Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Rosary: An Effective Weapon Against the Evils of Society

A black and white photo of Pope Leo XIII
Pope Leo XIII who reigned as Pope from
February 20, 1878 until his death on July 20, 1903
With October being the "Month of the Rosary," I thought it fitting to share another papal document from my reading list, Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, Supremi Apostolatus Officio, on devotion to the Rosary and its efficaciousness as a remedy for the many evils of society.

Written in 1883, Pope Leo XIII not only encouraged devotion to the Rosary, but spotlighted how important it has been in the history of the Catholic Church when faced with several threats; namely, the violence of heresy, intolerable moral corruption, and aggressive Islamic attacks by the Ottoman Turks.

This document is not only an intriguing read, but a historical lesson that has not lost its relevance for the many evils of today's society. As I read it, I couldn't help but think of Winston Churchill's 1948 speech to the House of Commons, in which he paraphrased George Santayana (The Life of Reason, 1905), "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it."

Pope Leo XIII was keenly aware of the threats of his time, and the necessity to implore the aid of the Blessed Virgin Mary, "It has always been the habit of Catholics in danger and in troublous times to fly for refuge to Mary, and to seek for peace in her maternal goodness; showing that the Catholic Church has always, and with justice, put all her hope and trust in the Mother of God." (2) 

So great was the need for divine intervention during Pope Leo XIII's time, that he compared it to the troubling times of St. Dominic's life and the Albigensian heresy, that itself was remedied by the Rosary, which the Blessed Virgin Mary introduced to the Church through Her chosen vessel, St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers.

Like in Pope Leo XIII's time, one that he referred to as, an "age of error," we too are in great need of divine intervention for the many evils that threaten Christianity today, and society as a whole: Islam (violent conflicts, terrorism and aggressive "immigration"); New Age and occult practices; left-wing political parties; secularism and consumerism; the contamination of political correctness and liberal ideas in universities, moral disorder being cultivated in professional associations; elements of the Culture of Death permitted at law such as abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, contraception, in vitro-fertilization, human embryo research, and other threats to the value and inviolability of human life; attacks on the conscience rights for medical professionals; the LGBTQ agenda; the many negative ramifications of the global sexual revolution and gender mainstreaming. 

We need help from heaven, the sole means of effecting anything

With so many evils running rampant in society and the much needed restoration to a Culture of Life, it seems so daunting for anyone to even think about, let alone seriously consider, how to affect such a change, but nothing is impossible with God. As Catholics, we have the privileged opportunity to call upon the Blessed Virgin Mary for Her intercession, to draw upon us God's mercy and Divine intervention. This is precisely what Pope Leo XIII stressed in the first section of Supremi Apostolatus OfficioIn it Pope Leo XIII states:
...We constantly seek for help from Heaven - the sole means of effecting anything - that our labours and our care may obtain their wished for object. We deem that there could be no surer and more efficacious means to this end than by religion and piety to obtain the favour of the great Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, the guardian of our peace and the minister to us of heavenly grace... (1)
Pope Leo XIII goes on to encourage those to whom this encyclical is addressed, the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops and Bishops of the Catholic Church, to spread the Rosary Devotion with the greatest earnestness, that by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus will, "...[B]e appeased and softened in the evils which afflict us." (1)  

The Rosary is a powerful weapon against heresy, moral corruption and the Church's enemies

The brilliance of the Rosary Devotion has shown itself in a greater way when the Church Militant implored Our Lady's intercession when endangered by the violence of heresy, moral corruption or attacks of powerful enemies. History has shown that not only was the Mother of God pleased to come to the assistance of the Church, and obtain peace and tranquility, but in her honour, she was given titles of helper, consoler, mighty in war, victorious, and peace-giver.

Amongst all the historical references to the Rosary as a powerful weapon, Pope Leo XIII made special note of two events in particular: the first, the efficaciousness of Rosary Devotion against the Albigensian heresy that began in Southern France during St. Dominic's life (born in 1170, at Calaruega, Burgos, Old Castile and died on August 6,1221, at Bologna, Italy); and the second, the victory achieved through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, over the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto (October 7, 1571).

The Albigensian heretics sprung from the sect of the later Manicheans, who sought to fill Southern France and other parts of the Latin world, with pernicious errors, and who by the terror of their arms, strove to rule by massacre and ruin. Here is what Pope Leo XIII wrote on how God responded to Albigensian heretics:
Our merciful God, as you know, raised up against these most direful enemies a most holy man, the illustrious parent and founder of the Dominican Order. Great in the integrity of his doctrine, in his example of virtue, and by his apostolic labours, he proceeded undauntedly to attack the enemies of the Catholic Church, not by force of arms; but trusting wholly to that devotion which he was the first to institute under the name of the Holy Rosary, which was disseminated through the length and breadth of the earth by him and his pupils. Guided, in fact, by divine inspiration and grace, he foresaw that this devotion, like a most powerful warlike weapon, would be the means of putting the enemy to flight, and of confounding their audacity and mad impiety. Such was indeed its result. Thanks to this new method of prayer-when adopted and properly carried out as instituted by the Holy Father St. Dominic-piety, faith, and union began to return, and the projects and devices of the heretics to fall to pieces. Many wanderers also returned to the way of salvation, and the wrath of the impious was restrained by the arms of those Catholics who had determined to repel their violence. (3)
The victory of Christian forces over the Ottoman naval fleet during the Battle of Lepanto

Pope Leo XIII dedicated section four to the victory of the Christian forces against the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of LepantoHe described this historical event as one in which, "The efficacy and power of this devotion was also wondrously exhibited in the sixteenth century, when the vast forces of the Turks threatened to impose on nearly the whole of Europe the yoke of superstition and barbarism." (4)

The Pope at the time, Pope St. Pius V (a Dominican who became Pope in 1566 until his death in 1572) had united all Christian princes, striving for a common defence against the Ottoman naval fleet, but sought above all, with the greatest zeal, to obtain victory from Our Lady's intercession.

A map of the Battle of Lepanto showing the Christian and Ottoman naval forces
Map of the Battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571

He goes on to note that as Christ's faithful warriors prepared for battle, those who were unable to take part, formed a "...[P]ious band of supplicants, who called on Mary, and unitedly saluted her again and again in the words of the Rosary, imploring her to grant victory to their companions engaged in battle." (4)

The united Christian naval force was granted victory over the Ottoman Turks on October 7, 1571. Pope Leo XIII described the victory as follows, "Our Sovereign Lady did grant her aid; for in the naval battle by the Echinades Islands, the Christian fleet gained a magnificent victory, with no great loss to itself, in which the enemy were routed with great slaughter." (4)

To celebrate the anniversary of so memorable a struggle and honour the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Pius V desired to have a feast established which became known as, Our Lady of Victories. Under his successor, Pope Gregory XIII (Pope from 1572 until his death in 1585) this feast was renamed, Our Lady of the Rosary, which remains to this day.

Although he did not get into the details of other battles, Pope Leo XIII did include two other similar successful victories against the Ottoman Turks: the battles at Temeswar in Pannonia (modern day Timișoara, Romania) and Corfu, Greece. Both battles coincided with feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary and concluded with public devotions of the Rosary.

Promotion of the Rosary Devotion

The Rosary, being a prayer that is particularly pleasing to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and suitable as a means of defence for the Church and all Christians, it is noteworthy that in addition to Pope Leo XIII, many of his predecessors also did their part to promote the Rosary Devotion: 
...Urban IV, testified that "every day the Rosary obtained fresh boon for Christianity." Sixtus IV declared that this method of prayer "redounded to the honour of God and the Blessed Virgin, and was well suited to obviate impending dangers;" Leo X that "it was instituted to oppose pernicious heresiarchs and heresies;" while Julius III called it "the glory of the Church." So also St. Pius V., that "with the spread of this devotion the meditations of the faithful have begun to be more inflamed, their prayers more fervent, and they have suddenly become different men; the darkness of heresy has been dissipated, and the light of Catholic faith has broken forth again." Lastly Gregory XIII in his turn pronounced that "the Rosary had been instituted by St. Dominic to appease the anger of God and to implore the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary." (5)
Pope Leo XIII made another reference to St. Dominic, who divinely enlightened, perceived that no remedy would be more adaptable to the evils of his time; that through its recitation men would return to Christ and seek the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom it was given to destroy all heresies.

As a further encouragement to the Church, Pope Leo XIII not only exhorted all Catholics to the pious recitation of the Rosary, publicly or privately, individually and within a group setting, but desired that the whole month of October should be consecrated to the "Holy Queen of the Rosary." In addition, he decreed and ordered that, "...[T]he whole Catholic world, during this year, the devotion of the Rosary shall be solemnly celebrated by special and splendid services." (8)

This included making every chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, accessible for the recitation of five decades of the Rosary and the Litany of Loreto. Add to this his desire that Mass shall be celebrated or the Blessed Sacrament shall be exposed, and Benediction given. 

Pope Leo XIII also encouraged for the Confraternities of the Most Holy Rosary to go, in procession, throughout towns as a public demonstration of their devotion.

To reward the faithful for their piety, he granted indulgences for all those who took part in public recital of the Rosary and the Litanies, and prayed for His intentions. For those who were "hindered by a lawful cause," from joining in the public prayers, he granted indulgences to them as well, so long as they have "...[P]racticed those devotions in private and shall have prayed to God for Our intention." (9) Further, a plenary indulgence was granted to those who, "...[E]ither on the feast of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary or within its octave, after having similarly purified their souls by a salutary confession, shall have approached the table of Christ and prayed in some church according to Our intention to God and the Blessed Virgin for the necessities of the Church." (9)

Pope Leo XIII further encouraged the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops and Bishops of the Catholic Church, to a more diligent effort to nourish piety amongst the people toward the Blessed Virgin Mary, that there may be an increased confidence in her intercession.


Every October I make an effort to improve upon my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and strengthen my understanding of the Rosary. Reading Supremi Apostolatus Officio has certainly helped in that regard.

In addition, it has also encouraged me to a more fervent recitation of the Rosary, and reinforced how important the Rosary is in the fight against the evils of today's society.

If you are somewhat new to papal documents—which can be found at the Vatican's Holy Father dedicated page of documents from the papacies of Pope Leo XIII to Pope Benedict XVI—and you are interested in learning more about the Rosary, Supremi Apostolatus Officio (only five pages in total and a relatively easy read), is the perfect document to begin with during the "Month of the Rosary." 

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