The Dominican pope Saint Pius V had a room in Santa Sabina, the Dominican headquarters in Rome, and that room is now maintained as a small chapel, adjacent to the wing known as the Master’s Corridor.
One of the frescoes in this chapel depicts the sainted pontiff kneeling with the Rosary in his hand as an angel points at what looks like a wide-screen television, in which the pope watches a naval battle taking place.
The battle, of course, is that of Lepanto on 7 October 1571, and as Chesterton wrote in his poem “Lepanto”, “the Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke”.
While in prayer, leading the people of Rome in the praying of the Rosary, St Pius V was said to have been granted a vision of the Holy League’s victory over the Ottoman forces, a victory attributed to the Holy Rosary and to the intervention of Our Lady of Victory, which thus halted the westward advance of a militant and expansionist Islamic empire.
The pope immediately declared October 7 to be a feast day, and this celebration, which came to be known as the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, has meant that the whole month of October is likewise dedicated to the Holy Rosary, a beautiful devotion meditating on the mysteries of salvation that, according to tradition, was first entrusted by Our Lady to St Dominic and his Order.
The association of the Rosary with spiritual warfare and divine victory apparently goes back to its origins. St Louis M de Montfort recounts that in 1214 when Our Lady revealed the Rosary to St Dominic, she called it “the weapon that the Blessed Trinity wants to use to reform the world”, and she told St Dominic to “preach my Psalter” in order to win over “hardened souls” to God. Over the years, the Rosary was found to be especially efficacious and pleasing to Our Lady.
In 1858, Our Lady appears to St Bernadette and prays it with her, asking that Rosary processions be held in Lourdes. In 1917, the young visionaries of Fatima are likewise led by Our Lady in praying the Rosary, and they are counselled to say at least five decades a day to pray for peace. It was in Fatima that Our Lady first called herself Our Lady of the Rosary. As Our Blessed Mother does not give us anything superfluous but indeed strives to help us to attain the grace of salvation, so we do well to heed her simple request: pray the Rosary every day.
Perhaps for this month of October we could make a resolution to pray at least five decades a day, or make a pilgrimage to the Rosary Shrine in London (of which I am Prior) which has beautiful altars dedicated to each mystery of the traditional Dominican Rosary. See rosaryshrine.co.uk for details.
Whether through a pilgrimage, or taking part in a Rosary procession, or with sacred art and music, this October let us contemplate anew and reinvigorate our praying of the Rosary.
For as Pope Leo XIII said: “The contemplation of these august mysteries [of salvation] affords to faithful souls a wonderful confirmation of faith, protection against the disease of error, and increase of the strength of the soul… Moreover, we may well believe that the Queen of Heaven herself has granted an especial efficacy to this mode of supplication, for it was by her command and counsel that the devotion was begun and spread abroad by the holy Patriarch Dominic as a most potent weapon against the enemies of the faith at an epoch not, indeed, unlike our own, of great danger to our holy religion.”