~Our Lady to Blessed Alan de la Roche
We may judge of the excellence of the Rosary by the attention given to this devotion by the Vicar of Christ. The great Pope Leo XIII issued thirteen encyclicals on the Rosary and recommended this devotion as a family prayer for every Catholic home. The month of October has been specially selected as the “month of the Rosary” and the feast of the Holy Rosary is now celebrated on the 7th of this month.
This feast of the most Holy Rosary took its origin from the great victory of the Catholic forces over the Mohammedans at the Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571. The defeat of the enemies of the Church and of civilization was due to the special assistance of the Mother of God. [Before his ascension to the papal throne, the pope at that time, Pope St. Pius V, been a Dominican monk with a reputation of piety. Documents of the Vatican archives relate that, at dawn on October 7, 1571, Pope St. Pius V, accompanied by a procession of faithful, entered the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore – that is, St. Mary Major’s. There the pope and the people prayed the Rosary, asking Our Lady for her intercession as the Catholic monarchs battled in defense of Christian Europe. The pope had no idea that, on that southern coast of Greece, the gruesome “Battle of Lepanto” would take place that very day. Hours later, the Pope was supernaturally informed that God had given victory to the Catholic forces. – MCB] The Rosary was recited throughout the countries of Europe for the success of the Christian forces, and the victory was attributed to Our Lady, called the “Help of Christians.” The Rosary has been the great weapon against heresy and infidelity, but it is also the chief safeguard for family peace and holiness.
Our Holy Father [Pope Leo XIII] wished to raise up the Rosary as a bulwark against the encroachments of the wicked and against the wiles of the devil aimed at the destruction of domestic sanctity. Society depends upon the family, and if we have good families, not all the powers of earth and Hell can make headway against the Church in her mission for the salvation of souls. We see some countries where the Faith has been preserved in spite of all the fury of Hell and in the face of all the powers of the world.
How can we account for such steadfastness in the face of such trials? We must go deep down to the basis of social virtue to get the explanation of such heroism, and when we go deep enough, we will find family holiness in these countries. If we examine a little more, we will find that the chief means of preserving this sanctity in family life was the practice of the Rosary as a family prayer.
The great St. Dominic performed a wonderful work in the destruction of the Albigensian heresy. He had spent a long time in arguments with the heretics, and, as is usual, he made no converts by his arguments. Never has there been a single conversion made by arguments or dispute alone, because heretics, as a rule, do not wish to know the Truth. The devil knows all the truths of the Church even better than many Catholics, and yet he has no wish to serve God.
While Our Lord was dying on the Cross, He prayed for His executioners, and He excused them on the grounds that they knew not what they did. Our Lord’s prayer was heard and thousands were converted through this act of forgiveness who would never have received such grace had not the suffering and merciful Heart of Jesus prayed for them. Jesus here excuses them on account of their ignorance, but in the case of many of these people, their ignorance was culpable. They could have known the truth if they had wished, but they resembled the coward Pilate who asked, “What is truth?” but did not wait for an answer. Arguing over religious matters with those outside the Church only gives the enemies of God an opportunity to blaspheme and to mock at holy things. Reason unaided by grace is not able to grasp the great religious truths contained in the Catholic Church. (Consider, too, that Our Lady of Fatima did not ask us to dialog with the unconverted. No, She asked that we pray the Rosary every day and make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners.- MCB)
It may be asked then what are we to do with a view to instructing those outside the Faith? We must, like St. Dominic, teach the simple Christian doctrine and we may answer the objections of, and give information to, those who are sincerely anxious to know the Truth. The Church spread throughout the great pagan Roman Empire by the preaching of the Gospel, aided by the blood of the martyrs and the prayers of the faithful. When a nation or an individual loses the Faith, it is never for intellectual reasons nor because they cannot harmonize the beliefs of the Church with their philosophy of life. The Faith is lost through the loss of grace, owing to absence of prayer and through the commission of sin. The Faith in a country is preserved by the teaching of Christian doctrine and by the self-sacrificing lives of the faithful. Sanctity is only self-denial for the love of God. Some perform self-sacrificing actions, but for some worldly motive, and so that is not sanctity. The marks of true sanctity are prayer, self-denial and zeal for God’s glory.
When St. Dominic found that his arguments were of no value, he had recourse to the Mother of God, who has always been the consoler of the afflicted and the help of all those who carry on works for the salvation of souls. This sweet Mother told the saint to lay aside the arguments and begin the teaching of the simple Christian doctrine [by teaching her Psalter, with its three Mysteries: Joyous, Sorrowful, and Glorious]. The message of the angel to Mary was the beginning of the work of Redemption, and St. Dominic taught the people to repeat this Angelic Salutation, which at once reminded them of the great mystery of the Incarnation.
St. Dominic at once gave up his arguments with the heretics and began to teach the people to pray to Mary by repeating the Hail Mary. While he repeated the Our Fathers and the Hail Marys, he taught the people a simple language some mystery of Our Lord’s Life. In a short time, the people gave up their heresy and returned once more to the practice of religion. We see here the importance of prayer in the work of salvation. Prayer removes the obstacles to the reception of grace, and simple instruction will do the rest. Prayer obtains everything from God, simply because one who prays prepares his soul for the seeds of grace and sanctification, and if only heretics and all those outside the Church could be induced to pray [the Rosary, as they should, since it is a Meditation of Christ’s Life and Death], they would very soon receive the gift of Faith. The absence of prayers means the absence of grace, and so the evils of sin and heresy are all due in the final result to the want of prayer.
We must not leave out another factor in the destruction of the Albigensian heresy, and that was the power of Mary. St. Dominic prayed to Our Lady, and he taught the people to do so. Mary is the link that binds the soul to Jesus. She is also the link that binds whole nations to Jesus, and so we have another explanation of the marvelous success of St. Dominic. Those who invoke the aid of this Holy Mother are assured of success because her prayers are so powerful that they can defeat all the powers of Hell and all the stratagems of wicked men.
It is worthy of notice also that the Order of St. Dominic remained so faithful to the Church during the time of the Reformation [the Protestant Revolt]. This is accounted for by their devotion to the Rosary and by their fidelity to the teaching of the ordinary Christian doctrine to the faithful. St. Thomas [Aquinas], who was perhaps after St. Dominic the greatest gem of the Dominican order, so simplified the philosophy and the theology of the Church that when the time of trial came, the sons of St. Dominic were ready to give a simple explanation of all the truths of the Church, and in this way were able to confound all the tricks of the heretics.
The Rosary has been the great safeguard of whole nations during times of storm and stress when the wolves of heresy threatened to devour the faithful children of Jesus and Mary. When priests were put to death, it was practically impossible to preserve the Faith for the want of assistance of the Sacraments and on account of the absence of religious instruction. The devotion to the Rosary kept the Faith in whole countries, and we have no reason to be surprised at this.
The simple meditations of the Rosary on the lives of Jesus and Mary and the consideration of some mystery of faith kept the knowledge of the supernatural truths before the minds of the faithful…[t]he prayers or the reputation of the Our Father and Hail Mary reminded the people of the Angelic Salutation and the Providence of God, while it at the same time prepared the soul for, and obtained grace, by the power of impetration, or by its efficacy as a prayer. This devotion of the Rosary has been the great secret of family holiness and has therefore been the source of vocations and of much of the sanctity of the Church. Vocations can only spring from good families, and saints always come from homes in which Jesus and Mary have a prominent place and in which the family is sanctified each evening by the recitation of the Rosary, which draws down the blessings and the protection of this sweet Mother.
What we mean by goodness in families [is] supernatural goodness. Many families may be respectable and may enjoy the goodwill of their neighbors, but their goodness may be purely or largely natural, and may take no account of eternity. Some are here confused and they may tend to copy the natural goodness of others because they cannot distinguish between the natural and the supernatural. Some ask why do worldlings prosper, while the good have to suffer. This is again confusing the natural and the supernatural.
Worldlings, or those who act as if this world were the only world, may prosper and be respected in this world, and God gives them this reward for their natural good works. But there is no word here of the supernatural rewards of eternity, which surpass any of the passing joys of this world. Our Lord never promised worldly rewards to His followers. The friends of Jesus may receive the gifts of this world, but these are only accidental. Our Lord advised His friends to lay up “treasures in Heaven,” where they cannot be destroyed and where thieves cannot steal. The hundredfold promised even in this life may not necessarily consist of wealth or honors. It may and generally does consist of blessings, which bring true peace of soul and prevent many misfortunes. But the supernatural reward promised to those who seek first the Kingdom of God will begin on the shores of eternity and will be never-ending.
The family Rosary will prevent such unhappy occurrences in the home which cause such sadness for both parents and children and which often end in the destruction of the matrimonial bond. [This does not mean lack of sufferings, trials or sorrows; it does mean, however, the family will not be overcome by them. – MCB]
The family Rosary is one of the best prayers of the Church. Prayer is intended to raise the mind to God and to take our thoughts away from the passing affairs of this world. The Rosary is long enough to engage our attention for a sufficient time to enable us to leave aside our worldly cares, and this is good for both body and soul. It can be said on a journey or even while engaged in our occupations which do not demand all our attention. The indulgences of the Rosary are so great the faithful ought to make use of this devotion for the relief of the poor souls in Purgatory. The Rosary is the devotion which belongs especially to Our Lady. No one who wishes for the assistance of Mary will neglect Her Rosary.
To the above essay of Fr. H. O'Laverty's, I will only add words uttered by Our Lady herself. At Fatima, Our Lady said: “Continue to pray the Rosary every day in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary…”… “Pray, pray very much and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.” And finally, "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."
(Essay from Fr. H. O’Laverty’s book, The Mother of God’s Glorious Feasts, 1908. Republished under the title The Mother of God and Her Glorious Feasts. Remarks or clarifications found in brackets are mine. - MCB)