Our Lady of the Rosary

October 7Memorial
Liturgical color: White

Mary comes to the rescue, and the Catholic West avoids the fate of the Orthodox East

In 1204 Venetian Crusaders traveling to the Holy Land sacked Constantinople. Debts were not being paid, so something had to be done. Relics were packed up and shipped back to Italy, as well as gold, silver, precious stones, art, vestments, and booty. The city was stripped clean. The conquered have much longer memories than the conquerors, and Constantinople, the New Rome, never forgot 1204. So, in the first half of the 1400s, when Ottoman Turks ringed the walls of Constantinople, making it a tiny Christian island in a vast Islamic sea, unifying with Rome for common defense was not an option for the Orthodox. As the Muslim noose tightened around the city’s neck, little by little, year after year, Constantinople was struggling for air. Emperor and Patriarch were desperate. They approached the Pope and Western princes. Help us! A deal was struck. The Orthodox would unify with Rome, just in time to save Constantinople! But the memories of 1204 were too much to overcome. The faithful rejected the rapprochement. Westerners were hated; their help unwelcome. A Byzantine official, when asked about unifying with Rome, said, “I would rather see the Muslim turban in the midst of the city than the Latin mitre.”

And so in 1453 the thick, high walls of Constantinople were breached. The Turks let loose on the city, slaves were taken, churches desecrated, the Hagia Sophia turned into a mosque, and the last Roman Byzantine Emperor, ironically named Constantine XI, was killed. New Rome having been taken, Old Rome was next. All of Europe now lay before the Turks like an empty table. No one and nothing stopped the Ottoman Turks until Our Lady did. The naval battle of Lepanto was the “September 11, 2001” moment of its generation. On the first Sunday of October, 1571, the ships of a Holy League of Catholic Kingdoms and the Papal States defeated the Ottoman navy decisively in the seas off of Greece. Islam was stopped in its tracks. There would be no repeat of 1453 in Old Rome. No desecration or pillaging, no murder of the Pope. A line had been drawn which has still yet to be crossed.

Pope Saint Pius V, a Dominican, animated and organized the Holy League. He implored the faithful throughout Europe to pray the rosary, and himself led a rosary procession in the Eternal City, for Christian triumph. The ships of the Holy League were outmatched and outnumbered and needed all the divine assistance prayer could muster. These prayers were answered. The doors to the Mediterranean, and to the Atlantic beyond, were shut on the Turks. In thanksgiving for this miraculous victory, Pius V instituted the “Feast of Our Lady of Victory,” later changed to “Feast of the Holy Rosary” and finally “Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.” Pope Leo XIII added the title “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary” to the Litany of Loreto in honor of Mary’s powerful intercession through the rosary.

It may seem redundant to give Mary the title “Our Lady of the Rosary.” It sounds a bit like saying “Jesus of the Cross.” Of course she is Our Lady of the Rosary and of course He is Jesus of the Cross. Mary and Jesus are like diamonds whose facets sparkle as they rotate in our palms. One mystery, then another, and then a third flash and blink as we contemplate and study them. A title is like a facet. One aspect of a mystery shines and we appreciate the totality of it all the more. When we can’t take in the entire image, we focus on this or that feature. Today we focus on Saint Mary who loves to hear us call her by name, over and over and over again as our fingers run up the beads.

Our Lady of the Rosary, we implore your intercession day in and day out, in the morning and in the evening, because we love to say your name and you love to hear us invoke you. You defeated vast armies seeking to destroy the Church. Help us to conquer our sins.