Lepanto and The Feast of the Rosary

On October 7th, the Church celebrates Our Lady of the Rosary.  The reason why we celebrate the Rosary on this date is that it is the anniversary of the Holy League’s victory at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.  This battle was a massive naval battle between the Catholic countries of Europe and Turkish invaders.  This victory’s importance was that it weakened the Turkish incursions into Europe who had their sights set on conquering Rome and turning it into a Muslim state.

The greatest weapon the Catholic military deployed at the Battle of Lepanto wasn’t a new type of galley ship, sword, or cannon.  It was the Rosary.  It played an integral role in the Holy League’s victory over the Turks.  It is why we celebrate the Rosary on the anniversary of this battle.  Days before the battle, the sailors fasted, confessed, and prayed the Rosary relentlessly.  The spiritual preparation was so intense that women were not allowed near the ships so the men wouldn’t be tempted to indulge in any sinful thoughts or actions.  All around Catholic Europe, people prayed the Rosary asking our Mother Mary for victory.  And despite the odds not being in Europe’s favor, we attribute the sincere devotion to the Rosary as the changing factor in this battle.

What can we learn from the Holy League’s victory at Lepanto?  Many of us may feel conflicted over the idea that we celebrate the Rosary’s connection to a military victory where thousands of men died horrifically.  And while it’s unfortunate that humanity fights wars in the first place, we don’t celebrate the Battle of Lepanto because of the death and suffering in that battle.  We celebrate God’s hand, through our intercessor Mary and the faithfulness of the Church, in protecting Christianity in Europe.  Those were different times for sure.  And while we may not be faced with massive military invasions now, we all engage in combat every day.

Most of us have some sort of challenge or hardship in our lives.  Maybe it’s a strained or broken relationship with someone.  Maybe we have financial worries.  Perhaps we have a job we don’t find fulfilling, co-workers we can’t stand, or no job at all.  Many of us battle various physical and mental illnesses.  Some of us battle addictions.  It’s easy to see life as just one large, depressing slog with no hope of it getting any better.  And that is when we can look at the Feast of the Rosary and its military roots at Lepanto.  Militarily, there was little hope of a Holy League victory against the much larger Turkish fleet.  The Turks had stormed across much of Europe and won many battles.  They were expecting this to be yet another victory in their campaign to conquer Europe, particularly Rome itself.

But in the midst of despair, Mary heard the sincere call for Her intercession.  She guided the Holy League to victory at Lepanto despite the long odds.  We should remember that she will guide us to victory over our hardships when we sincerely ask for Her intercession.  There is nothing that can defeat a sincerely prayed Rosary.  The book, Champions of the Rosary, which I reviewed, mentions countless encounters where devotion to the Rosary brought about miraculous results.

The Rosary’s power is why we should pray it every day, particularly in the morning before we “do battle” for the day.  We need to prepare ourselves mentally, spiritually, and physically much like the Holy League did before the battle of Lepanto.  Even when our life is rolling along smoothly, we do have to defend ourselves against sin and temptation.  Satan’s army is so vast and deadly that it makes the massive Turkish fleet at Lepanto look like a parade of toy boats.  And the consequences of a defeat to Satan’s army is much greater.  In a military battle, the worst that can happen is that you lose your physical life.  But in a spiritual battle, you can lose your soul and cut yourself off from God’s heavenly kingdom forever.

In this month of October, celebrate the Rosary by praying it regularly.  Understand that we are at war every day against our own hardships and Satan’s minions.  But our Mother Mary is there to help and even do the impossible if we ask for Her intercession.  The Rosary isn’t some prayer that was useful hundreds of years ago.  It can work wonders today if you sincerely pray it.

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Committing Ourselves to Victory: October and the Feast of the Rosary

It’s October. For many of us, that means complaining about pumpkin flavored food and drinks being offered everywhere, acting surprised how early the Christmas season starts every year, gloomy weather, and Halloween.  What I often forget is that October is the month of the holy rosary.  That’s extremely embarrassing since I run a rosary website!  May and October should be my rosary playoff season where I give 100% effort praying the rosary as well as writing about it.

I think it is important to understand why October is a month dedicated to the rosary because it highlights the power and importance of the rosary.  You need to go back to October 7, 1571, to the Battle of Lepanto.  This was a huge naval battle between the Christian European nations under the banner of the Holy League and Ottoman Turks that were advancing through the Middle East and across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.

The Christian fleet was vastly outnumbered.  Pope Pius V called on the faithful to pray the rosary publicly asking for the intercession of the Blessed Mother to halt the Turkish armies.  Despite all odds, the European fleet defeated the Turkish one and the victory was attributed to Mary’s intercession through rosary prayer.  Pope Pius established an annual commemoration to honor Our Lady of Victory, and his successor, Gregory XIII, decreed that the first Sunday in October would be the feast of the Holy Rosary.  The Church then extended the celebration of the rosary throughout the entire month of October.

Polish procession – detail of Battle of Lepanto by Tomasz Dolabella

Rosary prayer and asking for Mary’s intercession helped the European navy to overcome overwhelming odds at the Battle of Lepanto.  But the answer to those prayers didn’t come in the form of legions of angels visibility descending from Heaven or God sending a huge title wave swallowing the Turkish fleet.  The rosary did the seemingly impossible by transforming the hearts of minds of those involved in the battle.

Remember, the Turkish ships were mostly powered on the backs of captured Christian slaves.  Many accounts speak of these slaves sacrificing their own lives by intentionally moving and orienting the Turkish vessels in ways that gave the European fleet clear shots and other advantages.  I believe it was rosary prayer and dedication to Mary that gave these slaves and soldiers the courage to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

God’s answers to our prayers are not always what we expect.  In fact, the answer may not be something that is even easy or pleasant.  The victory at Lepanto was achieved through the sacrifice of thousands of soldiers and slaves.  Our redemption was achieved through the sacrifice of God’s only son Jesus Christ.  If you find yourself doubting the effectiveness of prayer, commit yourself to praying the rosary this month asking God for both faith and peace in his divine plan for you.  If rosary prayer changed the course of history at the Battle of Lepanto, surely it can achieve the even more difficult goal of increasing our faith and turning our hearts towards God.