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.