Feast of Our Lady of
the Most Holy Rosary
On October 7, the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, but not many people know how this feast originated.
A few centuries after Christianity, the religion of Islam was born. By the middle of the seventh century, Islam spread through the Middle East. But toward the end of the first millennium, the Moslem Turks, began to invade and conquer the rest of the Christian world. This became known as the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire began a rapid expanse that extended as far East as Western Europe.
Right around Halloween, we begin seeing Dracula movies on TV. Count Dracula was actually a historical figure, Vlad Dracula, also called Vlad the Impaler, who was a medieval warlord who defended his homeland of Transylvania from the invading Ottoman Turks. Transylvania is a region in modern day Romania. That’s how far west the Moslems expanded.
The Ottoman Turks also annihilated Christianity in the North of Africa, crossed the straits of Gibraltar, and invaded Spain. In Spain, the Ottomans became known as the Moors. In fact,
“Fatima” in Portugal is a Moslem name. “Fatima,” was the name of the daughter of the Turkish warlord that managed that region. It’s ironic that the name “Fatima” brings nothing of Islam to our minds today because the name is synonymous with one of the most famous apparitions of our Lady.
The Moors remained in Spain until the late 1400’s, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain married, combined their kingdoms and drove the Moors back across the Straits of Gibraltar into Africa. Ferdinand and Isabella are, of course, most famous for funding the expedition of Christopher Columbus several years later in 1492. But when they succeeded in driving the Moors out of Spain it marked the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire.
This brings us to the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. In 1571, the Ottoman Turks, in one last ditch effort to conquer Europe, decided on a naval action. And launching their fleet from Northern Africa, they sailed across the Mediterranean in an attempt to take Lepanto and launch an invasion from there. Had they succeeded, they would have split the Christian world in two, and could divide and conquer it.
Since no one was expecting an invasion from the sea, no one was prepared for it. Yet the Christian fleet sailed out to meet the Moslem one in an attempt to repel, or at least slow down, the invasion. The night before and the morning of the battle, the sailors of the Christian fleet, convinced they were sailing to their doom, repeatedly prayed the Rosary. At the same time, the Pope led a Rosary procession in Rome, praying for success against the Muslim invaders. And on October 7. 1571, the day of the battle and of the Rosary procession in St. Peter’s Square, the Christian fleet not only succeeded in repelling the Moslem fleet, but, for the Moslems, it was a complete disaster. The loss was so complete and
catastrophic that the Ottomans were never able to launch a major offensive against the Christian world again. From there, the Ottoman Empire slowly began to retreat back to the Middle East.
Pope Pius V established the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary on the anniversary of that epic battle to demonstrate and celebrate the intercessory power of the Rosary. In fact, with the exception of the Mass, the Rosary is one of the most powerful prayers we have been given, since this devotion doesn’t just invoke the intercession of a saint, but it is a meditation on salvation history itself.
The joyful mysteries meditating on the incarnation and childhood of Jesus.
The sorrowful mysteries meditating on his passion and death.
The glorious meditating on his resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the taking of Mary’s place in heaven.
Pope John Paul II established the Luminous mysteries, which meditate on Christ’s presence in his Word and in the sacraments.
The Rosary remains a powerful prayer to defend us on earth, and a powerful tool to help us attain eternal life. In every approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Lady stresses the need to pray the Rosary.
Getting back to our friends the Moslems, strangely enough, although our two religions have very little in common, one thing we share is a reverence of Mary. Even though the Moslems don’t acknowledge Jesus as God, they still revere Jesus as a prophet, and so they believe in the virgin birth. The prophet Mohammed himself was well disposed to the Blessed Mother. When he was sacking Mecca and destroying all the icons of the saints, there was one icon of the Blessed Mother and the infant Jesus, and he forbade any of his troops from damaging it. So in my personal prayer, whenever I offer up the 5th glorious mystery, the coronation of Mary as Queen of heaven and earth, I always offer that decade up for peace and unity between Islam, and Christianity.
Because if anyone can get the job done, Mom can.
It is my prayer today that more Catholics utilize the great spiritual gift of the Rosary for peace in the world and the salvation of all people.
Father Michael Anthony Sisco