The Festival of Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary, by Father B Rohner, OSB

Our Lady, Queen of the RosaryAmong the more modern festivals of the holy Mother of God there is hardly any one that owes its institution to so important and happy an event as does the festival of the Rosary. It commemorates, and recalls to our minds, battle and victory, for it was a fierce battle, fought under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin, that gave rise to its establishment. From the fifteenth to the seventeenth century Christendom had no enemies so formidable and merciless as the Turks. These savage warriors, in their love of power, but more especially on account of their hatred for Christianity, and of their desire of placing the crescent above the cross, succeeded, in 1453, in sacking Constantinople, and then made gigantic efforts to subjugate all Europe and to bring it under tribute to their powerful emperors and generals. The rulers of Christendom, instead of making a united effort to repel these invaders, were engaged in making petty war upon each other. It was in vain that the Popes counselled peace among Christian princes and exhorted them to united action against a common enemy from without. Finally, when the island of Cyprus fell into the hands of the Mohammedan, Selim II, Pope Pius V succeeded in forming between Spain and Venice, and some Italian provinces, an alliance for self-defense against the Turks. An expedition was formed, to which the Pope contributed men and ships of war. On the 7th of October, 1571, which was Sunday, the two fleets met near Lepanto. The Christians, under the command of Don John of Austria, numbered two hundred galleys. The Turks had the same number, together with seventy frigates. When the two contending forces were drawn up in battle array, Don John of Austria gave orders to unfurl the banner which had been presented by the Pope. The chaplains on the vessels called to prayer and at once all the soldiers fell upon their knees. The Turks, on their side, sounded their trumpets and, amid a fearful yell, opened fire on the Christians. The roar of cannon from both sides was deafening, and the cloud of smoke shut out the vessels from sight of the contending parties. During five hours the fight continued to rage, until at last the Turks gave way and the victory of the Christians was complete. The Turkish loss in killed and wounded, and in vessels, was appalling. Of their vessels, about one hundred and thirty fell into the hands of the Christians, and ninety more went to the bottom of the sea. The very waters were red with the blood of the thirty thousand Turks that were slain in the conflict. Meanwhile, all over Europe, the members of the Rosary Con- fraternity were unceasing in the recitation of the beads. In the churches of Rome the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was going on, and the Pope himself was buried in fervent prayer. Suddenly he arose, hastened towards a window and, opening it, he stood for a few minutes looking out in silence. Suddenly his features were lighted up with signs of deep emotion. Then he cried out aloud in joyous accents to his surrounding attendants, “Hurry to the church to give God thanks for the great victory He has granted us.” It was the very moment of victory at Lepanto. The joy produced by the news of this decisive victory was universal and heartfelt, and all attributed the success of the Christian army, and the consequent deliverance of all Christendom from the Turks, to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Soon after, the Pope decreed that every year, on the first Sunday in October, at the public service, a commemoration should be made of Our Lady of Victory. At a later date Pope Gregory XIII ordered that in all churches in which there were Confraternities of the Rosary, a festival of thanksgiving should be held in honor of the Queen of the Rosary. Other subsequent triumphs of the cross, attributable evidently to the prayers of Mary, had the effect of causing this festival to be extended throughout the whole Church. The Turks soon recovered from their great defeat at Lepanto, and having reorganized and recruited their forces, began again to threaten Christian Europe. In the spring of 1683 an enormous army marched from Constantinople towards the West. The forces were two hundred thousand men with three hundred cannon, two thousand camels, and ten thou- sand wagons. The Sultan boasted that he would stable his horse in Saint Peter’s Church in Rome. This immense army marched towards the imperial city of Vienna and on the 14th of July commenced a deliberate siege before it, covering a space of several miles. A continuous fire was kept up on the city, and it was undermined. Even the elements seemed to conspire against the beleaguered capital, for a succession of violent storms, a calamitous hindrance, added to the horrors of the siege. The inhabitants behaved with commendable fortitude, for, beside the sword of the enemy they had to contend with a fearful malady that broke out among the soldiers. The sufferings of the beleaguered people had become extreme, when at last help came. Sobieski, the king of Poland, was coming to their relief with a large army. On the 12th of September he engaged in battle with the Turks. The Christians were eighty thousand men against two hundred thousand of the enemy. But on the morning of battle the officers had received holy communion and the soldiers had knelt for the blessings of their chaplains, while the churches of Vienna were crowded with the citizens who prayed to the Mother of God for relief. Their prayer was heard. That same evening the Turks were fleeing in wild disorder, completely defeated by the Christian forces. Vienna was delivered from its perils and sufferings. The pious emperor of Austria, Leopold I, anxious to manifest to the Mother of God his heart-felt gratitude for this signal triumph, besought Pope Innocent XII to establish the festival of the Rosary throughout the whole Church. The sudden death of the Pontiff prevented the carrying out of this pious wish, but what he had not the happiness of doing himself was done by his successor, Pope Clement XI. The measure was hastened by the fact that, while at the command of the Pope, in 1716, the festival of the Rosary was being celebrated in Rome by public devotions, new victories over the enemy were obtained in Hungary and in the island of Corfu. By a bull, dated 3 October 1716, the whole Church was commanded to keep, for all time, the first Sunday of October as the festival of the Holy Rosary.

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898