Saturday, October 31, 2015

Laetitiae Sanctae: Pope Leo XIII's Encyclical Commending Devotion To The Rosary

Pope Leo XIII

With October being the Month of the Rosary, I thought it fitting to close out the month with a second post on devotion to the Most Holy Rosary and in the process, share one of the documents that I read in an effort to further my own understanding. That document is Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Laetitiae Sanctae, issued on September 8, 1893.

Although written over a century ago it remains relevant for the Church today as a much needed reminder of the importance of the Rosary Devotion. This encyclical focusses on the many advantages obtained from its devout recitation, its healing power and remedy for societal evils. Laetitiae Sanctae was the result of inspiration from the Blessed Virgin Mary, that prompted Pope Leo XIII to write and issue this document commending devotion the Rosary.

Arising from this inspiration was a joy that Pope Leo XIII expressed in the form of his gratitude to the Blessed Virgin Mary, acknowledging Her intercession at work in the life of the Church"At the same time We love to offer Our thanks for this signal benefit to the august Mother of God, whose powerful intercession We feel to have been exercised in Our behalf...For us it is once more a joy as well as a duty to respond to her inspirations." (2) What ensued from Pope Leo XIII's exhortations was, an "awakening" that made itself felt in the increased number of confraternities instituted for the purpose of the Rosary Devotion, voluminous literature written on the subject and artistic tributes.

The thrust of this encyclical was not to add further recommendations to a method of prayer so praiseworthy in itself, nor to press upon the faithful the necessity of practising it more fervently, but rather to point out how  "...[W]e may draw from this devotion certain advantages which are essentially valuable and needful in this present day." (2) The remainder of Laetitiae Sanctae and my post today, elaborates on these advantages.

Pope Leo XIII identified the three main influences (evils) of his time that had caused a "downgrade movement" in society: first, the distaste for a simple and laborious life; second, the repugnance to suffering of any kind; and third, the forgetfulness of the future life. The answer to these influences was the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries respectively. Pope Leo XIII dedicated three sections addressing each influence: Dislike of Poverty - The Joyful Mysteries, Repugnance to Suffering - The Sorrowful Mysteries, Forgetfulness of The Future - The Glorious Mysteries. 

Dislike of Poverty - The Joyful Mysteries

Beginning at the fourth paragraph, Pope Leo XIII elaborated on what he meant by the "distaste for a simple and laborious life." He noted how there was a growing contempt for homely duties and virtues, which are considered to be the beauty of a humble life. The contempt manifested itself in the form of children withdrawing themselves from the natural obligation to the parents; workmen deserting their trade to shrink from toil, discontented with their lot, fixing their gaze upon things well above them; and the eagerness of those in rural areas to exchange their lives for pleasures of life in towns. The result was the destruction of society's equilibrium amongst the classes of the community, whereby, "...[M]en's minds become a prey to jealousy and heart-burnings, rights are openly trampled under foot, and, finally, the people, betrayed in their expectations, attack public order, and place themselves in conflict with those who are charged to maintain it." (5)

The Joyful Mysteries, when prayed devoutly, are a meditation on life of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary; the remedy for the "distaste for a simple and laborious life." Pope Leo XIII wrote that the Joyful Mysteries serve as lessons of the virtuous life to be drawn from the House of Nazareth. From the Holy Family's example we can learn how sweetly attractive and abundant are the lessons from an honest life. Referring to House of Nazareth as the "perfect model of domestic society," Pope Leo XIII wrote:
Here we behold simplicity and purity of conduct, perfect agreement and unbroken harmony, mutual respect and love - not of the false and fleeting kind - but that which finds both its life and its charm in devotedness of service. Here is the patient industry which provides what is required for food and raiment; which does so "in the sweat of the brow," which is contented with little, and which seeks rather to diminish the number of its wants than to multiply the sources of its wealth. Better than all, we find there that supreme peace of mind and gladness of soul which never fail to accompany the possession of a tranquil conscience. These are precious examples of goodness, of modesty, of humility, of hard-working endurance, of kindness to others, of diligence in the small duties of daily life, and of other virtues, and once they have made their influence felt they gradually take root in the soul, and in course of time fail not to bring about a happy change of mind and conduct. (6)
What should follow from the example of the Holy Family is a transformation of attitude and conduct that will no longer consider work as lowly and irksome, but grateful and lightsome. As a direct result of this transformation, prevailing in society will be gentler manners; home-life will be loved and esteemed; relations between man and a woman will be esteemed; and amongst gentlemen there will be a larger infusion of respect and charity. Pope Leo XIII concluded this section by stating that if this betterment would go forth from individuals to families to communities, then society at large would be lifted up to this standard.

Repugnance to Suffering - The Sorrowful Mysteries

The remedy for the "repugnance to suffering," is the Sorrowful Mysteries. Pope Leo XII referred to this evil as especially pernicious, "...[O]wing to the increasing mischief which it works among souls." (7) The repugnance of suffering is an eagerness to escape whatever is hard or painful to endure, which robbed many of the peace and freedom of mind. This was made worse by the dream for a chimeric civilization; that is, a civilization that is hoped or wished for, but in fact, is impossible or illusory to achieve. What resulted was an increased desire for the removal of all things unpleasant and for all things pleasant to be supplied. Pope Leo XIII noted, "By this passionate and unbridled desire of living a life of pleasure, the minds of men are weakened, and if they do not entirely succumb, they become demoralized and miserably cower and sink under the hardships of the battle of life." (7)

Recitation of the Sorrowful Mysteries is a powerful means of renewing courage. It is during the meditations of these mysteries that we learn from Christ's example, how to bear our burden of labour and sorrow. In addition to Christ's sufferings, we also contemplate the sorrow of the Blessed Virgin Mary and learn from Her witness as well. Pope Leo XIII noted, "Witnessing these examples of fortitude, not with sight but by faith, who is there who will not feel his heart grow warm with the desire of imitating them?" (8)

Pope Leo XIII also pointed out that there is no earthly scenario that can fall upon an individual or community, over which we shall not triumph by the patience of suffering. Putting a fine point on this, he stated, "For this reason it has been truly said that 'it belongs to the Christian to do and to endure great things,' for he who deserves to be called a Christian must not shrink from following in the footsteps of Christ." (9) 

Forgetfulness of The Future - The Glorious Mysteries

The remedy for the "forgetfulness of the future," is the Glorious Mysteries. Pope Leo XIII referred to this third evil as, "chiefly characteristic of the times." He noted that men of his day, although they had the advantage of Christian instruction, pursued false goods of this world and in the process discarded the thought of eternal salvation to the point that it had been banished from their memory.

Pope Leo XIII noted that those who devoutly pray the Glorious Mysteries are happily rescued from such forgetfulness. For the meditation of the Glorious Mysteries brings to the forefront of man's conscience, by the light of faith, that death is not "...[A]n annihilation which ends all things, but merely a migration and passage from life to life." (14)

As to the causes of forgetfulness, he first identified the false notion that any thought and attention placed on eternal salvation would somehow diminish the love of country and potentially negatively impact the prosperity of the commonwealth. He referred to such thinking as illusory and foolish.

In response to this illusion, Pope Leo XIII stressed that striving for eternal salvation does not demand a dismissal of the interests and needs of our earthly pilgrimage:
Christ commands us, it is true, to seek the Kingdom of God, and in the first place, but not in such a manner as to neglect all things else. For, the use of the goods of the present life, and the righteous enjoyment which they furnish, may serve both to strengthen virtue and to reward it. The splendour and beauty of our earthly habitation, by which human society is ennobled, may mirror the splendour and beauty of our dwelling which is above. Therein we see nothing that is not worthy of the reason of man and of the wisdom of God. For the same God who is the Author of Nature is the Author of Grace, and He willed not that one should collide or conflict with the other, but that they should act in friendly alliance, so that under the leadership of both we may the more easily arrive at that immortal happiness for which we mortal men were created. (12)
Emphasizing the seriousness of the forgetfulness of the future life, Pope Leo XIII gave the following admonition, "We may doubt if God could inflict upon man a more terrible punishment than to allow him to waste his whole life in the pursuit of earthly pleasures, and in forgetfulness of the happiness which alone lasts for ever." (13)

Confraternity Of The Rosary

In an effort to further spotlight the importance of the Rosary Devotion and how to better obtain the many advantages from its devout recitation, Pope Leo XIII dedicated a section on the Confraternity of the Rosary. In it, he affirmed the confraternity's efficacy when he stated how the many advantages of reciting the Rosary are "...[S]ecured in a higher and fuller measure by those who band themselves together in the sacred Confraternity of the Rosary, and who are thus more than others united by a special and brotherly bond of devotion to the Most Holy Virgin." (16) Members of the confraternity are, so to speak, "...[T]he battalions who fight the battle of Christ, armed with His Sacred Mysteries, and under the banner and guidance of the Heavenly queen." (16) So efficacious is the confraternity that Pope Leo XIII attributed the victory at the Battle of Lepanto, to their prayers for securing the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, granting Christians forces a complete victory over the Ottoman Turks.

Pope Leo XIII made an appeal to both the clergy and laity, for a renewed zeal to continue the growth of the confraternities:
It is, therefore, to be desired that renewed zeal should be called forth in the founding, enlarging, and directing of these confraternities, and that not only by the sons of St. Dominic, to whom by virtue of their Order a leading part in this Apostolate belongs, but by all who are charged with the care of souls, and notable in those places in which the Confraternity has not yet been canonically established. We have it especially at heart that those who are engaged in the sacred field of the missions, whether in carrying the Gospel to barbarous nations abroad, or in spreading it amongst the Christian nations at home, should look upon this work as especially their own. If they will make it the subject of their preaching, We cannot doubt that there will be large numbers of the faithful of Christ who will readily enrol themselves in the Confraternity, and who will earnestly endeavour to avail themselves of those spiritual advantages of which We have spoken, and in which consist the very meaning and motive of the Rosary. From the Confraternities, the rest of the faithful will receive the example of greater esteem and reverence for the practice of the Rosary, and they will be thus encouraged to reap from it, as We heartily desire that they may, the same abundant fruits for their souls' salvation. (17)
The Rosary Devotion and its growth, in particular through the Confraternity of The Holy Rosary, was the hope Pope Leo XIII; the answer to the evils of society. It was at the Conclusion of this encyclical that he invoked the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the authoress and teacher of the Rosary, for the fulfilment of this hope. 
Pope Leo XIII wrote several documents on the Rosary, available at the Vatican's web site. For those who are not familiar with Pope Leo XIII, you may know of the prayer attributed to him, a prayer that he received in a vision during Mass at the Vatican, the Prayer To Saint Michael The Archangel. He is also known for the composition of the Minor Exorcism Prayer.

If you are new to the Rosary Devotion, I would like to recommend a previously published post, The Rosary - An Introduction that will help you to discover the beauty of this devotion given to us by Our Lady through the life of Saint Dominic.

For those who are just discovering the Rosary, there is one thing that I would like to spotlight regarding Laetitiae Sanctae's publication; the fact that it does not include the Luminous Mysteries. At the time of its publication, there were only three sets of Rosary mysteries: the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries. The Luminous Mysteries were added to the Rosary in 2002, when Saint Pope John Paul II wrote and published an Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae. Although Pope Leo's encyclical predates the Luminous Mysteries, there is no reason why you should not recite them as well, in your effort to help remedy the evils of society.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary guide you to a daily and devout recitation of the entire Rosary, helping you to complete the Marathon of Grace.

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