The Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary | Sunday Observer

The Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary

11 October, 2020

 Mary’s Prayer teaches us to stay afloat in the ocean of life, with all of its undertows. 

“After Jesus was taken up into heaven, the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:12-14). The month of October is dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It was instituted to honour the Blessed Virgin Mary in gratitude for the protection that she provides the Church in answer to the praying of the Holy Rosary by the faithful. The liturgical feast on October 7 was introduced by Pope St. Pius V to commemorate the miraculous victory of the Christian forces in the Naval Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571. The Pope attributed more to the “arms” of the Holy Rosary than the power of cannons and the valour of the sailors.

On May 13, 1917, the three children – Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco took their flock of sheep to a natural hollow in the ground known as the Cova da Iria, just outside the town of Fatima to graze. There was a sudden flash, and a Lady of dazzling light appeared and stood. The Lady asked them to recite the Rosary daily and to return to the site on the 13th of every month. The visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her prophesies remained apparent to the three children.

In response to a prophecy, almost one hundred thousand people flocked hither on October 13, 1917and they witnessed the miracle known as “the dance of the sun.” One of the most important aspects of the six apparitions was the way in which Our Lady focused particularly on the Holy Rosary. She emphatically asked the Holy Rosary to be recited daily and in her final apparition she declared, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” The Popes on the Holy Rosary

All Popes of recent centuries have written about the Holy Rosary. Pope St. Pius V (papacy 1566-1572) did much to further the spread of the Holy Rosary and officially established the devotion to the Holy Rosary in 1569. His successor, Pope Gregory XIII (papacy 1572-1585), moved the feast to the first Sunday in October, to be celebrated as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Rosary of Our Blessed Lady. Pope Leo XIII (papacy 1878-1903) known as ‘The Rosary Pope’,issued twelve encyclicals and five apostolic letters concerning the rosary. He added the invocation ,’Queen of the most Holy Rosary to the Litany of Loreto’ and strongly promoted the increase of devotion to the Blessed Mother by encouraging the constant use of the Rosary. Pope St. Pius X (papacy 1903-1914) moved the feast day back to October 7 in 1913.

The Holy Rosary is primarily a scriptural prayer. This can be summarised by the traditional phrase used by Pope Pius XII (papacy 1939-1958) that the Rosary is “a compendium of the entire Gospel.” He and his successors actively promoted veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes and the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in the Sanctuary of Fatima, which is credited with a new resurgence of the Rosary within the Catholic Church. Pope St. John XXIII (papacy 1958-1963) deemed the Rosary of such importance that in 1962, in an apostolic letter he appealed for the recitation of the Rosary in preparation for the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

In the recent past, Pope St. Paul VI (papacy 1963-1978) devoted the last section of his Apostolic Exhortation, MarialisCultus to the Angelus and the Rosary. In this document, he wrote, “the Rosary retains an unaltered value and intact freshness.” Pope St. John Paul II (papacy 1978-2005) issued the Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, which emphasised the Christocentric nature of the Rosary as a meditation on the life of Christ. He shared, “Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as by the hands of the Mother of the Redeemer.”He called the Rosary his favuorite prayer.

In 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (papacy 2005-2013)said that the Rosary was experiencing a new springtime, “It is one of the most eloquent signs of love that the young generation nourish for Jesus and his Mother.” To him, the Rosary is a meditation on all the important moments of salvation history.

The Congregation for Divine Worship’s directory of popular piety and the liturgy emphasises that the Rosary is essentially a contemplative prayer, which requires “tranquility of rhythm or even a mental lingering which encourages the faithful to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord’s life.”

Naval Battle and Our Lady of Victory

The Battle of Lepanto was very significant for European and indeed world history. It took place when a fleet of the Holy League, a coalition of Catholic Christian states arranged by Pope Pius V, inflicted a major defeat on the fleet of the Ottoman Empire in the Gulf of Patras. The Ottoman forces were sailing westward from their naval station in Lepanto when they met the fleet of the Holy League, which was sailing east from Messina, Sicily.

In the history of Naval warfare, Lepanto marks the last major engagement in the Western world to be fought almost entirely between rowing vessels, namely the galleys and galleasses which were the direct descendants of ancient trireme warships.

The battle was in essence an ‘infantry battle on floating platforms.’ Over the following decades, the increasing importance of the galleon and the line of battle tactic would displace the galley as the major warship of its era, marking the beginning of the ‘Age of Sail.’

The banner for the fleet, blessed by the Pope, reached the Kingdom of Naples on August 14, 1571. There, in the Basilica of Santa Chiara, it was solemnly consigned to Don John of Austria, who was just twenty-four years of age. He was to prove himself an admiral of genius. Once in Italy, Don John was joined by volunteers from all the Mediterranean countries and set about assembling a fleet. He managed to get about 208 ships, mainly contributed by the Papal States, Spain, and Venice, with a few from other Italian states.

This fleet was manned by 40,000 sailors. In addition, it carried approximately 20,000 fighting troops of Spanish, German and Italian origin as well as 5,000 professional Venetian soldiers.The victory of the Holy League is of great importance in the history of Europe and of the Ottoman Empire. Conscious of the desperate nature of this undertaking, the Pope beseeched all Christians to pray for this Armada by a daily recitation of the Rosary. When the ships set out from the Sicilian port of Messina on September 16, 1571, all of the men had rosaries too.

“If the day is yours, then God has given it to you,” Admiral Don John of Austria, laconically, warned his crew. The lookout on his flagship, ‘Real’ sighted the Turkish van at the dawn of October 7. He called a Council of War and decided to offer battle. He travelled through his fleet in a swift sailing vessel, exhorting his officers and men to do their utmost. The Sacrament was administered to all, the Holy League was raised to the truck of the flagship.

As the decisive battle took place on October 7, 1571, Pope Pius V experienced a miraculous revelation of the victory at the same moment. This saintly Pope always upheld that the victory of Lepanto was due to the special intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, obtained by the praying of the Rosary.

Later, when the news reached Europe, there was general relief, rejoicing, and thanksgiving. As for Pope Pius V, he gave credit where it was due, declaring October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of Victory.

Some accounts say that as the fleets came within fighting distance of each other, the wind favorued the Turks and blew their ships forward against the Christian vessels. Then, the wind shifted, and Admiral Don John’s ships were able to draw close to the enemy. This was necessary, because sixteenth-century naval warfare included hand-to-hand fighting on the decks as well as bombardment by cannons and arrows.

The Holy League lost about 8,000 men and at least double that number was wounded, but only a dozen ships. Around the same number of Turks died, but thousands more were captured, fifty ships were sunk, and at least 117 vessels were captured.An unforeseen development was the rising up, from the depths of the Turkish galleys, of several thousand Christian slaves who had been forced to row the ships.

St. Francis de Sales said the greatest method of praying is to pray the Holy Rosary. St. Thomas Aquinas preached 40 straight days in Rome, Italy on just the Hail Mary. St. John Vianney, patron of priests, was seldom seen without a Holy Rosary in his hand. Pope Adrian VI introduced, ‘The Rosary is the scourge of the devil.’ Pope Paul V declared, ; “The Rosary is a treasure of graces “. St. Padre Pio, the stigmatic priest said, “The Rosary is the weapon.” Pope Leo XIII wrote nine encyclicals on the Rosary. Pope John XXIII spoke 38 times about our Lady and the Rosary and prayed 15 decades daily. St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort wrote, “The Rosary is the most powerful weapon to touch the Heart of Jesus, Our Redeemer, who so loves His Mother.”

The Holy Rosary, in the sense of ‘crown of roses’ or ‘garland of roses’ refers to a set of prayers used in the Catholic Church.The prayers that compose the Rosary are arranged in sets of ten Hail Marys, called decades. Each decade is preceded by one Lord’s Prayer and traditionally followed by only one Glory Be. During recitation of each set, thought is given to one of the Mysteries of the Rosary, which recall events in the lives of Jesus and of Mary. Five decades are recited per Rosary.

The Mysteries of the Rosary are meditations on episodes in the life and death of Jesus from the Annunciation to the Ascension and beyond recited daily. Pope Pius V established a standard 15 Mysteries of the Rosary, based on long-standing custom - the Joyful Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries. In 2002, Pope St. John Paul II added a new set, the Luminous Mysteries.

The Rosary also represents the Catholic emphasis on “participation in the life of Mary, whose focus was Christ,” and the Mariological theme “to Christ through Mary.”Devotion to the Rosary is one of the most notable features of popular Catholic spirituality. Pope St. John Paul II placed the Rosary at the very center of Christian spirituality and called it “among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation.”

Saints and Popes have emphasised the meditative and contemplative elements of the Rosary and provided specific teachings for how the Rosary should be prayed, for instance the need for “focus, respect, reverence and purity of intention” during Rosary recitations and contemplations.Scriptural meditations concerning the Rosary are based on the Christian tradition of Lectio Divina, as a way of using the Gospel to start a conversation between the person and Christ. St. Padre Pio, a Rosary devotee said, “Through the study of books one seeks God; by meditation one finds him.”

Magnificent history of the Holy Rosary

According to pious tradition, the concept of the Rosary was given to St. Dominic in an apparition of the Virgin Mary during the year 1214.The 150 ‘ Hail Marys ‘were subdivided into fifteen decades by the Dominican friar, Henry Kalkar (1328-1408), with each decade referring to an event in the life of the Jesus and Mary. The practice of meditation during the praying of the Hail Mary is attributed to Dominic of Prussia (1382–1460),who termed it “Life of Jesus Rosary.”

The Dominican, Alanus de Rupe (1428-1475) further divided the episodes in the history of salvation and attributed the origin of the Rosary, then known as the ‘Psalter of the Blessed Virgin’ to St. Dominic. He thus spurred the Dominican Order to make the Apostolate of the Rosary their special concern and since then, promulgated the Rosary with notable results.From the 16 to the early 20 century, the structure of the Rosary remained essentially unchanged. During the 20th century, the addition of the Fatima Prayer to the end of each decade became more common. There were no other changes until 2002, when Pope St. John Paul II instituted new Luminous Mysteries.

Pope Leo XIII explained the importance of the Rosary as the one road to God from the faithful to the Mother and from her to Christ and through Christ to the Father, and that the Rosary was a vital means to participate in the life of Mary and to find the way to Christ. This emphasis on the path through Mary to Christ has since been a key direction in Catholic Mariology. Pope Pius XII endorsed the Rosary as a family prayer in his encyclical, Ingruentiummalorum. He shared, “The custom of the family praying of the Holy Rosary is a most efficacious means.”

The Holy Rosary and Brown Scapular

Rosary beads provide a physical method of keeping count of the number of Hail Marys said as the mysteries are contemplated. The fingers are moved along the beads as the prayers are recited. The Hail Mary is said on the ten beads within a decade, while the Lord’s Prayer is said on the large bead before each decade. Beads may be made to enclose sacred relics or drops of holy water.It is common for beads to be made of material with some special significance, such as olive seeds from the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Apostolate of Holy Motherhood writes that the Virgin Mary encourages the faithful to wear the Rosary and Scapular because “it will help them to love Jesus more.” Many religious orders wear the Rosary as part of their habit.A rosary ring is a ring worn around the finger with 10 indentations and a cross on the surface. These rosary rings are given to some Catholic nuns at the time of their solemn profession. A finger rosary is similar to a ring, but is somewhat larger.

“The Rosary and the Scapular are inseparable” were words attributed to the Virgin Mary by Lucia Santos, one of the three children who reported the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917.

In the final appearances in Fatima,she had a Brown Scapular in one hand and a Rosary in the other. The history of the rosary itself is magnificent – it demonstrates how the Holy Spirit enriches the spiritual legacy of the Church.

Our Lady had revealed to Blessed Alan de la Roche (1428-1475) that after the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there could not possibly be a finer devotion nor one of greater merit than that of the Holy Rosary, which is like a second memorial and representation of the life and passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us recite this beautiful prayer of the Holy Rosary daily as a means in order to draw closer to Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. O Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

(The author hold a PhD, MPhil and double MSc; his research interests encompass a variety of topics; he is a recipient of National and Presidential Accolades for Academic pursuits and regularly pens exclusive stories)