Today Church allows us to celebrate an “external feast” of the Holy Rosary, which the Church celebrates tomorrow, October 7. Also called “Our Lady of Victory,” this feast commemorates the Battle of Lepanto, but more of that later. The Gospel for this Feast is the First mystery of the Holy Rosary, the Annunciation. This mystery announces and contains all the other 19 mysteries within it, and indeed, stands at the center of our creed, which stands at the center of our Mass.
In center point of the Nicean Creed, which is the center point of the Mass, which is itself the center of our lives, we chant these words: “Et incarnatus est… de Spiritu Sancto… ex Maria virgine… et homo factus est.” Indeed, we kneel at these words, because it marks the moment of humanity’s redemption. God reached down from heaven to touch man, but He first asked this man, who was a woman (Mary), if she would allow him. She said yes, and the Holy Spirit rushed upon her. Eternity stepped into time; the infinite, almighty God becomes a tiny, helpless babe; the floodgates of grace burst open; the Word becomes Flesh. This central article of the Nicene Creed mentions the three persons of the Holy Trinity: “Incarnatus est” points to God the Father, creator of the incarnate, material world; “de Spiritu Sancto” points to the Holy Spirit, by whom the Son is made incarnate, and “et homo factus est” points to the Son, who became man. But there is a fourth person named in the Creed: “ex Maria virgine.”
God is eternally perfect, three in one, needing no one to “complete” or perfect Him. But at the center of the Creed a fourth person, a human being, enters into the Trinity. God “needed” her; that is, He wanted to “need” her. In receiving love from this person, God completes the circle of love, because love cannot always give; it must also receive (as Pope Benedict wrote in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift”). What kind of friendship or love is one-sided? What love would spouses share if they did not receive acts of love from each other? In receiving Mary’s love, God reveals the inner life of the Trinity, an eternal exchange of giving-receiving-giving.
The Battle of Lepanto
The First Joyful Mystery captures this encounter between God and humanity in the maiden Mary of Nazareth. The rosary is a sacramental reminder of God’s desire to love and be loved by us. It is a powerful defense against the forces of fear and hate. We celebrate Our Lady of the Rosary because of an epic sea battle at Lepanto off the Greek coast 450 years ago. The Ottoman Turks had attacked Cyprus and positioned themselves to strike deep into Christian Europe. The Christian nations assembled an allied navy to defend themselves, but with fewer ships and soldiers, the Christians had little hope of defeating the seemingly invincible Ottoman navy. Pope Pius V ordered all of Europe to pray the rosary on that desperate day, October 7, 1571. He himself went to St. Mary Major in Rome to pray. Back at Lepanto, hundreds of miles away, the morning wind blew from the east, driving the Turkish fleet full into the Christian ships. But as the day wore on, as Europe prayed the rosary, as the Pope prayed in Rome, as the soldiers themselves prayed as they fought, the wind shifted to the west, giving the Christian ships the advantage. It is said that, about that time in Rome, Pope Pius interrupted a meeting with some cardinals: "Let us interrupt this business!” he exclaimed, peering out a window. “Our great task at present is to thank God for the victory which He has just given…." And indeed, after 5 hours of engagement, the Christian fleet had overcome the Muslim navy, and Islam was prevented from enslaving Christian Europe.
The rosary works. It draws us into the mystery of God’s inner life, and replaces fearful hatred with loving trust. Sadly, Christian Europe is all but dead, not from Islamic conquest, but from secular atheism. The Muslims who were stopped at Lepanto in 1571 are now taking over Europe by default, for any faith is better than no faith. But we can still pray to Our Blessed Mother, committing ourselves to God’s will, as she did in today’s Gospel: “Let it be done to me as you have said.” Let us pray the rosary as Americans, lest our own nation be overcome by the irrational forces of God’s enemies. Let us pray for Europe, that it may yet gain victory over the dictatorship of relativism. Pray the rosary, in your families, every day. If you think you cannot pray the entire rosary, pray at least a decade, every day. After the Mass, it is the most beautiful, and the most rewarding, means of spending your time.