Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Victory, Pray For Us!
On this great feast day, we join the Christians throughout history as we thank God for granting us the protection of his Mother,
Michelangelo’s famed fresco, The Last Judgment, dominates the entire altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. The painting depicts the triumph of Christ at the end of time, surrounded by his Blessed Mother, the saints, and angels. I have never been to Rome, and thus cannot claim to have seen this masterpiece in person. However, every time I have seen pictures of the work, I always seek out three specific figures, located in the left-center bottom section. The first figure is one of the saints, a member of the Church Triumphant, he is bending down, helping to hoist two more souls to join him in heaven. But his tool of rescue is no mere rope. It is a rosary, held by him and dramatically wrapped around the two men whom he is pulling to eternity. The man whose hands we can see most clearly are clutching the beads. There is tension in every finger knotted around the rosary, as his eyes are raised to look with hope upon his immediate rescuer and beyond to the Savior himself.
Michelangelo finished The Last Judgment 30 years before Pope Pius V instituted the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, renamed two years later by Pope Gregory XIII to the Feast of the Holy Rosary. When Pius V declared the feast, he did so in thanksgiving for Our Lady’s intercession in the great Christian victory over the Ottoman fleet at Lepanto. Before the battle, knowing the forces of Christendom were outnumbered, Pius V had called for the Rosary to be prayed throughout Europe, and himself led a Rosary procession throughout the streets of Rome. After five hours of fighting the fleet of the Holy League defeated the Ottomans and halted their incursion into Europe.
The feast day declared by Pius V in its earliest iteration as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, clearly celebrated the role Mary plays as the greatest intercessor of Christendom. The more recent emphasis of honoring Our Lady of the Rosary acknowledges that Mary not only intercedes for the nations of Christianity, but is our protective mother in the micro battlefield of our souls, where we fight daily against the Father of Lies and his many workings in our fallen world.
Non-Catholics, already dubious of the Catholic veneration of Mary can view the Rosary with skepticism. The famed “popish beads,” held while repeating, almost monotonously, the same prayers in repetition, can seem robotic and almost akin to a superstitious chant. I remember explaining to my husband when we first started dating, prior to his joining the Church, that the Rosary, though Marian in nature, is truly a devotion for her Son. What may seem almost rote is actually intended to draw us into meditation on the life of Christ and the glory of his Resurrection.
The beauty of the Rosary truly comes to light when we consider Mary as a mother. There are no topics of conversation dearer to a mother’s heart than her little one. She holds in her heart the image of the newborn baby alongside the images of the child and later the adult, all versions of her beloved child treasured within the deepest chambers of her being. Imagine how much more powerful those images are when held in a heart unclouded by sin, whose object of love is the Christ. Mary knows her Son is the Word Incarnate, the path to salvation for the world. She knows that knowledge of him and of his life is the way of redemption. So, throughout history she asks to pray the mysteries of the Rosary, not to pay homage to her, though we do honor her by heeding her request, but so we too can contemplate the glory of her Son.
We are invited to walk beside the Mother of God as she bears witness to the mysteries of his life, ministry, death and resurrection. Her mother’s heart, given to us on the Cross by her Son and her God as he gasped his final breaths, yearns for us to join her in her adoration. She knows that no one who honestly and sincerely meditates on the mysteries of the Rosary can persist in sin. Of course it is no substitute for the sacraments, especially frequent reception of the Eucharist and the mercy of the Confessional. But the rosary as a form of prayer is one of the greatest weapons granted to us in our fight against Satan in his minions. It is an invitation issued by the Mother of God, the Theotokos herself, to sit beside her and gaze upon her Son.
Pope Adrian VI declared: “The Rosary is the scourge of the devil.” Mary herself, immaculately conceived and full of grace, brings only fear and terror to the devil and his underlings. When we join her in the prayer she gave us, we receive her intercession and protection as we seek Christ.
We see this battle playing out in The Last Judgment. The men wrapped up in the Rosary are clearly not wielding it as some form of occult talisman of protection. They are using the beads to climb to heaven. They are saying the prayers, given to them by a mother’s unconditional love so that they may join her in eternity before the throne of her Son. They are not looking down in fear at the damned they are leaving behind, but into the face of Christ, their hope for salvation.
On this great feast day, we join the Christians throughout history as we thank God for granting us the protection of his Mother, and we thank Mary for her unceasing work on behalf of her children. Most importantly we thank Mary for inviting us to join her in pondering the many wonders of her Son that she has held within her heart for millennia, so we may know him better.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!