The month of October is dedicated to the most Holy Rosary. The history behind this dedication comes from the feast day of the Rosary which lands on October 7th. The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, formerly known as Our Lady of Victory and Feast of the Holy Rosary, is the anniversary of the decisive victory of the combined fleet of the Holy League of 1571 over the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Lepanto.
This is a miraculous story about how the Rosary brought about the defeat of the Ottoman attackers. Troops of the Turkish Ottoman Empire had attacked and successfully conquered the Byzantine empire by 1453, bringing a large portion of the Christian world under a version of Islamic law. For the next hundred years, the Turks expanded their empire westward on land, as well as increased their naval presence in the Mediterranean. In 1565 they attacked Malta, hoping to eventually invade Rome. They were repelled at Malta, but they 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. They Holy League had more than 200 ships. All of them 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. The Turkish fleet was much larger and considered to be the more powerful naval force. The Christians were not expected to win. The Turkish war ships were fast and maneuverable, powered by captured Christian slaves. Victory seemed impossible for the inferior Christian fleet. While the odds were against them they remained steadfast in prayer to Mary through the rosary and the Christians prevailed. Some accounts say that at the moment of the battle, the winds miraculously shifted direction in favor of the Holy League’s fleet giving them the upper hand. Pope Pius V was granted a miraculous vision of the Holy League's stunning victory, and without a doubt, the Pope understood the significance of the day's events. He was moved to institute the feast now celebrated universally as Our Lady of the Rosary. He called on all Catholics to pray the Rosary continuously, asking Our Lady of Victory to aid the Christian fleet. Many consider this a decisive battle in the history of Christian Europe believing that if the Holy League had been defeated, the muslim religion would have over taken much of western Europe.
To say that the Christian world and the faith of the Catholic Church is under attack is an understatement. We are constantly doing battle in the arena of the family and in the public square in order to protect human life and religious freedom. These are battles that we cannot win on our own, we need the help of Mary our mother. Let us turn to her in this month of the Rosary and learn to pay the rosary daily for all our needs.
Fr. Peter Wigton