From the Editor (Thursday, 10.16.2014, Gaudium Press) In ancient times, Romans and Greeks used to crown statues with roses or other type flowers to signify the homage and reverence paid to them. Adopting this ancient custom, Christian women who were condemned to death used to dress in their finest cloth and adorn their forehead with roses, because of their conviction that they were about to meet the Lord. At night, after the execution, Christians will discretely go to gather those flowers and at each rose they will recite a prayer, an Our Father or a psalm, for the martyr.
From this practice a tradition originated taking its name from those roses: the Church started to call it the rosary. In the beginning it consisted in reciting the 150 Psalms of David. However, this practice had a mayor inconvenient: to learn how to read, at that time in history, was reserved only for the educated and literate ones. Therefore, the Church allowed, for those who could not read, to replace the 150 Psalms for 150 “Hail Marys”. This new form of “Rosary” was named “The Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Shortly before the end of the twelfth century, St Dominic of Guzman was distressed at his lack of success in spreading the true faith and in combating the great heresy of the Cathars. One day, he decided to go into the woods and turned to the Mother of God for help. He eventually fell unconscious. Just having regained his senses, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and told him that the best weapon to stop heresy and obtain the conversion of heretics was not the scourging but the recitation of the Psalter.
St. Dominic went right away to the Cathedral of Toulouse and ordered to ring the bells. When the population gathered in the Cathedral a great storm broke out with lightning and thunderstorms. At a certain moment people inside the Cathedral saw the right arm of the statue of the Mother of God to be lifted up and they saw Her gazing at them with anger. St Dominic began to pray the Rosary accompanied by everyone and the storm started to quiet down until it completely stopped.
On another occasion, St. Dominic was about to do a homily at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris on the feast of St. John the Baptist. He carefully prepared his homily and before delivering it he fervently prayed the Rosary. At that moment the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and told him: “Your sermon is good, but this one that I am giving to you is better!” And She gave him a homily on meaning of the devotion to the Rosary, Explaining how much this devotion was pleasing to God.
For a long time people went on praying the Rosary with great devotion. However, 100 years after the death of this great saint, the recitation of the Rosary began to be forgotten. In 1346 a terrible plague broke out which devastated the country and much of Europe, it was called “The Black Death”. The Blessed Virgin Mary, accompanied by Her Divine Son and St Dominic, appeared to Blessed Alain de la Roche on Holy Sunday, who was then the superior of the Dominicans. On this occasion the Virgin Mary asked him to reinvigorate the devotion to the Psalter.
Without delay Blessed Alain de la Roche, along with other Dominicans friars, started to work on the diffusion of this powerful devotion, so pleasing to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was through him that the Rosario took the present form, divided into decades, each one contemplating a mystery of the life of Jesus and Mary. Thereafter this devotion spread throughout the whole Church.
When was the feast of the Rosary instituted?
On October 7, 1571, a great battle between the mighty Turkish fleet and the Catholic naval forces, constituting the Holy League, gathered primarily from Spain, Venice, and Genoa under the command of Don Juan of Austria took place in the Mediterranean Sea, near the Gulf of Patras. The future of Christianity in Europe was at stake.
Knowing that the Christian forces were at a distinct material disadvantage, the holy pontiff, St. Pope Pius V, called for all of Europe to pray the Rosary for victory.
As the fleets grew closer, the Christians could hear the gongs and cymbals, drums and cries of the Turks. The men of the Holy League quietly pulled at their oars, the soldiers stood on the decks in silent prayer.
The wind shifted 180 degrees. The sails of the Holy League were filled with the Divine breath, driving them into battle.
Don John of Austria, Captain General of the Holy League, knelt on the prow of Real and said a final prayer. Then he stood and gave the order for the Holy League’s battle standard, a gift from Pius V, to be unfurled. Christians up and down the battle line cheered as they saw the giant blue banner bearing an image of our crucified Lord.
The fighting lasted for five hours. The sides were evenly matched and well led, but the Divine favored the Christians, and once the battle turned in their favor it became a rout. All but thirteen of the nearly 300 Turkish vessels were captured or sunk and over 30,000 Turks were slain.
At the hour of victory, St. Pope Pius V, who was hundreds of miles away at the Vatican, is said to have gotten up from a meeting, went over to a window, and exclaimed with supernatural radiance: “The Christian fleet is victorious!” and shed tears of thanksgiving to God.
A solemn procession took place on the streets of the Eternal City to commemorate the miraculous victory. Some days later the messengers of the naval forces brought to Rome the news, already known, of the victory. Shortly after, the feast of Our Lady of Victories was instituted on October 7.
A year later, Gregory XIII changed the name to this feast to Our Lady of the Rosary, and established that it should be celebrated on the first Sunday in October (day in which the battle of Lepanto was won). The feast is celebrated now a day on October 7.