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The Battle That Saved Europe…and the Weapon That Sealed the Victory


“The Rosary is a sort of machine gun and atomic bomb, namely, a weapon that is far superior to all the weapons of modern warfare in overcoming the enemy of God”~ Servant of God Joseph Kentenich

In the year 1571, on October 7th to be precise, the Ottoman Empire attacked Venice at the Battle of Lepanto. They were intent on destroying Christianity forever. When this now legendary Battle of Lepanto was on the brink of being waged, the Ottoman Empire had not lost a major confrontation since the previous century. Their winning streak did not appear to be in the slightest bit of jeopardy.

This would be a naval battle fought on the high seas. It was believed that the Ottomans had upwards of ten ships in their fleet for every one ship that the Christians sailed into battle. Hopelessly outnumbered, Pope Pius V urged everyone to pray the Holy Rosary…and they did. In fact the evening before the famous battle, the sailors prayed the Rosary on their knees together.

On the day of the battle, it is believed that over 400 warships were engaged. As things predictably intensified, something inexplicable happened. The winds shifted radically at a pivotal moment, doing so in a way that was advantageous to the Christian fleet led by Don Juan. As the winds shifted, so too did the momentum. The Ottoman Empire was soundly and quite miraculously defeated, this despite their enormous advantage in size and firepower.

This marked the first major victory of a Western Christian fleet against the Ottoman Empire. For the Muslims, the results were catastrophic. Approximately 40.000 men died in 4 hours, equal to about 166 deaths per minute, by far the highest casualty rate of any battle until World War I. It remains the largest naval defeat inflicted against the Muslims in history. On the heels of this stunning victory, Pope Pius V declared this day the Feast Day of Our Lady of Victory in 1572 as an offering of thanksgiving to our Blessed Mother, who appeared to Pius V in a vision insuring victory. A year later this Memorial was renamed Our Lady of the Rosary under Pope Gregory XIII.

The Readings chosen for today’s Memorial from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:12-14) and Luke’s Gospel (Luke.1:26-38) are appropriately dotted and laced with these seminal “Rosarian” moments of our faith, these mysteries that we reflect upon during the recitation of the Holy Rosary. In our Passage from Acts we see the Apostles in the upper room with Mary on the heels of Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven as they await Pentecost and the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit, two of the aptly named Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

In Today’s Gospel, the Annunciation of the Lord takes center stage as Mary is paid a visit by the Angel Gabriel It is here that we see the young Virgin Mary “troubled,” a bit fearful, and inquisitive in the face of this most crucial moment in the history of the world Yet from the depths of her soul, Mary, despite running the gamut of emotions, answered the call and submitted to God’s will.

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The Rosary assists one in the development of a true contemplative spirit. Anyone who prays the rosary regularly will never be far from the Gospel, for woven into these mysteries of the Rosary are many of the seminal Gospel teachings. In his now classic book The Secret of the Rosary, Saint Louis de Montfort had this to say of those who pray the Rosary with devotion every day:

"If you say the Rosary faithfully until death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins 'you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory.' Even if you are on the brink of damnation, even if you have one foot in hell, even if you have sold your soul to the devil as sorcerers who practice black magic, and even if you are a heretic as obstinate as a devil, sooner or later you will be converted and will amend your life and will save your soul, if ~ and mark well what I say ~ if you say the Holy Rosary devoutly every day until death for the purpose of knowing the truth and obtaining contrition and pardon for your sins."

In the closing words of Luke 11:15-26, Jesus serves up a warning. He explains that “When an unclean spirit goes out of someone, it roams through arid regions searching for rest but, finding none, it says, ‘I shall return to my home from which I came.’ But upon returning, it finds it swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits more wicked than itself who move in and dwell there, and the last condition of that man is worse than the first.”

The lesson here is that the mere absence of evil is not enough. “Sweeping ourselves clean through repentance” is necessary of course, but we must then be filled, filled with God’s Grace and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Without these we can fall ever so fast. In order to be protected, to persevere, avoiding evil must be accompanied by an infusion of spirit and grace. All those who prayerfully ask the Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit will receive just that.

If you do not pray the Daily Rosary, or for that matter if you haven’t prayed a Rosary in a very long time ~ or ever for that matter ~ today is the day. Today is the day to acquire this great habit, wherein our Blessed Mother leads us to her Son through the contemplation of the truth and beauty of our faith.

I leave you with the words of the incomparable Mother Angelica, who said “You know what Our Lady said about the Rosary? That the whole world would change if everybody said it…. If my Mother says, ‘Say it,’ I’m gonna say it.”

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us….

For more on the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary and the sublime power of this cherished devotion, please revisit my reflection from last year on the topic:


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