Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. Where does this title and celebration come from?
At the last apparition of Fatima on October 13, Mary identified herself in this way, saying, “I am the Lady of the Rosary. Continue always to pray the Rosary every day.” But nearly 350 years earlier, the history of this memorial celebration began. The troops of the Turkish Ottoman Empire had invaded and occupied the Byzantine Empire by 1453, and brought a large portion of the Christian world under a version of Islamic law. They continued to expand westward for the next 100 years, determined to invade Rome. In 1571, a fleet of 300 ships of the Ottoman Empire was preparing to wage a battle to conquer Europe, off the coast of Western Greece. Genoa, Spain, and the Papal States – three Catholic powers of Europe – formed an alliance called the Holy League, to defend Christian civilization against the looming Turkish invasion, sailing to confront them near Lepanto. Pope Pius V called for all of Europe to pray the Rosary for victory, and the crew of the 200 ships of the Holy League prayed it as well.
Lepanto was a decisive battle, setting the trajectory of European history for hundreds of years. The pope attributed this to the intercession of Our Lady through the Rosary, and in thanksgiving instituted the celebration of “Our Lady of Victory” on October 7 and inserted the invocation “Help of Christians” into the Litany of Loreto. The name of the feast was changed by several popes, but always with the intention of giving thanks for this victory.
It is interesting that it was at Fatima that Mary revealed herself as the “Lady of the Rosary”, as the name of this little village refers to the youngest daughter of the prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islam (Portugal and Spain were occupied by Muslims for centuries). Mary is also the only woman named in the Quran, which describes her as being chosen above all other women. This indicates the possibility of a connection between Islam, Mary, and the Rosary.
At the July apparition, Mary told the children to “Pray the Rosary every day in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary in order to obtain peace for the world…because only she can help you.”
Pope Francis called the Rosary a “simple contemplative prayer, accessible to all… In the Rosary we turn to the Virgin Mary so that she may guide us to an ever closer union with her Son, Jesus, to bring us into conformity with him, to have his sentiments and behave like him… The Rosary is an effective means for opening ourselves to God.”
So let us make or renew our resolution to pray this simple prayer, as so many popes, saints, and Mary herself have encouraged us to do; for peace in our hearts, in our homes, in our families, and in our world!
Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.