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Our Lady of Victory, Pray for Us

by Fr. William Saunders


In this article Fr. William P. Saunders recounts the story of the Battle of Lepanto and discusses the power of praying the Rosary to help defeat the attacks on human life, especially abortion.

Larger Work

The Arlington Catholic Herald

Publisher & Date

Diocese of Arlington, VA, October 8, 2008

"Our Lady of Victory, pray for us!" was the fervent prayer of all of the faithful in the fall of 1571. Why? First, some historical background. At the time, the Muslim Turks were ravaging Eastern Europe. In 1453, Constantinople had fallen to the Muslims, leaving the Balkans and Hungary vulnerable.

In 1521, Belgrade and most of Hungary had fallen. With Muslim raids along the coast of Italy, the control of the Mediterranean was in jeopardy. Never forget the Muslims adhered to the Quran precept: "And slay (the infidel) wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they have driven you out. The calamity suffered by the believers is more severe than the murder of unbelievers; but do not fight them by the Sacred Mosque before they fight you there. If they fight you, slay them" (Quran 2:187/191).

In February 1570, the Turkish ambassador delivered an ultimatum to the Republic of Venice: Cede the island of Cyprus peacefully or face war. Venice refused, and after 11 months of war, Cyprus fell to Muslim control Aug. 1, 1571. The surrender terms provided for the safety of the defeated Christian army.

However, once the Muslim commander took control of the city, he ordered the Christian commander, Marcantonio Bragadin, to be skinned alive. His skin was stuffed with straw, dressed in his uniform and dragged through the city. The Christians realized what kind of enemy they were facing. Remember, in all Muslim occupied lands, Christians were treated like serfs, being forced to pay the jizya, a punitive tax for being a Christian, and were forbidden to leave town without permission, deprived of economic advancement, a horse or a weapon — all intended to coerce their conversion to Islam.

'Mary of the Rosary made us victors'

To save Christendom, Pope St. Pius V organized a fleet under the command of Don Juan of Austria, the half-brother of King Philip II of Spain. The forces of Spain, Venice and other Italian city states, and the Sovereign Order of Malta formed an alliance against Turkey. Note: "Catholic" France refused, and the Judas King Francis I financed the Muslim Turks so as to weaken his long time rival, Germany-Austria.

While preparations were underway, the Holy Father asked all of the faithful to say the rosary and to implore Our Blessed Mother's prayers, under the title "Our Lady of Victory," begging Our Lord to grant victory to the Christians.

Although the Muslim fleet outnumbered that of the Christians in both vessels and sailors, the forces were ready to meet in battle. The Christian vessels flew blue banners to honor Our Lady and depicted Christ crucified, while the Muslim flags had excerpts from the Quran calling for jihad and death to the infidels.

On Sunday, Oct. 7, 1571, at 11 a.m., the Battle of Lepanto began. At the end of five hours, the Muslims were defeated. Later, while Pope St. Pius V was in an afternoon meeting, he suddenly stood up, went over to the window, stared outside in the direction of the battle many miles away, and said, "Let us no longer occupy ourselves with business, but let us go to thank the Lord. The Christian fleet has obtained victory."

The following year, Pope St. Pius V established the Feast of the Holy Rosary on Oct. 7 so the faithful would remember not only this victory, but also the powerful intercession of Our Blessed Mother. His Holiness also officially bestowed the title, "Auxilium Christianorum" or "Help of Christians," upon her. The Venetian Senate had painted on a panel in their meeting chamber, "Non virtus, non arma, non duces, sed Maria Rosari, victores nos fecit," i.e. "It was not courage, not arms, not leaders, but Mary of the Rosary that made us victors."

In celebrating this feast, no faithful Catholic should doubt or denigrate the role of the rosary in our Catholic spirituality. Granted, the rosary developed over time since the early Church. Tradition holds that Mary appeared to St. Dominic (d. 1221) and presented to him the rosary. He then promoted it in his missionary work, especially to the Albigensians, a group of fanatical heretics. By the 16th century, the familiar structure of the rosary was set, as well as the three sets of mysteries — the joyful, sorrowful and glorious. In 2002, Pope John Paul II added the luminous mysteries — Jesus' baptism at the Jordan, the wedding feast of Cana, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the Transfiguration and institution of the holy Eucharist.

Power of the rosary

The first great power then is that the rosary helps strengthen our faith. Heed these great Church leaders:

Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, "The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the rosary is beyond description."

Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter in 2002, "Rosarium Virginis Mariae" exhorted the faithful to use the rosary "to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ," and called it "a most effective means of fostering among the faithful that commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery" ("Rosarium Virginis Mariae," No. 5).

Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, commented, "The repetition (of prayers) allows the soul to settle into tranquility and, holding fast to the Word, above all to the figure of Mary and to the images of Christ that pass you by, make your soul calm and free, and grant it a vision of God. It is a matter of allowing myself to be carried away by the calm of repetition and of steady rhythm. So much the more so, since this text does not lack content. It brings great images and visions, and above all the figure of Mary — and through her the figure of Jesus — before my eyes."

The rosary's second power is to protect the individual from evil, strengthen him against temptation and motivate him for ongoing conversion. The rosary also aids in the reparation of sin. A plenary indulgence is granted "if the rosary is recited in a Church or public oratory, or in a family group, a religious community or pious association" (Enchiridion of Indulgences, No. 48).

One last power of the rosary is to defeat Satan and all the powers of evil who seek the ruin of souls, the destruction of the Church and the enslavement of man. Popes Pius V, Innocent XI (in 1683 when the Muslims were attacking Vienna), Pope Clement XI (when Prince Eugene defeated the Muslims in 1716 at Peterwardein, Hungary), and John Paul II (especially in the early 1980s during the rise of the Solidarity movement and the battle against Soviet communism) have implored the faithful to pray the rosary.

Without question, in our present moment of history, each faithful Catholic should pray the rosary to defeat the attacks on human life, especially the heinous act of abortion; to convert politicians who give "lip service" about being ardent Catholics but act contrary to our beliefs; to reunite all Christians; to protect Christians facing persecution, especially in communist and Islamic lands; and to convert those who do not believe in Christ, particularly the Muslim people, so that they may accept the Gospel of love.

Aided by the prayers of our Lady of Victory, we will also be victorious. Remember the inscription in the Venetian senate chamber, "It was not courage, not arms, not leaders, but Mary of the Rosary that made us victors."

Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls.

© Arlington Catholic Herald

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