Wolfgang was born in Swabia, Germany, and was educated at a school located at the abbey of Reichenau. There he encountered Henry, a young noble who went on to become Archbishop of Trier. Meanwhile, Wolfgang remained in close contact with the archbishop, teaching in his cathedral school and supporting his efforts to reform the clergy.
At the death of the archbishop, Wolfgang chose to become a Benedictine monk and moved to an abbey in Einsiedeln, now part of Switzerland. Ordained a priest, he was appointed director of the monastery school there. Later he was sent to Hungary as a missionary, though his zeal and good will yielded limited results.
Emperor Otto II appointed him Bishop of Regensburg, near Munich. Wolfgang immediately initiated reform of the clergy and of religious life, preaching with vigour and effectiveness and always demonstrating special concern for the poor. He wore the habit of a monk and lived an austere life.
The draw to monastic life never left him, including the desire for a life of solitude. At one point he left his diocese so that he could devote himself to prayer, but his responsibilities as bishop called him back. In 994, Wolfgang became ill while on a journey; he died in Puppingen near Linz, Austria. He was canonized in 1052. His feast day is celebrated widely in much of central Europe.
Wolfgang could be depicted as a man with rolled-up sleeves. He even tried retiring to solitary prayer, but taking his responsibilities seriously led him back into the service of his diocese. Doing what had to be done was his path to holiness—and ours.
Tragedy and challenge beset today’s saint early in life, but Alphonsus Rodriguez found happiness and contentment through simple service and prayer.
Born in Spain in 1533, Alphonsus inherited the family textile business at 23. Within the space of three years, his wife, daughter, and mother died; meanwhile, business was poor. Alphonsus stepped back and reassessed his life. He sold the business, and with his young son, moved into his sister’s home. There he learned the discipline of prayer and meditation.
At the death of his son years later, Alphonsus, almost 40 by then, sought to join the Jesuits. He was not helped by his poor education. He applied twice before being admitted. For 45 years he served as doorkeeper at the Jesuits’ college in Majorca. When not at his post, he was almost always at prayer, though he often encountered difficulties and temptations.
His holiness and prayerfulness attracted many to him, including Saint Peter Claver, then a Jesuit seminarian. Alphonsus’ life as doorkeeper may have been humdrum, but centuries later he caught the attention of poet and fellow-Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins, who made him the subject of one of his poems.
Alphonsus died in 1617. He is the patron saint of Majorca.
We like to think that God rewards the good, even in this life. But Alphonsus knew business losses, painful bereavement, and periods when God seemed very distant. None of his suffering made him withdraw into a shell of self-pity or bitterness. Rather, he reached out to others who lived with pain, including enslaved Africans. Among the many notables at his funeral were the sick and poor people whose lives he had touched. May they find such a friend in us!
St. Narcissus was born towards the end of the first century, and he was nearly 80 years old when he was named as the 30th bishop of Jerusalem.
In 195, he and Theophilus, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, presided together over a council of the bishops of Palestine held at Caesarea around Easter. There it was decreed that the feast be kept always on a Sunday, and not continually with the Jewish Passover.
The bishop and historian Eusebius says the following miracle can be attributed to him: One year on Easter-eve the deacons did not have any oil for the lamps in the church, which was necessary at the solemn divine office on that day. Narcissus ordered those who had care of the lamps to bring him some water from the neighboring wells. This being done, he pronounced a devout prayer over the water. Then he bade them pour it into the lamps; which they did. The water was immediately converted into oil, to the great surprise of all the faithful. Some of this miraculous oil was kept there as a memorial at the time when Eusebius wrote his history.
The veneration of all good men for this holy bishop, however, could not shelter him from the malice of the wicked. Three incorrigible sinners, fearing his severity in the observance of ecclesiastical discipline, accused him of a terrible act. The sinners swore that they were right, adding the following to their testimony: One wished that he might perish by fire, another, that he might be struck with a leprosy, and the third, that he might lose his sight, if what they alleged was not the truth. Their accusations were false, however, and soon Divine Retribution called upon them. The first was burnt in his house along with his whole family by an accidental fire in the night, the second was struck with a universal leprosy and the third, terrified by these examples, confessed the conspiracy and slander, and by the abundance of tears which he continually shed for his sins, lost his sight before his death.
Narcissus either could not stand the shock of the bold calumny, or perhaps he made it an excuse for leaving Jerusalem in order to spend some time in solitude, which had long been his wish. He spent several years undiscovered in his retreat, where he enjoyed all the happiness and advantage which a close conversation with God can bestow.
The neighboring bishops appointed a new pastor for his church until Narcissus returned. Upon his return, the faithful rejoiced and convinced him to once again undertake the administration of the diocese, which he did.
As he reached extreme old age, he made St. Alexander his coadjutor. St. Narcissus continued to serve his flock, and even other churches, by his assiduous prayers and his earnest exhortations to unity and concord, as St. Alexander testifies in his letter to the Arsinoites in Egypt, where he says that Narcisus was at that time about one hundred and sixteen years old. The Roman Martyrology honors his memory on October 29th.
REFLECTION FOR THE DAY
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6
What comfort this gives me. I don’t believe that we begin our spiritual journeys on our own, but that the Holy Spirit attracts us to the path through people and events in our lives; through great love and/or great suffering. For me, it was an emptiness and a longing that only prayer could assuage. Thus, the very fact that I am on a spiritual path gives evidence that God did begin a good work in me. Having St. Paul express such confidence that God will continue to complete this good work in me always helps me take a deep breath. It boosts my faith when my prayer shifts from pleading God to work in me to increase my love for others to thanking God for all the love, courage and endurance I already have. Changing from pleading to gratitude always turns out to be the surest path into deep prayer.
St. Jude, known as Thaddaeus, was a brother of St. James the Lesser, and a relative of Jesus. Ancient writers tell us that he preached the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Lybia. According to Eusebius, he returned to Jerusalem in the year 62 and assisted at the election of his brother, St. Simeon, as Bishop of Jerusalem.
He is an author of an epistle (letter) to the Churches of the East, in particular the Jewish converts, directed against the heresies of the Simonians, Nicolaites, and Gnostics. This Apostle is said to have suffered martyrdom in Armenia, which was then subject to Persia. The final conversion of the Armenian nation to Christianity did not take place until the third century A.D.
St. Jude was the one who asked Jesus at the Last Supper why He would not manifest Himself to the whole world after His resurrection. Little else is known of his life, but legend claims that he visited Beirut and Edessa.
He was beaten to death with a club, then beheaded post-mortem in 1st century Persia. His relics reside at Saint Peter’s in Rome, at Rheims, and at Toulouse, France.
Saint Jude Thaddeus is not the same person as Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Our Lord and despaired because of his great sin and lack of trust in God’s mercy.
St. Jude Thaddeus is invoked in desperate situations because his New Testament letter stresses that the faithful should persevere in the environment of harsh, difficult circumstances, just as their forefathers had done before them.
Therefore, he is the patron of desperate situations, forgotten causes, hospital workers, hospitals, impossible causes, lost causes, and the diocese of Saint Petersburg, Florida. He is represented as bearded man holding an oar, a boat, boat hook, a club, an axe or a book. Nearly every image of him depicts him wearing a medallion with a profile of Jesus. He usually has a small flame above his head and he often carries a pen.
We remember him October 28 in Roman Church, and June 19 in Eastern Church.
St. Simon the Zealot
Little is known about the post-Pentecost life of St. Simon, who had been called a Zealot. He is thought to have preached in Egypt and then to have joined St. Jude in Persia. Here, he was supposedly martyred by being cut in half with a saw, a tool he is often depicted with. However, the 4th-century St. Basil the Great says he died in Edessa, peacefully.
REFLECTION FOR THE DAY
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children… Ephesians 5:1
Child development research suggests that children learn how to behave by watching, and being watched by, their parents. When an infant looks into her mother’s eyes, and the mother looks back at her and smiles, the infant learns that she is a delight to her mother, that her existence is good. When a toddler runs to his father to be comforted after he falls down, he learns to empathize when someone else is hurt. We learn how to do things when someone else has done those things for us. If our parents have not been good models, we may still turn to our divine parent to know how to love. Our ability to imitate God takes more than just acting out the behaviours we associate with a benevolent deity. It takes our trust—a trust that we are wanted, loved and held as his children.
Saint Anthony Mary Claret – Feast Day – October 24
Spanish prelate and missionary, born at Sallent, near Barcelona, 23 Dec., 1807; d. at Fontfroide, Narbonne, France, on 24 Oct., 1870. Son of a small woollen manufacturer, he received an elementary education in his native village, and at the age of twelve became a weaver. A little later he went to Barcelona to specialize in his trade, and remained there till he was twenty. Meanwhile he devoted his spare time to study and became proficient in Latin, French, and engraving; in addition he enlisted in the army as a volunteer. Recognizing a call to a higher life, he left Barcelona, entered the seminary at Vich in 1829, and was ordained on 13 June, 1835. He received a benefice in his native parish, where he continued to study theology till 1839. He now wished to become a Carthusian; missionary work, however, appealing strongly to him he proceeded to Rome. There he entered the Jesuit novitiate but finding himself unsuited for that manner of life, he returned shortly to Spain and exercised his ministry at Valadrau and Gerona, attracting notice by his efforts on behalf of the poor. Recalled by his superiors to Vich, he was engaged in missionary work throughout Catalonia. In 1848 he was sent to the Canary Islands where he gave retreats for fifteen months. Returning to Vich he established the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (16 July, 1849), and founded the great religious library at Barcelona which bears his name, and which has issued several million cheap copies of the best ancient and modern Catholic works.
Such had been the fruit of his zealous labours and so great the wonders he had worked, that Pius IX at the request of the Spanish sovereign appointed him Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba in 1851. He was consecrated at Vich and embarked at Barcelona on 28 Dec. Having arrived at his destination he began at once a work of thorough reform. The seminary was reorganized, clerical discipline strengthened, and over nine thousand marriages validated within the first two years. He erected a hospital and numerous schools. Three times he made a visitation of the entire diocese, giving local missions incessantly.
Naturally his zeal stirred up the enmity and calumnies of the irreligious, as had happened previously in Spain. No less than fifteen attempts were made on his life, and at Holguin his cheek was laid open from ear to chin by a would-be assassin’s knife. In February, 1857, he was recalled to Spain by Isabella II, who made him her confessor. He obtained permission to resign his see and was appointed to the titular see of Trajanopolis. His influence was now directed solely to help the poor and to propagate learning; he lived frugally and took up his residence in an Italian hospice. For nine years he was rector of the Escorial monastery where he established an excellent scientific laboratory, a museum of natural history, a library, college, and schools of music and languages. His further plans were frustrated by the revolution of 1868. He continued his popular missions and distribution of good books wherever he went in accompanying the Spanish Court. When Isabella recognized the new Government of United Italy he left the Court and hastened to take his place by the side of the pope; at the latter’s command, however, he returned to Madrid with faculties for absolving the queen from the censures she had incurred. In 1869 he went to Rome to prepare for the Vatican Council. Owing to failing health he withdrew to Prades in France, where he was still harassed by his calumnious Spanish enemies; shortly afterwards he retired to the Cistercian abbey at Fontfroide where he expired.
His zealous life and the wonders he wrought both before and after his death testified to his sanctity. Informations were begun in 1887 and he was declared Venerable by Leo XIII in 1899. His relics were transferred to the mission house at Vich in 1897, at which time his heart was found incorrupt, and his grave is constantly visited by many pilgrims. In addition to the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Heart of Mary (approved definitively by Pius IX, 11 Feb., 1870) which has now over 110 houses and 2000 members, with missions in W. Africa, and in Chocó (Columbia), Archbishop Claret founded or drew up the rules of several communities of nuns. By his sermons and writings he contributed greatly to bring about the revival of the Catalan language. His printed works number over 130, of which we may mention: “La escala de Jacob”; “Maximas de moral la más pura”; “Avisos”; “Catecismo explicado con láminas”; “La llave de oro”; “Selectos panegíricos” (11 vols.); “Sermones de misión” (3 vols.); “Misión de la mujer”; “Vida de Sta. Mónica”; “La Virgen del Pilar y los Francmasones”; and his “Autobiografia”, written by order of his spiritual director, but still unpublished.
Antonio María Claret was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1950.
REFLECTION FOR THE DAY
… we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… Ephesians 4:15
Christ is the template of our lives: our model, our example, the Way. It’s the small things that add up to make the whole person. We have choices. We can choose to make a negative remark or to hold it back, to smile when we want to frown, to shift our position just a few degrees to see if the situation might look different. We can binge-watch our favourite program, or we can take that time to make soup and deliver it to a friend who is ill. We can tell the bus driver what a great job he is doing and watch his smile light up his face and light up the day. We grow into Christ through a multitude of small choices: every day, every way. Lord, though I may suffer “growing pains” today, help me to grow into you.
Pope Callistus I is celebrated in churches throughout the world as a saint and martyr on October 14. The saint caused a major controversy, including a schism that lasted almost two decades, by choosing to emphasize God’s mercy in his ministry. However, the early Pope’s model of leadership has endured, and his martyrdom in the year 222 confirmed his example of holiness.
Because no completely trustworthy biography of Pope Callistus I exists, historians have been forced to rely on an account by his contemporary Hippolytus of Rome. Although Hippolytus himself was eventually reconciled to the Church and canonized as a martyr, he vocally opposed the pontificate of Callistus and three of his successors, to the point of usurping papal prerogatives for himself (as the first “antipope”). Nevertheless, his account of Callistus’ life and papacy provides important details.
According to Hippolytus’ account, Callistus – whose year of birth is not known – began his career as a highly-placed domestic servant, eventually taking responsibility for his master’s banking business. When the bank failed, Callistus received the blame, and attempted to flee from his master. Being discovered, he was demoted to serve as a manual laborer in Rome. Thus, under inauspicious circumstances, Callistus came as a slave to the city where he would later serve as Pope.
Matters went from bad to worse when he was sent to work in the mines, possibly for causing a public disturbance, if Hippolytus’ account is to be trusted. However, Callistus may also simply have been sentenced due to a persecution of Christians, as he was among the many believers eventually freed on the initiative of Pope St. Victor I.
During the subsequent reign of Pope Zephyrinus, Callistus became a deacon and the caretaker of a major Roman Christian cemetery (which still bears his name as the “Cemetery of St. Callistus”), in addition to advising the Pope on theological controversies of the day. He was a natural candidate to follow Zephyrinus, when the latter died in 219.
Hippolytus, an erudite Roman theologian, accused Pope Callistus of sympathizing with heretics, and resented the new Pope’s clarification that even the most serious sins could be absolved after sincere confession. The Pope’s assertion of divine mercy also scandalized the North African Christian polemicist Tertullian, already in schism from the Church in Carthage, who also erroneously held that certain sins were too serious to be forgiven through confession.
Considered in light of this error, Hippolytus’ catalogue of sins allegedly “permitted” by Callistus – including extramarital sex and early forms of contraception – may in fact represent offenses which the Pope never allowed, but which he was willing to absolve in the case of penitents seeking reconciliation with the Church.
Even so, Callistus could not persuade Hippolytus’ followers of his rightful authority as Pope during his own lifetime. The Catholic Church, however, has always acknowledged the orthodoxy and holiness of Pope St. Callistus I, particularly since the time of his martyrdom – traditionally ascribed to an anti-Christian mob – in 222.
St. Callistus’ own intercession after death may also have made possible the historic reconciliation between his opponent Hippolytus, and the later Pope Pontian. The Pope and former antipope were martyred together in 236, and both subsequently canonized.
She was born in a little village near Montreal in 1811, the 10th of 11 children. She had a good education, was something of a tomboy, rode a horse named Caesar, and could have married well. At 16, she felt the desire to become a religious, but was forced to abandon the idea because of her weak constitution. At 18, when her mother died, her priest brother invited Marie-Rose and their father to come to his parish in Beloeil, not far from Montreal.
For 13 years, Marie-Rose served as housekeeper, hostess, and parish worker. She became well-known for her graciousness, courtesy, leadership, and tact; she was, in fact, called “the saint of Beloeil.” Perhaps she was too tactful during two years when her brother treated her coldly.
When Marie-Rose was 29, Bishop Ignace Bourget—who would be a decisive influence in her life—became bishop of Montreal. He faced a shortage of priests and sisters and a rural population that had been largely deprived of education. Like his counterparts in the United States, Bishop Bourget scoured Europe for help, and himself founded four communities, one of which was the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Its first sister and reluctant co-foundress was Marie-Rose Durocher.
As a young woman, Marie-Rose had hoped there would someday be a community of teaching sisters in every parish, never thinking she would found one. But her spiritual director, Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Pierre Telmon, after thoroughly—and severely—leading her in the spiritual life, urged her to found a community herself. Bishop Bourget concurred, but Marie-Rose shrank from the prospect. She was in poor health and her father and brother needed her.
Finally Marie-Rose agreed, and with two friends, Melodie Dufresne and Henriette Cere, entered a little home in Longueuil, across the Saint Lawrence River from Montreal. With them were 13 young girls already assembled for boarding school. Longueuil became her Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Gethsemane. Marie-Rose was 32 and would live only six more years—years filled with poverty, trials, sickness, and slander. The qualities she had nurtured in her “hidden” life came forward—a strong will, intelligence and common sense, great inner courage, and yet a great deference to directors. Thus was born an international congregation of women religious dedicated to education in the faith.
Marie-Rose was severe with herself and by today’s standards quite strict with her sisters. Beneath it all, of course, was an unshakable love of her crucified Saviour.
On her deathbed, the prayers most frequently on her lips were “Jesus, Mary, Joseph! Sweet Jesus, I love you. Jesus, be to me Jesus!” Before she died, Marie-Rose smiled and said to the sister with her, “Your prayers are keeping me here—let me go.”
Marie-Rose Durocher was beatified in 1982. Her Liturgical Feast Day is October 6.
We have seen a great burst of charity, a genuine interest in the poor. Countless Christians have experienced a deep form of prayer. But penance? We squirm when we read of terrible physical penance done by people like Marie-Rose Durocher. That is not for most people, of course. But the pull of a materialistic culture oriented to pleasure and entertainment is impossible to resist without some form of deliberate and Christ-conscious abstinence. That is part of the way to answer Jesus’ call to repent and turn completely to God.
Born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli at Sotto il Monte, Italy on 25 November 1881, Pope John XXIII was elected Pope on October 28, 1958. He died June 3, 1963 in Rome and was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 3, 2000.
Angelo was the fourth child of 14, born to pious parents. His religious education was entrusted to his godfather, who instilled in him a deep love and admiration of the mystery of God.
He entered the minor seminary in 1892 at the age of 11, became a Secular Francsican in 1896 and in 1901 he entered the Pontifical Roman Seminary. On being ordained in 1904, he was appointed secretary to the bishop of Bergamo and taught in the seminary.
His great friends among the saints during this formative period were St. Charles Borromeo and St. Francis de Sales, two outstanding intellectuals and also formidable pastors.
He served as a military chaplain during the First World War, served as spiritual director of a seminary, and in 1921 served as the Italian president of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
In 1925 Pius XI made him a bishop and sent him to Bulgaria as the Apostolic Visitator. For his Episcopal motto he chose OboedientiaetPax. In 1935 he was assigned to Turkey and Greece where he ministered to the Catholic population and engaged in dialogue with Orthodox Christianity and with Islam.
During the Second World War he used his diplomatic means to save as many Jews as he could by obtaining safe passage for them.
He was created cardinal and Patriarch of Venice in 1953 and was a much loved pastor, dedicating himself completely to the well being of his flock.
Elected Pope on the death of Pope Pius XII, he was an example of a ‘pastoral’ Pope, a good shepherd who cared deeply for his sheep. He manifested this concern in his social enyclicals, especially PaceminTerris, “On peace in the World.”
His greatest act as Pope however was undoubtedly the inspiration to convoke the Second Vatican Council, which he opened on October 11, 1962.
Pope John’s spirit of humble simplicity, profound goodness, and deep life of prayer radiated in all that he did, and inspired people to affectionately call him “Good Pope John.”
He was canonized by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square on April 27, 2014, alongside the man who beatified him, Pope St. John Paul II.
REFLECTION FOR THE DAY
For Matthew the kingdom of God – the relationship between God and humanity – is clearly fulfilled in Jesus the Christ. Traditional aspects of feasting, of gathering in community to celebrate the intimate life-giving relationship of marriage, are allusions to oneness with Christ through the Eucharist. However, other aspects of today’s Gospel parable are shocking. Some invitees are uninterested, others obnoxious. The host responds with harshness, intolerance, dismissing those who refuse the invitation as unworthy and banishing one who arrives unprepared to perpetual suffering. How are we to understand these images in relation to the kingdom of God? It is helpful to remember that the tellers of our sacred stories bring something of themselves into their narratives. Written at least 50 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Matthew’s Gospel has a single focus. Its author speaks passionately of Jesus as the anticipated Messiah. Frustrated with those who disagree, perhaps Matthew uses the chilling image of isolation in darkness to shock his contemporaries into rethinking their unbelief. In Matthew’s Gospel, all are called to choose the peace and fulfillment of the kingdom of God. In doing so, all commit to celebrate Christ’s transformative love through their relationships with God, self and community.
Francis Borgia was born October 28, 1510 in Gandia, Valencia, Spain as the son of the Duke of Gandia, the great grandson, from his father’s side, of Pope Alexander VI, the notorious Borgia pope, and from his mother’s side, the great grandson of King Ferdinand of Aragon.
Francis’ grandmother joined her daughther in a convent of Poor Clares after the death of her husband and held a pious influence in the court of the Borgia, to which Francis is indebted. It was with these two women that holiness penetrated into the scandalous lineage of the Borgia family.
Francis grew to be a pious young man, posessed of many natural gifts and a favorite at the court of Charles V. It is recounted that one day Francis passed through Alcalá, followed by his escort, and exchanged an emotional glance with a poor man being escorted to prison by the Inquisition. This man was Ignatius of Loyola, and at this moment Francis could not have had any idea what an important role this man would play in his destiny.
In 1539 Francis was appointed Viceroy of Catalonia, and four years later, upon the death of his father, the Duke of Gandia. He built a university there, received the degree of Doctor in Theology, and invited the Jesuits to his duchy.
His wife died in 1546, and Francis entered the Society of Jesus in 1548, but was ordered by the Pope to remain in the world until he had fulfilled his obligations to his ten children and his duchy.
Two years later he left Gandia, never to return, and joined the Jesuits in Rome. He immediately set about initiating grand projects – he convinced Ignatius to found the Roman College, and a year later he left for Spain, where his preaching and example sparked a renewal of religious fervour in the country, drawing pilgrims from far and wide to hear him preach.
In 1556 he was placed in charge of all the missions of the Society, and his energetic work transformed them. He also initiated the missions to Peru, New Spain and Brazil.
He was elected as general on July 2, 1565, and although in poor health for his last years, he executed the governance and initiated projects of the Society with great energy. He introduced so many reforms to the society of Jesus that he was considered in some ways to be its second founder. Francis was a man of contemplation and action in the fullest sense, and clearly drew much strength from the silence of his prayer.
He died in Rome on September 30, 1572, in Ferrara, Spain, two days after returning from an apostolic journey to Spain.
Saint Francis Borgia is one of the great saints of the Catholic Reformation, and was canonized by Pope Clement X in 1670.
REFLECTION FOR THE DAY
Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it! Luke 11:28
How often have we heard a message in church about how we could be better people—how we could serve more, pray more, forgive more—and we all nodded our heads in agreement and thought, “What a great message! Isn’t that priest wonderful?” only to walk out of the building and conveniently shift everything we have heard to the back burners of our mind. In today’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t waste an opportunity to remind us that the messenger is not as important as the message—a message that simply invites us to listen to the word, retain the word, be doers of the word and be transformed by the word. Maybe we could say, “Yes, God, I will listen, I will live as you ask. I will have faith, God.”
On October 7, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the yearly feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Known for several centuries by the alternate title of “Our Lady of Victory,” the feast day takes place in honor of a 16th century naval victory which secured Europe against Turkish invasion. Pope St. Pius V attributed the victory to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was invoked on the day of the battle through a campaign to pray the Rosary throughout Europe.
The feast always occurs one week after the similar Byzantine celebration of the Protection of the Mother of God, which most Eastern Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics celebrate on October 1 in memory of a 10th-century military victory which protected Constantinople against invasion after a reported Marian apparition.
Pope Leo XIII was particularly devoted to Our Lady of the Rosary, producing 11 encyclicals on the subject of this feast and its importance in the course of his long pontificate.
In the first of them, 1883’s “Supremi Apostolatus Officio,” he echoed the words of the oldest known Marian prayer (known in the Latin tradition as the “Sub Tuum Praesidium”), when he wrote, “It has always been the habit of Catholics in danger and in troublous times to fly for refuge to Mary.”
“This devotion, so great and so confident, to the august Queen of Heaven,” Pope Leo continued, “has never shone forth with such brilliancy as when the militant Church of God has seemed to be endangered by the violence of heresy … or by an intolerable moral corruption, or by the attacks of powerful enemies.” Foremost among such “attacks” was the battle of Lepanto, a perilous and decisive moment in European and world history.
Troops of the Turkish Ottoman Empire had invaded and occupied the Byzantine empire by 1453, bringing a large portion of the increasingly divided Christian world under a version of Islamic law. For the next hundred years, the Turks expanded their empire westward on land, and asserted their naval power in the Mediterranean. In 1565 they attacked Malta, envisioning an eventual invasion of Rome. Though repelled at Malta, the Turks captured Cyprus in the fall of 1570.
The next year, three Catholic powers on the continent – Genoa, Spain, and the Papal States – formed an alliance called the Holy League, to defend their Christian civilization against Turkish invasion. Its fleets sailed to confront the Turks near the west coast of Greece on October 7, 1571.
Crew members on more than 200 ships prayed the Rosary in preparation for the battle – as did Christians throughout Europe, encouraged by the Pope to gather in their churches to invoke the Virgin Mary against the daunting Turkish forces.
Some accounts say that Pope Pius V was granted a miraculous vision of the Holy League’s stunning victory. Without a doubt, the Pope understood the significance of the day’s events, when he was eventually informed that all but 13 of the nearly 300 Turkish ships had been captured or sunk. He was moved to institute the feast now celebrated universally as Our Lady of the Rosary.
“Turkish victory at Lepanto would have been a catastrophe of the first magnitude for Christendom,” wrote military historian John F. Guilmartin, Jr., “and Europe would have followed a historical trajectory strikingly different from that which obtained.”