Words on the Word

Our Lady of the Rosary

Br Alberic used to tell a joke about a lad who, when asked what Our Lady was about when St Gabriel appeared to her, replied, ‘Surely she was saying the rosary?’ The story, benignly absurd, illustrates two common assumptions: that the rosary has been around since the beginning of time, and that it stands for a gentle, contemplative devotion. Today’s feast gives us a different perspective. Pope Pius V instituted it under the title of Our Lady of Victories to commemorate the triumph of the faith in the Battle of Lepanto. The Battle of Lepanto? To most of us, it may seem about as relevant as the Battle of Thermopylae. Let us think again. The battle of Lepanto was fought on 7 October 1571 just off the Gulf of Corinth between the Ottoman fleet and the so-called Holy League, a coalition of Catholic states. The Turks sought to extend their dominion into Europe. It is hardly true to say that this war was ‘of religion’; yet it did have vast religious implications. And so we find that Lepanto, in fact, has eerie parallels in battles joined now in Qaraqosh and Raqqa. So complex, so ambiguous, is the war being fought in the Middle East that we may wish simply to purge it from our minds. We shouldn’t. We can’t. Let us learn from Lepanto. Sixteenth-century Catholics saw that a spiritual battle underlay the clash of superpowers. They saw that the soul of Christian Europe was at risk. So they prayed. The beleaguered the Mother of our Saviour by using beads only recently come into circulation. How many of us pray, pray hard, these days for the saving of the soul of Europe? How many of us trust, really trust, in the power of the Godbearer to sustain our ancient Christian roots? This is a time to perform a serious examination of conscience. This is a time to get our rosaries out and to use them fervently, as weapons in a crucial battle.

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