Friday, 7 October 2011

Our Lady of Victories, Our Lady of the Rosary and the Battle of Lepanto

When it comes to wars, battles, acts of violence of any kind, we must always pray for peace.  We must pray that these things do not happen and that peace will prevail.  However, sometimes, indeed quite often, peace does not reign: in these cases, we must pray for a return to peace through victory.

An example of this was the Battle of Lepanto, a five-hour maritime battle fought off the coast of Western Greece on Sunday 7 October 1571.  The Holy League, an alliance of Catholic states, led by Don John of Austria, defeated the Ottoman Empire and thereby prevented them from gaining free access to the Mediterranean.  At the same time, in far away Rome, processions of crowds praying the rosary in St Peter's Square joined their intercession with the faithful across Europe, following the command of Pope St Pius V that the rosary be said for victory at Lepanto.  The victory would come to be seen to be a turning point in the long struggle between Catholic Europe and the Muslim Middle East.

In his Encyclical Supremi Apostolatus Officio, Pope Leo XIII wrote :

And it was to preserve the memory of this great boon thus granted, that the same Most Holy Pontiff [Pope St Pius V] desired that a feast in honour of Our Lady of Victories should celebrate the anniversary of so memorable a struggle, the feast which Gregory XIII dedicated under the title of ‘The Holy Rosary'.
The feast had been celebrated at first only in churches with an altar dedicated to the rosary and then also in the Kingdom of Spain (a key part of the Holy League), but after further victories over the Ottoman Empire (both falling on Marian feast days), Pope Clement XI extended the feast to the whole church in 1716.

To commemorate the great victory, G K Chesterton wrote his poem Lepanto, the opening of which is set out below :

WHITE founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun
A momentous day indeed, and a date on which we now quite rightly celebrate not only a decisive Victory, but the gift to us that is the rosary.  The collect for today from the Extraordinary Form sums it all up beautifully :

O God, whose only-begotten Son by His life, death and resurrection has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating upon these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
We shouldn't forget the power of prayer, nor the power of the rosary, nor the value of meditating on its mysteries.  Those in or around London on Saturday are reminded that the Rosary Crusade of Reparation, mentioned also in this post, is being held tomorrow 8 October. 

Our friends at St Mary's Bourne St continue to mark today's feast day too, and we look forward to joining our prayers with theirs as we all meditate upon the mysteries of the rosary, and as we ask for the intercession of Our Most Blessed Mother. 

It seems to be agreed that the only known piece of music written to commemorate the great victory at Lepanto was the Canticum Moises composed by the Rome-based Spaniard Fernando de las Infantas.  Sadly, I couldn't find a linkable recording of this, but I did find a setting by the same composer of a version of the Ave Maria, which is eminently appropriate for a great Marian day such as today. 

UPDATE TO THE ORIGINAL BLOGPOST : A friend from St James's Spanish Place and great supporter of the Ordinariate, Eoghain Murphy, who is also a Knight of Magistral Grace in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (the Order of Malta was a member of the Holy League) has pointed out that there is another piece by Fernando de las Infantas that is also worth mentioning today.  This motet, Ecce quam bonum, was written in commemoration of the foundation of Holy League in 1570, and takes as its text Psalm 132.  The choice of text was clearly made in order to celebrate Catholic unity among the nations: "Ecce quam bonum... habitare fratres in unum" (Behold, how good it is... for brethren to dwell in unity).  How very appropriate for today, but also how very appropriate for a blog related to the Ordinariate. 

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us.

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