The Rosary, the Bulwark of the Church

History of the Rosary Devotion

Hell, enraged against the Mystical Body of Christ, has at different times mustered its forces to make a fatal assault on the Catholic Church. But Christ, her Head and Divine Founder, has marvelously come to the aid of the Church in each great tribulation. He has forestalled the coming attack, and at several critical periods He has been pleased, through His august Mother, the Queen of the universe, to crush the head of the infernal serpent. Thus, in one of the saddest ages of the history of the Church, the Blessed Trinity, through the intervention of Our Lady, destroyed heresy and re-established the kingdom of Christ.

The twelfth century was approaching its close when a new heresy plunged the Church into bitterness and grief. The Albigenses taught their pernicious errors not only in France, but in other quarters of the Latin world. They carried everywhere the terror of their arms, and, far and wide, strove to rule by massacre and devastation.

Pope Leo XIII, in the first of his encyclicals on the Rosary, thus describes the manner in which God came to the rescue of His holy Church:

“Our merciful God raised up against these fierce enemies a most holy man, the illustrious parent and founder of the Dominican Order. Great in the soundness of doctrine, in the example of his virtue, and in his apostolic labors, he undauntedly proceeded to attack the enemies of the Catholic Church, not by the force of arms but by that devotion which he was the first to institute, under the name of the holy Rosary. In this he wholly trusted; and by his preaching and that of his brethren, he spread it throughout the length and breadth of the earth.

“Guided by Divine inspiration and grace, he foresaw that, like a most powerful weapon, this devotion would be the means of putting the enemy to flight and of confounding his mad impiety and audacity. In fact, such was its result. Thanks to this new form of prayer, — when adopted and carried out as instituted by the holy Father Dominic — piety, faith and unity began to return. The projects and devices of the heretics fell to pieces. Many wanderers returned to the way of salvation, and the wrath of the impious was checked by the arms of those who, in defense, had determined to resist them.”

According to tradition, it was the Blessed Virgin herself who charged Saint Dominic with the mission of propagating the Rosary devotion, promising him that by means of the Rosary, virtue would flourish, vices be extirpated, heresy destroyed and Divine grace obtained. This promise of our Heavenly Queen has been fulfilled throughout the centuries.

Revival of the Rosary Devotion

In the fifteenth century, when the people’s first ardor for the Rosary had slackened, the Mother of God raised up Blessed Alanus de Rupe, who in the spirit of his holy father, Saint Dominic, zealously championed and defended the holy Rosary. Blessed Alanus wrote many beautiful tracts on devotion to the Rosary and was favored with visions in which the Blessed Virgin revealed to him its power and excellence. The Blessed Virgin urged her devoted client to preach the Rosary with great zeal and to exhort all the faithful to recite it devoutly. At the same time she directed him to encourage the religious of his Order to do likewise.

By this revival of the holy Rosary our Heavenly Mother gave Christendom a powerful means to avert a new devastation which threatened it in the sixteenth century. Here, again, we quote from the first encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the Rosary:

“In the sixteenth century, also, the efficacy and power of this devotion were wonderfully shown. The vast forces of the Turks at that time threatened to impose the yoke of superstition and barbarism on nearly the whole of Europe. The Sovereign Pontiff, Saint Pius V, after arousing among all the Christian princes the resolution for a common defense, above all strove with the greatest zeal to obtain for Christendom the favor of the most powerful Mother of God. This noble example, before heaven and earth, rallied around him, in those times, all the minds and hearts of the age. Christ’s faithful people then prepared to sacrifice their blood and their lives for the safety of their Faith and country. They went forward fearlessly to meet their foe near the Gulf of Corinth. At the same time, those who were unable to take part in the conflict formed a pious band of supplicants, who called on Mary and unitedly hailed her, again and again, in the words of the Rosary, imploring her to give the victory to their companions who were engaged in battle.

“And our Sovereign Lady granted her aid; for, in the naval battle near the Echinades Islands, the Christian fleet gained a magnificent victory, in which, with slight loss to itself, it routed the enemy with great slaughter (better known as the Battle of Lepanto). It was to preserve the memory of this great boon that the same most holy Pontiff desired that a feast in honor of Our Lady of Victories should celebrate the anniversary of so memorable a struggle. It is this feast which Gregory XIII dedicated under the title of “The Most Holy Rosary.”

Though the Turks greatly outnumbered the Christians in this struggle and had to their advantage a greater number of ships and a favorable wind, they nevertheless suffered a crushing defeat. For the Christians were aided by an invisible power — the irresistible power of the Queen of the most holy Rosary.

Twice during the eighteenth century the Turks renewed their attacks, but both times they were repelled. Each time it was on a feast of Mary, after the Rosary had been prayed with great confidence.

Hope of Our Century

The period in which we now live greatly resembles those stormy days when Saint Dominic preached the Rosary devotion as the last means of bringing peace, charity and reconciliation to mankind. All who understand the trend of our times are filled with dread for the future. However, let us take courage, for Holy Church, destined by God to bestow happiness upon all nations of all ages, holds ever in readiness the proper remedies to meet and heal the evils of the world’s various epochs. During the last fifty years, Holy Church has never wearied of encouraging us in every possible manner to love and venerate the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to love Holy Communion and receive It frequently, and pray the Rosary.

Our time suffers from the great evil of inordinate desire for pleasure, from coldness and indifference toward heavenly things, from hatred among nations which has been fomented by a godless press. To combat these harmful influences. Holy Church offers us the Rosary as our weapon. The Rosary devotion proved the salvation of previous ages: it will also aid the children of God in our trying times.

At his death, Saint Dominic’s task was not yet accomplished. To Saint Catherine of Siena was once shown the greatness and glory of Saint Dominic, and it was revealed to her that he would preach to the end of the world. And indeed the voice of Saint Dominic has powerfully re-echoed throughout the world, inviting the faithful to pray the Rosary. In 1878, God gave to the Church in Leo XIII a Pope imbued with the true spirit of Saint Dominic. Even at his election Our Lord wished to reveal this, for, in a vision, a highly privileged nun beheld the newly consecrated Pontiff with Saint Dominic standing beside him.

Where in the history of Christianity do we read of a more zealous promoter of this beautiful devotion, a more fervent client of the Rosary, than Leo XIII, the great Pope who consecrated the month of October to the solemn recital of this sublime form of prayer! Not once or twice only did this Father of Christendom raise his voice in praise of the holy Rosary, but he addressed to the bishops of the world and to the faithful no fewer than twenty encyclicals and briefs exhorting them to pray the Rosary.

This same Pontiff directed that the invocation, “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us” be added to the Litany of Loretto. “How glorious,” he wrote, “and how precious (to the Church) will it be when in cities, in towns, in places of business, on land, on sea, to the very limits of the Catholic world, hundreds of thousands of pious souls, in united praise and petition, with one heart and one voice, at every hour, unanimously greet Mary and hope all things from Mary” (Encyclical of 22 September 1891). As Pius X admonished Catholics to receive Holy Communion daily, so before him, Leo XIII admonished them to pray the Rosary daily, or at least three times a week.

Pope Pius XI was likewise ardently devoted to the Rosary. He prayed it daily, no matter if urgent and numerous duties compelled him to postpone this beloved exercise to a late hour. Moreover, he lost no opportunity to urge others to do likewise. His last encyclical, issued on the eve of the month of the Holy Rosary, 1937, was devoted to the Rosary and its recitation as a weapon to be used in combating modern evils. In this encyclical the Holy Father expressed his earnest desire that the Rosary be recited in a special manner during the month of October as a crusade against the insane efforts of the enemies of God to destroy the Catholic Faith and to send mankind to perdition.

“The Holy Virgin.” he wrote, “who once victoriously drove the terrible sect of the Albigenses from Christian countries, now suppliantly invoked by us. will turn aside the new errors, especially those of communism, which reminds us in many ways, in its motives and misdeeds, of the ancient ones. And as in the times of the Crusades in all Europe there was raised one voice of the people, one supplication, so it is today: in all the world, in the cities and even the smallest villages, united with courage and strength, with filial and constant insistence, the people seek to obtain from the great Mother of God that the enemies of Christian and human civilization be defeated, and that thus real peace may shine again over tried and straying men. If, then, all will do this with due disposition, with great faith and with fervent piety, it is right to hope that as in the past, so in our day, the Blessed Virgin will obtain from her Divine Son that the waves of the present tempests be calmed and that a brilliant victory crown this rivalry of Christians in prayer.”

This, then, is the weapon given in our days to the children of the Faith against the rage of hell which seeks to annihilate the Church. Mary desires to be venerated as Queen of the holy Rosary. She wishes to bestow graces and blessings upon those who pray it, and to confound the enemies of salvation. She has begged for the recitation of the Rosary in various apparitions. As previously mentioned, she appeared eighteen times to Saint Bernadette at Lourdes in the last century and urged the recitation of the Rosary as a means of bringing about the cure of the world’s evils. Six times, from 13 May 1917, to 13 October of the same year, she appeared to three little shepherds at Fatima in Portugal, and repeatedly urged upon them the necessity of saying the Rosary if the world were to find true and lasting peace. Not only did she plead for a renewal of the practice of the Rosary devotion, but in her last apparition she commanded that everyone should say the Rosary in order to bring the world back to God. *’They MUST say the Rosary!” she exhorted. Yes, the Rosary is Our Lady’s own fifteen-point peace program which will infallibly prove successful, because of all creatures she is nearest to the Triune God and can unerringly point out what sinful mankind must do to return to Him.

- Benedictine Convent of Perpetual Adoration, Clyde, Missouri; Imprimatur: +Bishop Carolus Hubertus Le Blond, Diocese of Saint Joseph, Missouri