On the Feast of the Holy Rosary: Humility and the Power of Our Lady's Intercession
In the plenitude of Marian feasts on the calendar, there are many celebrating Our Lady’s life, glorifying God’s goodness by venerating the graces He gave her: the Immaculate Conception, the Nativity, the Annunciation, the Assumption, and more. There are many feasts recognizing her apparitions, such as Fatima, Lourdes, and the Miraculous Medal.
And then there are those which celebrate her as the Queen of Victory.
Five hundred years ago, a disorganized fleet of around 200 ships from assorted Catholic countries, collectively called the Holy League, gathered for battle near Greece, at a place called Lepanto. The incoming Ottomans had already taken Constantinople a century before, and now were heading for Rome. Now nearly 300 ships strong, and bent on conquering Europe, they knew that Rome was key. And the Ottoman army had not lost a major battle in a century.
Outnumbered and outgunned, the Holy League stood, seemingly alone, between the Ottomans and Western Civilization. The Turkish army was assured of victory.
But the Holy League was not truly alone. The Holy Father, Pope Pius V, had sent messages all around Europe asking Christians to pray the Rosary and to open up churches for Eucharistic Adoration. The eve before the battle, the soldiers prayed the Rosary; the ship’s chaplains celebrated Mass for them on board. That evening was October 6, 1571.
The next morning, battle began. The wind was against the Christians, and they couldn’t line up their ships properly.
At noon, though, the wind suddenly changed. The Christian ships slid easily into position and fired upon the Turkish galleys. Thus, the Turkish army was routed. The Catholics raised the flag of the Holy League on the Turkish leader’s ship, demoralizing the enemy.
During these five hours, what looked like certain defeat and another historical Ottoman victory turned into a resounding Christian victory. The Catholic states lost only 13 out of 212 ships. They captured 137 ships and destroyed 50 more of the Turks’ 278-ship fleet. 12,000 slaves were freed by the Catholics as well.
Days away from receiving news of the outcome, Pope Pius V suddenly stopped what he was doing: he had received a vision. He proclaimed to all present that the Holy League had won!
Thus he established the feast of Our Lady of Lepanto on October 7 to celebrate her aid. Later, the feast’s name was changed to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, and she is also known on this day as Our Lady of Victory.
This is one of many Marian feasts that commemorates Our Lady’s aid in a military victory. October 1 is the feast of the Protection of the Holy Theotokos in the Eastern churches, celebrating a 10th century event when Our Lady’s intercession brought deliverance to Constantinople from a siege. Another battle-feast is the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 12. Our Lady, Help of Christians (May 24), commemorates the Holy Father’s return to Rome after being captured by Napoleon. The Polish attribute a 1655 victory against Sweden to Our Lady of Częstochowa. Many other victories and a great many wartime survivals are attributed to Our Lady as well, many more than can be listed.
If there is any doubt of Our Lady’s power of intercession with her Son, one need only to look to history. The inquiring mind need only look from the New Testament itself (the story of the wedding at Cana) to the victories over Communism (in Poland, Brazil, Portugal, and many other nations). In each era one finds major, often miraculous victories against great odds, that are attributed not simply to the One God, but to the Lord’s most humble (and therefore greatest) human servant: the Blessed Mother.
One might wonder why a virgin maid—or even the one known as the “Queen of Peace”—is given so much honor by celebrating military victories as her feast days. Is this not contrary to our ideas of maidens and queens and mothers?
But she is so honored precisely because of the littleness and lowness with which she considered herself. It is on account of her humility that she is honored now as the Queen of Victory.
In truth, it is humility that ultimately achieves victory over one’s enemies. Humility means recognizing our nothingness, and then submitting ourselves to God’s will. When we submit to God’s will, rather than exercising our own, we give up our prideful notions of winning and defeating our enemies by our own power. In humility, we stand behind the Lord in the battle, knowing that it is through His omnipotence and protection that anything is won or achieved.
Our Lady is able to obtain great victories for us because she obtains it through full cooperation with His will. Her perfect obedience to Him characterizes her from her first appearance in Scripture at the Annunciation; and her cooperation is perfect and constant, for she submitted herself entirely to Him. This humility, this submission, is the source of her intercessory power.
Yet her power does not manifest primarily in human wars and battles. Such Catholic victories as Lepanto are often thought of in grand military terms. But to think of these as merely an exercise of God’s external power over the world and its events is misleading, and to think of them as the “greatest” events in Catholic history would also be wrong.
For every battle is, first and foremost, important because of its spiritual implications. Had the Ottomans overrun Europe, the heart of Christianity would have been destroyed. Christianity might have nearly disappeared. (Of course, the Lord will not let His Church fall: such victories as Lepanto prove that human history is full of His providence.)
No, it is for the sake of souls and the glory of God that Our Lady brought victory at Lepanto. It was not for the sake of proving that Catholics have the best military, or that God helps us win all earthly battles. Our Lady’s mission is not to obtain badges and medals for leading us against our enemies. As our Queen and Mother, she wishes for our eternal happiness in heaven, and all she does is for God’s glory and our souls—military victories included.
Thus, commemorating Lepanto and her many other feasts ought to be for us a reminder: that humility is pleasing to God, that our Mother wishes our salvation, and that our submission to God’s will brings about greater victories than any fleet or weapon has ever accomplished. In desiring only His will, we give glory to God, and furthermore, He will work through us to save souls, as He works constantly through our ever-faithful Mother.
In the face of our own Lepanto moments, we may feel overwhelmed by an enemy whose victory seems inevitable. Indeed, if we rely only on our own power, pride, or strength, the enemy will eventually overcome us.
Instead, let us be like Pope Pius V and the soldiers of Lepanto: fortifying ourselves with prayer and Mass, and putting our lives into the hands of Our Lady. In doing so, we humble ourselves before God, giving ourselves to Him: and He does not lose.
Devotion to Our Lady is not simply one of many pious devotions. In the image of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, the Virgin is shown with rays radiating from her hands: they represent graces. Then there are “dark” rays: graces which she has, but which we fail to ask for, though she wishes to give them to us. She is the Mediatrix, the gracious Queen who offers us gifts from the King. Let us not waste the graces she waits to give us. Let us ask her for everything we need, knowing that her Son continues to listen to her pleas throughout the centuries. Let us pray the Rosary daily, with faith, patience, humility, and resignation to His will. And let us celebrate the Holy Rosary, and each feast of Our Lady, for doing so will bring us surely to her–and through her, to Him.