It is the feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary today: the Rosary is a staple of Catholic life, and has been for centuries. Long may this continue.
As a very little boy, I used to be taken out for walks in the village of Marsaxlokk in Malta, while my mother played bridge, and the pious young girl who had charge of me would take me to the parish church where we would kneel in front of the statue of Our Lady of Pompeii, which struck me then, aged four or five, as the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. There are is a picture here.
And thus was born a lifelong devotion to the baroque, as well as a lifetime’s devotion to our Blessed Lady and the Rosary.
Devotion to the Rosary was greatly promoted by Pope Saint Pius V, who had been a Dominican, and his decree on the Rosary makes very interesting reading. It is dated 17th September 1569, and speaks of the transformational results of saying the rosary, and goes on to say:
“Following the example of our predecessors, seeing that the Church militant, which God has placed in our hands, in these our times is tossed this way and that by so many heresies, and is grievously troubled and afflicted by so many wars, and by the depraved morals of men, we also raise our eyes, weeping but full of hope, unto that same mountain, whence every aid comes forth, and we encourage and admonish each member of Christ’s faithful to do likewise in the Lord.”
This was two years before the Battle of Lepanto, but clearly St Pius V could see the way the wind was blowing. The battle took place on this day in 1571, and the feast of Our Lady of Victories was instituted on the anniversary, though this was rapidly changed to the present title in 1573. Victory over the Turks was attributed to the intercession of the Madonna and the saying of the Rosary. It also owed something to the combined fleets of Catholic Europe, which included the fleet of the Papal States, but one can be sure in the mind of St Pius V, it was the power of prayer that really counted.
Nowadays, governments are rather wary of sending in their fleets, and prefer to attack their enemies in the Middle East from a safe distance: we lob bombs, and send in drones, but hardly ever put boots on the ground. Moreover, we seem to think that the solution is always a military solution, and nothing but a military solution. But as some wise observers have realised, a military solution alone will not work.
“You cannot bomb an ideology out of existence,” Owen Jones asserts, and he is right. And on this matter, St Pius V, strange as it might seem, would have been in complete agreement. Bombs are all very well, but what really counts in the war of ideas, are ideas. St Pius V contributed the Papal fleet to the struggle against the Ottomans, but far more important was his moral support, and the support of his prayers. Lepanto was not just a naval victory, it was a moral victory, the victory of European civilisation over the barbarity of “the Turk”. (And yes, I know that the barbarity was not all on one side, but that is not how it seemed to our antecedents at Lepanto: if they had believed in multiculturalism or moral relativism, they would not have bothered fighting the battle. But that is precisely the point: they didn’t, and so they did.)
Once the enemy was the Turk; later it was atheistic Communism; and now it is nihilistic Islamism. But the weapon of choice in our opposition to all these ideologies is always the same – the power of prayer. And in the arsenal of prayer, as experience shows, the Rosary is the most powerful prayer we have. So let us use it! And why is the prayer so powerful? Because it comes from the deep wellspring of creative love that is God; whereas the destructive bombs have nothing to do with God.
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