Today the Church honors the Blessed Mother of Our Lord under the title of Our Lady of the Rosary. This great feast, up until the 16th century, was a day to honor Our Lady of Victory. The feast was changed to Our Lady of the Rosary by Pope St. Pius V following a naval victory which helped to secure Europe against the invasion of the Muslim Turks. Pius attributed that great victory of the “Catholic Powers” – Genoa, Spain, and the Papal States – to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was invoked that day by a great campaign across the whole of Europe to pray the Rosary for the cause. Crew members on more than 200 ships prayed the Rosary to prepare for the battle, and Christians across the European continent joined in. The significance of the title of Our Lady of the Rosary is a very important one, as it reminds us Christians of the strength and great blessing we are given in the recitation of the Rosary. It reminds us that Our Lady is ever interceding on our behalf to her Son. That she is also known as Our Lady of Victory is also important for us, as it reminds us that through her intercession, Our Lady helps us to have victory over the battles of our lives.
The Rosary is especially important to us as Dominicans. Tradition holds that, in the year 1214 Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, was in anguish because he was failing in his attempt to convert the Albigensian Cathar heretics. St. Dominic attributed this to the deepness and gravity of sinfulness of the heretics and the poor example of Catholics. He went alone in to the forest and wept and prayed continuously for three days to appease the anger of Almighty God. He flogged his body and scourged his flesh. From the fasting, pain, and exhaustion, he passed in to a coma.
Dominic experienced an apparition of Blessed Mother Mary while in the coma, which forever links Saint Dominic and the Rosary. The Immaculate Mary with three angels appeared and asked St. Dominic, “Dear Dominic, do you know which weapon the Blessed Trinity wants to use to reform the world?” Dominic’s response was Blessed Mary knew better than he because she is a part of our salvation.
Mary responded, “I want you to know that, in this kind of warfare, the battering ram has always been the Angelic Psalter* which is the foundation stone of the New Testament. Therefore if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter.”
Shortly after this apparition he preached the Holy Rosary to the unconverted Albigenisan heretics. To modify the Paternoster (150 Our Father’s) and in compliance with the instruction in the apparition, the design of the Saint Dominic Rosary came in to being. He set apart fifteen mysteries of the rosary, grouped them in to three sets of five decades each.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus is confronted by the crowd who said that he was casting out demons by demonic works. Jesus responds by saying “If it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” He states that one who is strong and well prepared can guard his own house, and he then goes on to tell a parable, a story to his disciples, about the importance of remaining strong against attack and of maintaining strength of heart and of faith, in order to resist things that are evil. He says that when an unclean spirit is cast out, it comes back ever stronger than before, and even brings friends with it, “and the last condition of that man is worse than the first.”
How true it is that sometimes we tend to feel as though just when we overcome some ordeal, whether it be physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, and we are relieved when it is over, and we let down our guard, that something yet worse and yet stronger over us takes hold and starts to wreak its own havoc within us or in our life situation. We become unprepared because we have stopped praying, stopped seeking the will of God, stopped listening to His Word and direction for our lives.
What a great resource that we have in the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Victory to strengthen us, to intercede for us on our behalf. We have this blessing in the prayer of the Rosary, an invaluable tool and weapon in our fight against evil in the world and beyond it. When I was a Roman Catholic seminarian, a gentleman once told us seminarians as we were about to pray the Rosary, “Gentleman, get out your weapons. It’s time to pray the Rosary.” The fight we fight is truly spiritual, and the Rosary and our Blessed Mother help to give us the strength to fight without weakness.
Let us trust in the Lord, and talk to Our Mother, who leads us to her Son. Let us allow her to pray for our strength, that our spiritual armor might be built up for the building up of the Kingdom of God, and that we might fight the assault of the enemy. Amen.