Saturday, October 07, 2006

Pope St. Pius V's, G.K. Chesterton's and Benedict XVI's Lepanto, With a Little Serendipity Thrown In At the End

As I prepared to sing Latin chant and polyphony at the St. Ann Choir at Our Lady of Peace Church at 7:30 this evening on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, I was drawn to do some googling to find out more about the Catholic victory at the Battle of Lepanto that is celebrated today.

As some of you know, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was instituted by Pope St. Pius V after the victory of Catholic forces over the Turkish Muslims in the Gulf of Lepanto (Gulf of Corinth) Greece in 1571.

A National Catholic Register article on 9/26/2006 referred to the current disturbances with Muslims after the Pope's remarks in Bavaria as "Benedict's Lepanto." I don't know yet whether I agree about the parallels drawn in the article, but it's an interesting thesis. The writer said that the current Pope is using another type of weaponry in the current conflict, that of dialogue on faith and reason.

Quote: "For [Benedict], dialogue means telling the truth in love, no matter what the consequence – even when it infuriates." []

Hmm ...

Back to October 7, 1571: It is said that the sainted Pope St. Pius V learned immediately about the Lepanto victory by supernatural means. A rousing account of the significance and history of the battle from includes this passage of what happened after the victory:

Quote: "Don Juan [of Austria, Philip II's illegitimate half brother] at once sent ten galleys to Spain to inform the King, and dispatched the Count of Priego to Rome. But Pius V had speedier means of communication than galleys. On the afternoon of Sunday, October seventh, he was walking in the Vatican with his treasurer, Donata Cesis. The evening before he had sent out orders to all convents in Rome and nearby to double their prayers for the Victory of the Christian fleet, but now he was listening to a recital of some of his financial difficulties. Suddenly he stepped aside, opened a
window, and stood watching the sky as if astonished. Then, turning with a radiant face to the treasurer, he said,
`Go with God. This is not the time for business, but to give thanks to Jesus Christ, for our fleet has conquered.'"

The Muslim Turks had been on a wave of conquest for centuries. The last holdout city on the island of Cypress had recently fallen. As G.K. Chesterton wrote in his poem about the battle, Venice was threatened. Some say the battle of Lepanto helped turn the tide of conquest and save the Christian world from total dominance by the Muslim Turks.

You can read the quite stirring Chesterton poem at:

We Catholics believe that Our Lady of the Rosary's powerful intercession helped save the day. Interesting enough, the general's ship had two banners one with Christ Crucified on it and other with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Miguel Cervantes author of Don Quixote fought in that battle and spent five years afterwards in a Barbary coast prison. How about the following for colorful language and gritty details?

Quote: "1571 Cervantes participates in the Spanish naval victory at Lepanto, against the Turks, under the command of don Juan of Austria. Cervantes loses the use of his left hand, for which he becomes known as "the Gimp of Lepanto." (This is politically incorrect language and you won't get such a candid translation of "El Manco de Lepanto" at Wikipedia. I think, however, that out of respect for Cervantes and naval warfare, my final translation would be, "The Lost Hand of Lepanto.")

"1575-1580 Cervantes is held prisoner in Algiers by Barbary pirates for five years. He tries to escape four times. Cervantes' ransom is super-steep because, upon capture, he carried letters of recommendation from don Juan of Austria. This led the presumptuous and greedy (and no-doubt smelly) pirates to believe that Cervantes was a man of high birth and, like John McCain when he was shot down over North Vietnam, a real "catch."

Totally by accident, as I was about to send the above in an email, I somehow double- clicked an old message from October 16, 2000! in my inbox that is about this very topic. This is too much serendipity for me to handle. Honest. Read it and see!

Subject: The Rosary: A Cherished Prayer
Date: October 16, 2000 7:28:19 AM PDT

The Rosary: A Cherished Prayer

By Father William Saunders

My Protestant friend was asking me about the Rosary — where it came from and what it means. Could you help me so I can tell her? — A reader in Haymarket

The Rosary is one of the most cherished prayers of our Catholic Church. Introduced by the Creed, the Our Father, three Hail Mary's and the Doxology ("Glory Be"), and concluded with the Salve Regina, the Rosary involves the recitation of five decades consisting of the Our Father, 10 Hail Mary's, and the Doxology. During this recitation, the individual meditates on the saving
mysteries of our Lord's life and the faithful witness of our Blessed Mother. Journeying through the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries of the Rosary, the individual brings to mind our Lord's incarnation, His passion and death, and His resurrection from the dead. In so doing, the Rosary assists us in growing in a deeper appreciation of these mysteries, in uniting our life more closely to our Lord, and in imploring His graced assistance to live the faith. We also ask for the prayers of our Blessed Mother, the exemplar of faith, who leads all believers to her Son.

The origins of the Rosary are "sketchy" at best. The use of "prayer beads" and the repeated recitation of prayers to aid in meditation stem from the earliest days of the Church and has roots even in pre-Christian times. Evidence exists from the Middles Ages that strings of beads were used to help a person count the number of Our Fathers or Hail Marys recited. Actually, these strings of beads became known as "Paternosters," the Latin for "Our Father."

The structure of the Rosary gradually evolved between the 12th and 15thcenturies. Eventually 50 Hail Marys were recited and were linked with verses of psalms or other phrases evoking the lives of Jesus and Mary. During this time, this prayer form became known as the rosarium ("rose garden"), actually a common term used to designate a collection of similar material, such as an anthology of stories on the same subject or theme. Finally, during the 16th century, the structure of the five decade Rosary based on the three sets of mysteries prevailed.

Tradition does hold that St. Dominic (d. 1221) devised the Rosary as we know it. Moved by a vision of our Blessed Mother, he preached the use of the Rosary in his missionary work among the Albigensians, who had denied the mystery of Christ. Some scholars take exception to St. Dominic's actual role in forming the Rosary since the earliest accounts of his life do not mention it, the Dominican constitutions do not link him with it, and contemporaneous paintings of St. Dominic do not include it as a symbol to identify the saint.

In 1922, Dom Louis Gougaud stated, "The various elements which enter into the composition of that Catholic devotion commonly called the Rosary are the product of a long and gradual development which began before St. Dominic's time, which continued without his having any share in it, and which only mattained its final shape several centuries after his death." However, other scholars would rebut that St. Dominic not so much "invented" the Rosary as he preached its use to convert sinners and those who had strayed from the faith. Moreover, at least a dozen popes have mentioned St. Dominic's connection with the Rosary in various papal pronouncements, sanctioning his role as at least a "pious belief."

The Rosary gained greater popularity in the 1500s. At this time, the Moslem Turks were ravaging eastern Europe. Recall that in 1453, Constantinople had fallen to the Moslems, leaving the Balkans and Hungary open to conquest. With Moslems raiding even the coast of Italy, the control of the Mediterranean was now at stake. In 1571, Pope Pius V organized a fleet under the command of Don Juan of Austria, the half-brother of King Philip II of Spain. While preparations were underway, the Holy Father asked all of the faithful to say the Rosary and implore our blessed Mother's prayers, under the title Our Lady of Victory, that our Lord would grant victory to the Christians. Although the Moslem fleet outnumbered that of the Christians in both vessels and sailors, the forces were ready to meet in battle. The Christian flagship flew a blue banner depicting Christ crucified. On October 7, 1571, the Moslems were defeated at the Battle of Lepanto. The following year, Pope St. Pius V in thanksgiving established the Feast of the Holy Rosary on October 7 where the faithful would not only remember this victory, but also continue give thanks to the Lord for all of His benefits and remember the powerful intercession of our Blessed Mother.

Mindful of the action of Pope Pius V, our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, in an Angelus address given in October, 1983, stated, "The Rosary also takes on fresh perspectives and is charged with stronger and vaster intentions than in the past. It is not a question now of asking for great victories, as at Lepanto and Vienna, rather it is a question of asking Mary to provide us with valorous fighters against the spirit of error and evil, with the arms of the Gospel, that is, the Cross and God's Word. The Rosary prayer is man's prayer for man. It is the prayer of human solidarity, the collegial prayer of the redeemed, reflecting the spirit and intent of the first of the redeemed, Mary, Mother and Image of the Church. It is a prayer for all the people of the world and of history, living and dead, called to be the Body of Christ with us and to become heirs together with Him of the glory of the Father."

The fact that our Church continues to include the Feast of the Holy Rosary on the liturgical calendar testifies to the importance and goodness of this form of prayer. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, "The Rosary is the book of the
blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the Rosary is beyond description."

- Fr. Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College in Alexandria and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls.
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