumph was attributed to the Virgin Mary’s intercession.
Our Lady’s powerful role in fighting the battles of the Lord and conquering evil through fortitude and patience is beautifully depicted in the private revelations of Venerable Mary of Agreda (1602-1665), a Spanish Franciscan nun. After Jesus’ death, Our Lady, accompanied by St John, was on her way to the Council of Apostles. During the voyage from Ephesus to Jerusalem, Mary of Agreda saw how Satan and his terrifying army of demons appeared before Our Lady to threaten her. But she defeated them.
“Lucifer and his demons with increasing fury threatened the powerful Queen by telling her that she would perish in this sea and not escape alive. But these and other threats were but spent arrows and the most prudent Mother despised them, not even listening to them, or looking upon the demons, or speaking to them a single word. They themselves, on the other hand, could not bear even to glance at her face on account of the virtue of the Most High shining from it. And the more they strove to overcome this virtue, the weaker they became and the more were they tormented by those offensive weapons, with which the Lord had clothed his most holy Mother” (Mystical City of God, Book 8, Chapter 2).
And in the same way, Our Lady is a powerful intercessor for us, especially when we invoke her protection through the Holy Rosary. How did this ancient weapon come to be?
The rosary was given a great boost and promotion when Our Lady appeared in Prouilhe, Southern France, to Saint Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221), the founder of the Order of Preachers, later known as the Dominicans. In the year 1214 when St Dominic was in anguish because the darkness of the Albigensian Cathar heretics seemed to be ubiquitous, he then went alone to a forest and prayed, fasted and sobbed unceasingly for three days and three nights until he passed into a coma.
Our Blessed Mother then appeared to him with three angels by her side and said, “if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter” (De Dignitate Psalterii by Blessed Alan de le Roche). For many centuries, the Rosary was known as ‘Our Lady’s Psalter’. And so, filled with burning zeal, Saint Dominic preached the rosary and the people of Toulouse embraced Christianity and sought to imitate the virtuous life of Christ and His Blessed Mother.
Today when it seems like our world is covered in darkness, we must raise our eyes, weeping but full of hope, to the Lord. We must stand tall like our forebears in faith and walk in the light of Christ, for we are not alone. We can count on the powerful intercession of Our Lady who is clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and who by her seed has crushed the serpent’s head.