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Our Lady of the Rosary - 2 October AD 2011

Our Holy Protection

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Our Lady of the Rosary
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    Many traditional Catholics have had the experience of attending Mass in one of the Byzantine Catholic Eastern Rites.  Particularly the Slavic Catholics of the Byzantine Rite were unwilling to accept Modernism because they or their families had suffered under Communism, and they instinctively knew that Modernism was just another variation on the dialectic materialism that caused the spiritual and material deaths of their native lands.

    One of the feast days observed by both the Slavic Catholics and their Orthodox counterparts was called “Pokrova,” (Покровъ) in the Church Slavonic, the liturgical language of the Russians, Serbians, and Ukrainians.  “Pokrova” means “Holy Protection,” and specifically the holy protection afforded to the Christians of Constantinople by the Blessed Virgin Mary when that city was besieged by the Moslems in the tenth century.  My Ukrainian Rite missal gives the following account:

    In 911 A.D. the Mohammedan hordes attacked Constantinople during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise. The terror-stricken people gathered within the church to pray to the Blessed Virgin. The Mother of God saved them from utter destruction and captivity. St. Andrew and his disciple, St. Theophanius, both from Ukraine, were in Constantinople at that time.  They entered the church of the Holy Wisdom where the people were praying all night while the Christian army fought against the attacking Saracens. At dawn St. Andrew and St. Theophanius saw the Blessed Virgin appearing with outstretched arms and imploring God's mercy upon the besieged Christians. She held a veil (omophor) over the attacked city as a sign of assured protection. To the great joy of the inhabitants the Christian soldiers were blessed with a striking victory over the Moslems. On their return home the two saints publicized the miracle among [their] people. Thus the feast of "Pokrova" (patronage) of the Blessed Virgin was introduced into the Church to denote Mary's protection over our people.  [Relatively shortly thereafter, Ukraine and Russia became officially Christian nations. Pokrova is observed on October 14th.][1]

    For the Slavic Catholics here in the United States, this feast of Pokrova was a joyous one indeed—not only had their ancestors been protected by the Blessed Virgin a thousand years ago—but they could also attribute their ability to retain the Faith in spite of Communism, and their escape to the free world, to the intercession of that same Blessed Virgin.  They held tenaciously to the hope that the Blessed Virgin would protect their families from the secularism growing in modern America, and the Modernism growing in the Church at large.

    We Roman Rite Catholics have our own feast of the “Holy Protection of the Virgin Mary,” also celebrated in October each year as the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  The origins of the Rosary are shrouded in antiquity—probably a development of the counting of prayers with pebbles in the desert monasteries of Egypt.  There is a tradition, however, that the Rosary was given to Saint Dominic and his Order of Preachers by the Blessed Virgin Mother.

    In southern France the Albigensian heresy raged—basically the age old misconception that the universe was created by two gods; a good god making spirit, and a bad god making matter.  This was particularly problematic for men and women, who were composed of both matter and spirit, and who were thus considered the eternal battleground between good and evil.  In its more extreme form, the heresy considered suicide and abortion as holy acts, which liberated the soul from its evil material body.

    The Spaniard, Dominic Guzman, crossed through France on his way back from Denmark, after failing to bring back a bride for the King of Castile.  In 1208 Dominic met the papal legates who had been sent by then Pope Innocent III unsuccessfully to convert the Albigensians.  It was immediately obvious to Dominic that these well-healed gentlemen had no hope of converting the heretics who lived a far more ascetic life.  The “evangelical manner of life” of the heretics was far more convincing than that of the Pope’s men:

    It is not by the display of power and pomp, cavalcades of retainers, and [richly-decked out horses], or by gorgeous apparel, that the heretics win proselytes; it is by zealous preaching, by apostolic humility, by austerity, by seeming, it is true, but by seeming holiness. Zeal must be met by zeal, humility by humility, false sanctity by real sanctity, preaching falsehood by preaching truth.[2]

    Saint Dominic’s humility was assisted by his preaching of the Rosary.  In the fifteen mysteries we call to mind the lives of Jesus and Mary—two perfect examples of holiness in human form.  It is impossible to speak of the body as evil when we reflect on mysteries like the annunciation, the nativity, the offering of the body of Christ on the Cross for our redemption, the resurrection, the ascension, and the assumption of our Lady, body and soul into heaven.  The Rosary was Saint Dominic’s holy protection in the sometimes dangerous task of preaching to the heretics.

    Of course the greatest danger of the middle ages was the threat of invasion, captivity, and even conquest by the Moslems.  The Mediterranean became unsafe and people lived in fear of being taken away in bondage by heathen.  By the sixteenth century Christendom had been split in at least three parts, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant—and this disunity made it even harder to defend against the spread of Islam.

    Under Catholic auspices a “holy league” was formed, and under the patronage of Our Lady of the Rosary, a decisive battle was fought against the Moslems at Lepanto in the Gulf of Corinth on Sunday, October 7, 1571, with the pontifical galleys supported by the fleets of Spain and Venice. All over the Catholic world people prayed the Rosary, and by divine grace Pope Saint Pius V was able to know the outcome of the battle as it took place.  That same Pope instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victory, which his successor, Gregory XIII, altered to Our Lady of the Rosary and appointed the first Sunday of October for the celebration of the feast.

    In 1683 the Moslems were repelled from the gates of Vienna by John Sobieski under the patronage of our Blessed Lady, and Pope Innocent XI instituted the feast of the Holy Name of Mary.  In 1716, Clement XI inscribed the feast of the Rosary on the universal calendar, in gratitude for the victory gained by Prince Eugene in Serbia, on August 5, the feast of Our Lady of the Snow.

    More recently, at Hiroshima, on August 6th, 1945, a group of German Jesuits survived the nuclear bomb blast in a house that was a mere eight city blocks from the explosion site.  Everything around, except for their house, was leveled, and a half million people died.  The Jesuits attributed their protection from the blast to the fact that they recited the Rosary together every day.

    Today, little has changed.  People are drawn to the false god of materialism.  The threat of Islam looms as it did in the middle ages.  Marxism and the errors of Russia threaten the Church and all of Western civilization, not just Russia and Ukraine.  The threat of nuclear annihilation is greater than ever before.  But we have the hindsight of many centuries to recognize that our holy protection is to be found in the Blessed Virgin Mary, and particularly in the recitation of her Rosary.

    One thing remains to be said.  The Rosary is not a magic charm or amulet.  For it to have any effect it must be prayed.  And that prayer must be offered with reverence and careful reflection on the mysteries.  So, if you are not in the habit of a daily Rosary, I urge you to begin today.  It is not difficult to find the time.  If you plan to pray a decade or two in the morning and in the evening, you can easily complete five decades when you find yourself stuck in traffic, or on line at the supermarket.  With a little more effort you may find yourself praying all fifteen decades.  But the important thing is to start out today, and never give up the practice of the daily Rosary.


[1]   Michael Schudio, CSSR, My Divine Friend [Ukrainian Rite hand missal] (Yorktown, Saskatchewan, Canada: 1959), Feast of Pokrova, October 14th, p. 521-522.

[2]   Michael C. Thomsett , The Inquisition: A History (McFarland: April 26, 2010) page 55

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