Two memorials of Our Lady in September and October, The Most Holy Name of Mary on September 12 and Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7 are actually linked to two great battles against Turkish incursion in the seventeenth century. The memorial of the Most Holy Name of Mary was instituted to celebrate the victory of King Jan Sobieski of Poland at the Gates of Vienna, while the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary was at first called Our Lady of Victory in thanksgiving for the victory of the Battle of Lepanto.
Pope Innocent XI added the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary to the Roman Calendar in 1684, a year after the Christian victory at the Battle of Vienna the previous year. Pope St. Pius V added the feast of Our Lady of Victory to the Roman Calendar in 1571, the same year that the combined naval forces of The Holy League against the Ottoman Turks. The Turks, led by Soleiman the Magnificent and his son Selim II, had been invading Malta, Hungary, and Cyprus, slaughtering Christians and taking women and young girls as slaves.
The two best accounts of the Battle of Lepanto are Christopher Check’s narrative and G.K. Chesterton’s poem. Pope St. Pius V organized the Holy League of Spain, Genoa, and the Papal States, and dedicated the practical, military goals of the navy battling the Turks to the spiritual defense of Christians. As the naval battle of Lepanto raged in the Adriatic, the Pope asked the Catholics of Italy to join in praying the Holy Rosary for the victory of the Holy League.
Now, we may stand back a little from this spectacle of a Pope praying for military victory against a foe, even a foe who had been murdering innocents and committing terrible atrocities against military combatants who had surrendered (read Check’s account of the torture and death of the governor of Cyprus, if you dare!). But many Catholics today are joined in prayer and fasting, attending Mass and Holy Hours before the Blessed, praying for the defense of religious liberty and the end to the legalized, protected and even tax payer funded murder of innocent unborn babies—we are praying for a certain end of this year’s Election Day. We hope for God’s intercession that our nation will elect pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family candidates even as we wrangle over other prudential issues of the common good.
The feast of Our Lady of Victory was named the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary by Pope Gregory XIII in 1573, and Pope Clement XI extended it to the Roman Calendar in 1716, after another victory against the Turks in Hungary. He set it on the first Sunday in October, so Pope St. Pius X, in his efforts to focus on Sunday Mass, moved the feast to October 7 in 1913. (This year, because October 7 is on a Sunday, we don’t celebrate the feast.)
The month of October is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary; outside of the liturgical celebration and prayer of the Church (the Holy Mass and), the Rosary is the most popular Catholic prayer. The Holy Rosary, being so focused on the mysteries of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, has become a badge of Catholic identity. It has been woven into our lives: prayed before Mass, in Adoration and Holy Hours, at the vigils of Catholic funerals, and at any moment of need and intercession. Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!
Stephanie A. Mann is the author of Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation, available from Scepter Publishers. She resides in Wichita, Kansas and blogs at www.supremacyandsurvival.blogspot.com. Stephanie is working on a book about the English Catholic Martyrs from 1534 to 1681. From August 4 through October 20, she will host a weekly radio program, “The English Reformation Today” on Radio Maria US.