Kevin Di Camillo writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and is a Lecturer in English Literature at Niagara University. His latest book is Now Chiefly Poetical, and with Rev. Lawrence Boadt he edited John Paul II in the Holy Land: In His Own Words. His work has been anthologized in Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian-Americana, and he was awarded the Foley Poetry Prize from America Magazine. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he regularly attends Yale University’s School of Management Publishing Course.
Two years ago this month Edward Pentin reported on this site that there was a “Campaign Under Way to Introduce Prayer at Mass for Persecuted Christians”. Let’s hope that’s still true. The prayers, which were to follow the dismissal at Mass, and were more or less successors to the Leonine Orations, have a long tradition of being so efficacious that, once they accomplished their original object, they were retained (until 1965) for new intentions.
They were named after one of the longest reigning pontiffs, Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903). According to the Roman Missal: “These prayers were introduced by Pope Leo XIII to obtain an acceptable solution to the Vatican’s relations with the Italian State after the seizure of the Papal States”—or as it was more colloquially known, “The Roman Question”. This was the period when the pope was “a prisoner of the Vatican” in protest of the new Italian nation-state’s land-grab of property that had belonged to the Church for centuries. It is good to remember that Italy came into being as a unified country only in the latter half of the 19th century.
However, as the 1962 Roman Missal continues to tell us, “After its resolution by the establishment of the Vatican State through the Treaty of 1929 [between Cardinal Pietro Gaspari and Benito Mussolini], Pope Pius XI asked that these prayers should be said for the conversion of Russia.”
In short, if something seems to be working—especially in terms of prayer—why stop it? Indeed, along with Our Lady of Fatima’s admonitions for prayers for the conversion and consecration of Russia, the Leonine Prayers after Low Mass had, literally, hundreds of millions of people all praying for the same cause.
And it worked again: “The Evil Empire” broke apart, religious freedom was reintroduced into the former Communist country, Russia was consecrated to Our Lady’s Most Immaculate Heart, and in what amounts to nothing short of a miracle, Pope Francis and his Russian counterpart, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, met on Cuban soil this past February to at least start the Orthodox/Catholic rapprochement St. John Paul II so long desired and prayed for.
Ironically, for those who still attend the Latin Mass according to the Tridentine tradition, these prayers have never been abrogated. And they remain beautiful in their simplicity. Immediately following the Last Gospel (which is almost always the beginning of the Gospel according to Saint John), the priest and his altar servers kneel on the first step before the tabernacle and say aloud—with the congregation—three Hail Marys in the local vernacular, and then the “Hail, Holy Queen.” The priest then adds a short prayer before invoking the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, which the people join in. Finally, “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus / Have Mercy Upon Us” is repeated three times as priest and people beat their breast. This last prayer was a later addition by Pope St. Pius X.
However, there are still cases where these prayers are said even after a Novus Ordo Mass—in fact, at the local college chapel nearby, the chaplain has retained most of them, changing only the three Ave Marias to a hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary (following the Marian Hymn of the season from the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the end of Compline) and adding “Our Lady of The Pioneers [the college’s mascot], pray for us!”
There are times when our prayers seem—seem—to go unanswered. Novenas said, fasts maintained, devotions kept like a Swiss clock—all apparently to no effect (or at least not the one we had hoped for). What great saint has not experienced times of spiritual dryness or abandonment or, in the words of the great Carmelite Doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross, “The Dark Night of the Soul?”
And then, on the other hand, there are those historical moments when prayers not only are answered, but are done so in a miraculous way. Perhaps the best (or most obvious) example of this is the defeat of the massive Ottoman fleet by an outnumbered group of Christians at the naval battle of Lepanto. The Turks had forty more ships and 12,000 more men than the ragtag coalition of Venetians, Austrians, Spaniards, and assorted members of the House of Savoy and Genoa. The victory is, of course, attributed to the continuous praying of the Rosary at the admonition of Pope St. Pius V on October 7, 1571. Now this is not only the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, but it gave us Mary’s title “Our Lady of Victory”—to whom Venerable Servant of God Nelson H. Baker, P.A., V.G., built one of the largest basilicas in America. (A great book-length treatment of the battle is Roger Crowley’s Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, The Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World).
It’s hard to argue with success. The Leonine Prayers at the end of Low Mass brought about the creation of the Vatican State and an end to the Soviet Union. It’s hard to imagine that, if re-introduced, these same prayers to Mary, St. Michael and the Sacred Heart of Jesus could not end the wholesale slaughter of persecuted Christians in the Middle East—and in the rest of the world as well.