Category Archives: Rosary

Oct 7 – The Battle of Lepanto


-Battle of Lepanto, by Lucas Valdez (1661-1725), Iglesia de Santa Maria Magdalena, Seville, Spain, please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Christopher Check

Americans know that in 1492 Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue,” but how many know that in the same year the heroic Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the Moors in Grenada? Americans would also probably recognize 1588 as the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada by Francis Drake and the rest of Queen Elizabeth’s pirates. It was a tragedy for the Catholic kingdom of Spain and a triumph for the Protestant British Empire, and the defeat determined the kind of history that would one day be taught in American schools: Protestant British history.

As a result, 1571, the year of the battle of Lepanto, the most important naval contest in human history, is not well known to Americans. October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, celebrates the victory at Lepanto, the battle that saved the Christian West from defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.

That this military triumph is also a Marian feast underscores our image of the Blessed Virgin prefigured in the Canticle of Canticles: “Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?” In October of 1564, the Viziers of the Divan of the Ottoman Empire assembled to urge their sultan to prepare for war with Malta. “Many more difficult victories have fallen to your scimitar than the capture of a handful of men on a tiny little island that is not well fortified,” they told him. Their words were flattering but true. During the five-decade reign of Soleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire grew to its fullest glory, encompassing the Caucuses, the Balkans, Anatolia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Soleiman had conquered Aden, Algiers, Baghdad, Belgrade, Budapest, Rhodes, and Temesvar. His war galleys terrorized not only the Mediterranean Sea, but the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf as well. His one defeat was at the gates of Vienna in 1529.

The Defense of Malta

Malta was an infertile, dusty rock with so few natural springs that the Maltese had to collect rainwater in large clay urns. The island could sustain only the smallest population. Yet this little island guarded the Mediterranean passage from the Islamic East to the Christian West.

From its excellent natural harbors, the galleys of the Knights of Saint John could sail forth and disrupt any Turkish assault on Italy. They could also board and seize Turkish merchantmen carrying goods from France or Venice to be hawked in the markets of Constantinople. The ladies of Soleiman’s harem, who accumulated great wealth speculating in glass and other Venetian luxuries, nagged the sultan to take Malta.

Soleiman had bigger goals than pleasing these matrons, and he knew that, in Turkish possession, the harbors of Malta would afford him a base from which to continue his raids on the coast of Italy. With the greater control of the sea that it would afford him, he would be able to bring Venice to heel. An invasion of Sicily would be possible. Soleiman’s greatest dream, however, the dream of all Turks, the dream his soldiers toasted before setting off on every campaign, was the conquest of Rome. There the Turks could transform Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s, then under construction, into a mosque, just as they had Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia more than a century before.

Although the sultan had led his army on twelve major campaigns, this time his age would keep him home. The Turks sailed for Malta in the spring of 1565, and on May 18, their fleet was spotted offshore. That night, Jean de la Valette, the seventy-one-year-old Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John, led his warriors into their chapel where they confessed and then assisted at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

“A formidable army composed of audacious barbarians is descending on this island,” he told them. “These persons, my brothers, are the enemies of Jesus Christ. Today it is a question of the defense of our Faith. Are the Gospels to be superseded by the Koran? God on this occasion demands of us our lives, already vowed to His service. Happy will be those who first consummate this sacrifice.”

Many of Valette’s 700 knights and their men-at-arms did just that. While Europe stood idly by, expecting the fortress to fall, the knights held their island against an Ottoman army of 40,000, including 6500 of the sultan’s elite Janissaries. Three-quarters of the Turkish army were killed over the four-month siege, before the Ottoman survivors turned and straggled back to Constantinople.

Slaughter in Szigetvar

Soleiman was outraged. “I see that it is only in my own hand that my sword is invincible!” exploded the sultan, and by May of the following year he was leading an army of 300,000 men across the plains of Hungary, bound for Vienna.

When the Hungarian Count of Szigetvar, a fortress city on the eastern frontier of the Holy Roman Empire, led a successful raid on the Ottoman supply trains, Soleiman wheeled his massive army and swore to wipe the city off the map. Turkish engineers prepared flotillas and bridges to span the Drava and Danube rivers to lay siege to Szigetvar. To greet the sultan and to inspire his men, who were outnumbered fifty to one, Count Miklos Zrinyi raised a large crucifix over his battlements and fired his cannons in defiance. But Zrinyi knew that in a Hungary infested with Protestantism, hope of relief was even fainter than any the Knights of Malta had entertained the previous year.

For nearly a month, wave after wave of Turkish infantry were thrown back from the walls. Soleiman offered Zrinyi rule of all Croatia if he would yield his city, but he answered, “No one shall point his finger on my children in contempt.”

When the breaches made by the Turkish artillery were too large to defend, the Catholic count assembled his last 600 men. “With this sword” he shouted as he held the bejeweled weapon aloft, “I earned my first honor and glory. I want to appear with it once more before the eternal throne to hear my judgment.” Charging out of the remains of their stronghold, the courageous band was swallowed by a sea of Turks. To the last man the Hungarian knights died defending the Christian West. The Turks, furious at the losses their army had suffered, consoled themselves according to their grisly custom: they slaughtered every Christian civilian who had survived the siege.

Soleiman the Magnificent did not live to witness the massacre. He had died of dysentery four days earlier. Had he survived, however, this victory would have given him no comfort. The capture of Szigetvar was Pyrrhic. The Ottoman army had exhausted itself and was in no condition to carry on the campaign. Though they all died, Count Zrinyi and his heroic band were the true victors.

Back in Constantinople, Soleiman’s son ascended the throne by the usual Ottoman method: a complex harem intrigue designed to eradicate his worthier brothers. Unlike every previous sultan, Selim II, nicknamed “the Sot,” had little interest in warfare. His enthusiasms were for wine, his extraordinarily deviant sexual appetite, wine, poetry, and wine. Nevertheless, he sensed that without a decisive victory, the mighty empire his father had left him would be eclipsed.

The Attack on Cyprus

Selim II invaded Cyprus, the source of his favorite vintage. Half the population were Greek Orthodox serfs laboring under the exacting rule of their Venetian Catholic masters, and they offered little resistance. The Venetian senate was half-hearted about fighting for the island; upon receiving word of the invasion, senate members voted by the very small margin of 220 to 199 to defend it.

The Turks rolled through Cyprus, and after a forty-six day siege, the capital city of Nicosia fell on September 9, 1570. The 500 Venetians in the garrison surrendered on terms, but once the city gates were opened, the Turks rushed in and slaughtered them. Then they set on the civilian population, massacring twenty thousand people, “some in such bizarre ways that those merely put to the sword were lucky.” Every house was plundered. To protect their daughters from rape, mothers stabbed them and then themselves, or threw themselves from the rooftops. Still, “[t]wo thousand of the prettier boys and girls were gathered and shipped off as sexual provender for the slave markets in Constantinople.”

Then God intervened and sent one of history’s greatest popes, St. Pius V, who declared, “I am taking up arms against the Turks, but the only thing that can help me is the prayers of priests of pure life.” Michael Ghislieri, an aged Dominican priest when he ascended the Chair of Peter, faced two foes: Protestantism and Islam. He was up to the task. He had served as Grand Inquisitor, and the austerity of his private mortifications was a contrast to the lifestyles of his Renaissance predecessors. During his six-year reign, he promulgated the Council of Trent, published the works of Thomas Aquinas, issued the Roman Catechism and a new missal and breviary, created twenty-one cardinals, excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, and, aided by St. Charles Borromeo, led the reform of a soft and degenerate clergy and episcopacy.

The Holy League

In a papacy of great achievements, the greatest came on March 7, 1571, on the feast of his fellow Dominican, St. Thomas Aquinas. At the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, Pope Pius formed the Holy League. Genoa, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of Spain put aside their jealousies and pledged to assemble a fleet capable of confronting the sultan’s war galleys before the east coast of Italy became the next front in the war between the Christianity and Islam.

The day was not a total triumph, though. Venice refused to join. Though at war with the Turks over Cyprus, the Venetians never failed to consider their economy. They might well lose Cyprus, but a fast peace afterward would lead to the resumption of normal trade relations with the Turks. Moreover, the loss of the Venetian fleet in an all-out battle with the sultan’s galleys would be a disaster for a state so dependent on seaborne commerce. Walking back across the Tiber, the old monk wept for the future of Christendom. He knew that without the galleys of Venice, there was no hope of a fleet strong enough to face the Turks.

The rest of Europe ignored Pius’s call for a new crusade. In fact, the Queen of England, Elizabeth I, through her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, actively enlisted the aid of the Turks in her wars against Spain. France had openly traded with the Turks for years and as recently as 1569 had drawn up an extensive commercial treaty with them. For years the French had allowed Turkish ships to harbor in Toulon, and the oars that rowed Turkish galleys came from Marseilles. The cannons that brought down the walls of Szigetvar were of French design. With Venice at war with Constantinople, markets once filled by Venetian goods were open to France. Redeeming France from utter disgrace were the Knights of Saint John of Malta, who sent their galleys to join the Holy League, eager to do battle with Islam.

As the Pope prayed for Venice to answer a higher call, a new breed of fiery priests led by stirring preachers like St. Francisco Borgia, superior general of the Jesuits, inflamed the hearts of Christian Europeans throughout the Mediterranean with their sermons against Islam. Enough Venetians must have been listening, because on May 25 Venice at last joined the Holy League. By fits and starts, with hesitation and quarreling on the part of a few of the principal players, the fleet of the Holy League was forming.

The man chosen by Pius V to serve as Captain General of the Holy League did not falter: Don John of Austria, the illegitimate son of the late Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and half-brother of Philip II, King of Spain. The young commander had distinguished himself in combat against Barbary corsairs and in the Morisco rebellion in Spain, a campaign in which he demonstrated his capacity for swift violence when the threat called for it and restraint when charity demanded it.

He was a great horseman, a great swordsman, and a great dancer. With charm, wit, and good looks in abundance, he was popular among the ladies of court. Since childhood he had cultivated a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He spoke Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish, and kept a pet marmoset and a lion cub that slept at the foot of his bed. He was twenty-four years old.

Taking the young warrior by the shoulders, Pius V looked Don John of Austria in the eye and declared, “The Turks, swollen by their victories, will wish to take on our fleet, and God—I have the pious presentiment—will give us victory. Charles V gave you life. I will give you honor and greatness. Go and seek them out!”

The Death of Bragadino

In late summer of 1571, as Don John was making his way to the harbor at Messina to take command of his fleet, the situation on Cyprus was growing more desperate. The Venetian colonists had claimed the lives of some 50,000 Turks with their intrepid defense of Famagusta, but when their gunpowder and supplies were exhausted, when they had eaten their last horse, their shrewd governor, Marcantonio Bragadino, sent a message to the Turkish commander, Lala Mustafa, asking for terms. The Turks agreed to give the remaining Venetian soldiers passage to Crete on fourteen Turkish galleys in exchange for the surrender of the city. The Greek Cypriots would be allowed to retain their property and their religion.

On August 4, 1571, Bragadino, with a small entourage including several young pages, met with Mustafa and his advisors in the Turkish general’s tent. Mustafa lecherously demanded Bragadino’s page, Antonio Quirini, as a hostage for the fourteen galleys. When Bragadino calmly refused, he and his men were pushed out of the tent by Mustafa’s guards. Bragadino was bound and forced to watch as his attendants were hacked to pieces. The pages were led off in chains. The Turks thrice thrust the Venetian governor’s neck on the executioner’s block and thrice lifted it off. Instead of his head, they cut off his nose and ears. To prevent his bleeding to death, they cauterized the wounds with hot irons.

The Venetian soldiers of the garrison, unaware that Mustafa had broken the terms of the surrender, began their march down to the galleys, expecting passage to Crete. Once aboard, the Venetians were set upon by Turkish soldiers, who stripped them of their clothes and chained them to the oars. From their benches they witnessed some of the horrifying ordeal to which the Turks now subjected Bragadino.

First the Turks fitted the governor with a harness and bridle and led him around the Turkish camp on his hands and knees. Ass panniers filled with dung were slung across his back. Each time he passed Lala Mustafa’s tent he was forced to kiss the ground. Then he was strung up in chains, hoisted over a galley spar, and left to hang for a time. Finally, the courageous governor was dragged into the city square and lashed to the pillory, where the Turks flayed him alive. Witnesses said they heard him whispering a Latin prayer. He died “when the executioner’s knife reached the height of his navel.” The diabolical orgy did not end there. Mustafa had the governor’s skin stuffed, hoisted it up the mast of his galley, and joined the Ottoman fleet headed west.

Don John Takes Command

As Bragadino was losing his life to the Turkish monsters, Don John was inspecting his ships. Of the 206 galleys and 76 smaller boats that constituted the Holy League fleet, more than half came from Venice. The next largest contingent came from Spain, and included galleys from Sicily, Naples, Portugal, and Genoa, the latter owned by the Genovese condottiere admiral, Gianandrea Doria. Not only was Doria renting his services and the use of his ships to Philip at costs thirty percent higher than Philip paid to run his own galleys, he was lending the money to the Spanish king at fourteen percent! The balance of the galleys came from the Holy See.

Don John took charge of his fleet and promptly forbade women from coming aboard the galleys. He declared that blasphemy among the crews would be punishable by death. The whole fleet followed his example and made a three-day fast.

By September 28, the Holy League had made its way across the Adriatic Sea and was anchored between the west coast of Greece and the Island of Corfu. By this time, news of the death of Bragadino had reached the Holy League, and the Venetians were determined to settle the score. Don John reminded his fleet that the battle they would soon engage in was as much spiritual as physical.

Pius V had granted a plenary indulgence to the soldiers and crews of the Holy League. Priests of the great orders, Franciscans, Capuchins, Dominicans, Theatines, and Jesuits, were stationed on the decks of the Holy League’s galleys, offering Mass and hearing confessions. Many of the men who rowed the Christian galleys were criminals. Don John ordered them all unchained, and he issued them each a weapon, promising them their freedom if they fought bravely. He then gave every man in his fleet a weapon more powerful than anything the Turks could muster: a Rosary.

On the eve of battle, the men of the Holy League prepared their souls by falling to their knees on the decks of their galleys and praying the Rosary. Back in Rome, and up and down the Italian Peninsula, at the behest of Pius V, the churches were filled with the faithful telling their beads. In Heaven, the Blessed Mother, her Immaculate Heart aflame, was listening.

In the quiet of night, Don John met with his admirals on the deck of his flagship Real to review once more the order of battle. He had divided his fleet into four squadrons. Commanding the squadron on his left flank was a Venetian warrior named Agostin Barbarigo. The center squadron was commanded by Don John, assisted on either side by his vice admirals, the Roman Marcantonio Colonna, and the Venetian Sebastian Veniero. Directly behind the center squadron, Don John stationed the reserve squadron, commanded by the Spaniard Don Alvaro de Bazan, the Marquis of Santa Cruz. The right squadron was under the command of the Genovese Gianandrea Doria. Arrayed for battle, the mighty armada of the Holy League looked like nothing if not a Latin Cross.

Doria, despite his mercenary motives, had been the source of sound tactical counsel.

“Cut off the spars in the prows of the fleet’s galleys,” he told Don John. Galleys had been equipped with bow spars or rams since the days of Salamis. “This will permit the centerline bow cannons to depress further and fire their rounds at the waterline of the enemy hulls.” Don John’s famous order to remove these spars was a signal moment in naval warfare, heralding the age of gunpowder.

Doria also advised taking the League’s six galleases and stationing them in the van, two before each of the three forward squadrons. A galleas was a large, multi-decked, Venetian merchant galley that had been outfitted with cannons not only on its bow, but also along its port and starboard sides. Where an ordinary galley was most vulnerable, a galleas packed heavy firepower. Don John increased their lethality by packing the decks with Spanish shooters (arquebusiers), bearing their handheld, smoothbore, heavy guns. Though slow moving, these six galleases would provide a powerful shock at the start of the battle.

Doria was an admiral, but he was also a shipowner. He looked at Don John, raised his eyebrows, opened his palm, and offered, “There is still time, your grace, to avoid pitched battle.”

The young Captain General stood surrounded by men older and with greater seafaring and military experience than he. Silence filled the small stateroom as these men waited to hear his response. He caught their eyes, each one of them, as he looked around.

“Gentlemen,” he said. “The time for counsel has passed. Now is the time for war.”

The Divine Breath

It was. At dawn on October 7, 1571, the Holy League rowed down the west coast of Greece and turned east into the Gulf of Patras. When the morning mist cleared, the Christians, rowing directly against the wind, saw the squadrons of the larger Ottoman fleet arrayed like a crescent from shore to shore, bearing down on them under full sail.

As the fleets grew closer, the Christians could hear the gongs and cymbals, drums and cries of the Turks. The men of the Holy League quietly pulled at their oars, the soldiers stood on the decks in silent prayer. Priests holding large crucifixes marched up and down the decks exhorting the men to be brave and hearing final confessions.

Then the Blessed Virgin intervened.

The wind shifted 180 degrees. The sails of the Holy League were filled with the Divine breath, driving them into battle. Now heading directly into the wind, the Turks were forced to strike their sails. The tens of thousands of Christian galley slaves who rowed the Turkish vessels felt the sharp sting of the lash summoning them up from under their benches and demanding they take hold of their oars and pull against the wind.

Don John knelt on the prow of Real and said a final prayer. Then he stood and gave the order for the Holy League’s battle standard, a gift from Pius V, to be unfurled. Christians up and down the battle line cheered as they saw the giant blue banner bearing an image of our crucified Lord.

The fleets engaged at midday. The first fighting began along the Holy League’s left flank, where many of the smaller, swifter Turkish galleys were able to maneuver around Agostin Barbarigo’s inshore flank. The Venetian admiral responded with a near impossibility: He pivoted his entire squadron, fifty-four ships, counterclockwise and began to pin the Turkish right flank, commanded by Mehemet Sirrocco, against the north shore of the Gulf of Patras. Gaps formed in Barbarigo’s line and Ottoman galleys broke into the intervals. As galley pulled up along galley, the slaughter brought on by cannon, musket ball, and arrow was horrific, but the Venetians in time prevailed. Barbarigo took an arrow to the eye, but before he died he learned of the death of Sirrocco and the crushing defeat of the Turkish right line.

In the center of the battle, breaking a convention of naval warfare, the opposing flagships engaged—Don John’s Real with Muezzinzade Ali Pasha’s Sultana. Twice Spanish infantry boarded and drove the Sultana’s Janissaries back to the mast, and twice they were driven back to the Real by Ottoman reinforcements. Don John led the third charge across Sultana’s bloodied deck. He was wounded in the leg, but Ali Pasha took a musketball to the forehead. One of Real’s freed convicts lopped off the Turkish admiral’s head and held it aloft on a pike. The Muslims’ sacred banner, with the name of Allah stitched in gold calligraphy 28,900 times, which Islamic tradition held was carried in battle by the Prophet, was captured by the Christians. Terror struck the Turks, but the fight was far from won.

On the Holy League’s right flank, Doria was forced to increase the intervals between his galleys to keep his line from being flanked on the south by the larger Ottoman squadron under the command of the Algerian Uluch Ali. When the space between Doria’s squadron and Don John’s grew large enough, Uluch Ali sent his corsairs through the gap to envelop the galleys of Don John’s squadron from behind. Don Alvaro de Bazan, commanding the Holy League’s reserve squadron of thirty-five galleys, had carefully kept his ships out of the fray until the moment came when he was most needed. Now he entered the fight, rescuing the center of the Holy League from the Turkish vessels that had surrounded them before turning his squadron south to aid the outmanned Doria.

The fighting lasted for five hours. The sides were evenly matched and well led, but the Divine favored the Christians, and once the battle turned in their favor it became a rout. All but thirteen of the nearly 300 Turkish vessels were captured or sunk and over 30,000 Turks were slain. Not until the First World War would the world again witness such carnage in a single day’s fighting. In the aftermath of the battle, the Christians gave no quarter, making sure to kill the helmsmen, galley captains, archers, and Janissaries. The sultan could rebuild ships, but without these men, it would be years before he would be able to use them.

The news of the victory made its way back to Rome, but the Pope was already rejoicing. On the day of the battle, Pius had been consulting with his cardinals at the Dominican Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill. He paused in the midst of their deliberations to look out the window. Up in the sky, the Blessed Mother favored him with a vision of the victory. Turning to his cardinals he said, “Let us set aside business and fall on our knees in thanksgiving to God, for he has given our fleet a great victory.”

SIDEBARS

Interesting Facts about the Battle

  • A young contemporary of Don John’s, Miguel Cervantes, fought with abandon and lost his left hand to a Turkish blade. With his remaining hand, he later penned Spain’s greatest novel, Don Quixote.
  • On another galley, a soldier of the Holy League, his soul torn with despair, took his sword to the ship’s crucifix. The blade instantly shattered. Many years later, an attempt to re-forge the sword was made, but when the new blade was pulled from the fire, it fell to pieces.
  • The crucifix on board the Real, which twisted itself to avoid a Turkish cannonball, is displayed in a side chapel of the cathedral of Barcelona.
  • Gianandrea Doria carried on his galley a gift from the king of Spain, an image that is now displayed in the Doria chapel in the cathedral in Genoa. Exactly forty years before the battle of Lepanto, the Blessed Virgin appeared to a peasant boy leaving a miraculous image of herself on his smock. The bishop of the region immediately commissioned an artist to paint five copies of the image, and he touched each one to the original. Our Lady of Guadalupe was present at Lepanto.

Timeline for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

  • In thanksgiving for the victory at Lepanto on the first Sunday of October 1571, Pope St. Pius V ordered that a commemoration of the Rosary should be made on that day.
  • At the request of the Dominican Order, in 1573 Pope Gregory XIII allowed the feast to be kept in all churches with an altar dedicated to the Holy Rosary.
  • In 1671, the observance of the feast was extended by Pope Clement X to the whole of Spain.
  • Pope Clement XI extended the feast to the universal Church after the important victory over the Turks gained by Prince Eugene on August 6, 1716, the feast of our Lady of the Snows, at Peterwardein in Hungary.

Other Feasts That Celebrate Military Victories

  • May 24, Our Lady Help of Christians, commemorates the defeat of one of history’s greatest generals (and most wicked men), Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • August 6, The Transfiguration of Christ, was extended to the Universal Church by Pope Calixtus III to celebrate legendary Hungarian general János Hunyadi’s victory over the Turks at Belgrade in 1456. This feast has great significance for Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic churches.
  • September 12, the Holy Name of Mary, celebrates the victory of John Sobieski and his Polish warriors over the Ottoman Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683.

Further Reading

  • Lepanto by G. K. Chesterton (Ignatius, 2004)
  • The Galleys at Lepanto by Jack Beeching (Scribner, 1983 – out of print; used copies available online)
  • Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know by Diane Moczar (Sophia Institute, 2006)

Prayer to Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary

O Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, in these times of such brazen impiety, manifest thy power with the signs of thine ancient victories.

From thy throne whence thou dispense pardon and grace, mercifully regard the Church of thy Son, His Vicar on Earth, and every order of clergy, religious, and laity, who are oppressed in this mighty conflict.

Thou who art powerful, the vanquisher of all heresies, hasten the hour of mercy, even though the hour of God’s justice is every day provoked by the countless sins of men, the sons and daughters of Adam.

Obtain for me, the least of men, kneeling before thee in supplication, the grace I need to live righteously upon earth, in order to be numbered among the just in heaven.

In the company of all faithful Christians throughout the world, I salute thee and acclaim thee as Queen of the Most Holy Rosary.

Queen of the Most Holy Rosary pray for us.

Amen
(indulgence of 500 days; Raccolta, no. 399)

Love,
Matthew

The scandal of the rosary – how many times do you say to someone you love, “I love you!”

Teenage boy praying with a rosary

The point is not repetition. We know the prayers. Repetition is boring and pointless.  Mt 6:7.  We contemplate the mysteries of the rosary recalling moments in the life of the Lord on each decade.  We intentionally distract the senses through giving the fingers, the lips, the cerebrum something simple, repetitious, to do to focus contemplation and prayer, like chant.


-by Edward Sri

“For many non-Catholics, the rosary can be quite perplexing, even scandalous. In this prayer, Catholics recite five sets of ten Hail Marys. Each set, called a “decade,” is introduced by the Our Father and concluded with praise of the Holy Trinity in the Glory Be. From an outsider’s perspective, the score at the end of each decade seems to be:

God the Father: 1

The Holy Trinity: 1

Mary: 10

Looked at this way, the rosary seems to be primarily about Mary. At best, this repetitive attention to Mary can seem unbalanced, distracting us from a relationship with Jesus Christ. At worst, this prayer may seem idolatrous, treating Mary as if she were more important than God.

But the Hail Mary is centered on Jesus Christ, and the rosary, far from being unbiblical, is actually a beautiful scriptural way of praying that leads us closer to Him. In his apostolic letter on the rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Pope John Paul II emphasized that this prayer is meant to focus our attention on Jesus Christ:

“Although the repeated Hail Mary is addressed directly to Mary, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed (RVM 26).”

God’s Own Wonderment

The opening of the Hail Mary is drawn from the words the angel Gabriel (and later her relative Elizabeth) used to greet the Mother of the Messiah.

In awe that the Almighty God he has worshiped from the beginning of time was about to become a little baby inside Mary, Gabriel greeted the chosen woman from Nazareth with wonder over this profound mystery: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). Similarly, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and given prophetic insight into this Child’s identity. In response to the profound mystery of Christ taking place inside Mary’s womb, she exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42). These words focus not on Mary herself but on the mystery of the Incarnation taking place inside her. In fact, John Paul II noted that every time we pray the Hail Mary, we participate in “the wonder of heaven and earth” at the mystery of God becoming man. Gabriel represents the wonder of heaven, while Elizabeth represents the wonder of earth.

When we repeat Gabriel’s and Elizabeth’s words, we participate in the joyful response to the mystery of Jesus Christ—the mystery of God becoming man. You can’t get much more Christ-centered than that!

As John Paul II explained:

“These words . . . could be said to give a glimpse of God’s own wonderment as He contemplates His masterpiece—the Incarnation of the Son in the womb of the Virgin Mary. . . . The repetition of the Hail Mary in the rosary gives us a share in God’s own wonder and pleasure: In jubilant amazement we acknowledge the greatest miracle of history (RVM 33).”

As a model disciple of Christ, Mary consented to God’s will when the angel Gabriel appeared to her (Luke 1:38), and she persevered in faith throughout her life (John 19:25–27; Acts 1:14). When we say, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,” we ask Mary to pray for us to be faithful in our walk with the Lord, every day. She is the ideal person to intercede for us, to pray that we may walk in faith as she did. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

“She prays for us as she prayed for herself: “Let it be to me according to your word.” By entrusting ourselves to her prayer, we abandon ourselves to the will of God together with her: “Thy will be done” (CCC 2677).”

Jesus Is the Center of Gravity

But at the heart of the Hail Mary is the holy name of Jesus: “And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” John Paul II says that Jesus’ name not only serves as the hinge joining the two parts of the Hail Mary but is also this prayer’s “center of gravity.” The Hail Mary leads us to the person of Jesus (Ed. as does Mary!!  Star of the Sea, Ave Maris Stella, the guiding star which navigates us to Jesus!!!  No Mary, no Jesus!!  Know Mary, know Jesus), and at the center of this prayer we speak His sacred name with reverence and with love.

Christ’s name is the only name under heaven through which we may hope for salvation (Acts 4:12). That we can even call upon the name of Jesus is astonishing. In the Old Testament the Jews approached God’s name (“Yahweh”) with so much reverence that they eventually avoided speaking it. Instead, they often used the less personal title “Lord” when calling on God in prayer. But since God entered into humanity in Christ, we have the privilege of calling on the personal name of the Lord: “Jesus” (CCC 2666). Christians throughout the centuries have found in the name of Jesus a source of strength and meditation. As we utter the sacred name at the center of this prayer, the Hail Mary leads us to that divine source.

Vain Repetition?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him (Matt. 6:7–8).”

With Hail Mary after Hail Mary after Hail Mary, the rosary appears to some people to be the kind of repetitious prayer Jesus condemned—a superficial, mechanical way of praying to God that can be boring and empty of life. It is sometimes said to be “vain repetition” rather than true, intimate prayer flowing from the heart. Shouldn’t Christians, some ask, speak openly to Jesus rather than relying on a repetitious formula?

Jesus, though, was not condemning repetitive prayer. Rather, He was criticizing the Gentiles’ practice of reciting endless formulations and divine names in order to say the words that would force the gods to answer their petitions. Magical formulas were not the way to get God to answer prayers. Jesus challenged us to approach our heavenly Father not the way the pagans do their deities but rather in confident trust that “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Indeed, He knows what we need better than we do and is providing for those needs even before we realize them ourselves (Matt. 6:25–34).

Moreover, in the very next verse, Jesus gives us a new prayer to recite: the Our Father. Jesus says, “Pray then like this: Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name” (Matt. 6:9).

Holy, Holy, Holy

If it were wrong to use repetitive prayers, Jesus certainly would not have done it. Yet in the garden of Gethsemane, He spoke the same prayer three times: “Leaving them again, He went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words” (Matt. 26:44). We cannot think of this repetition as anything but heartfelt.

Similarly, in the Old Testament, parts of Psalm 118 are structured around the repeated phrase “His steadfast love endures forever,” and the book of Daniel presents the three men in the fiery furnace constantly repeating the phrase “Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him forever” (Dan. 3:52–88). God looks favorably on their prayers and answers them in their time of need (Ps. 118:21; Dan. 3:94–95).

In the New Testament, the book of Revelation describes how the very worship of God in heaven includes words of holy praise that are repeated without end. The four living creatures, gathered around God’s throne, “never cease to sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’”(Rev. 4:8). Although trying to manipulate God by vain repetition is always wrong, proper repetitious prayer is very biblical and pleasing to God.

We may still wonder why there is so much repetition in the rosary. John Paul II noted that it is similar to the “Jesus Prayer” that people have recited for centuries: Christians slowly repeat the words “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us,” often in rhythm with their breathing. Whispered over and over again, this prayer calms the mind so that we may be more disposed to meet God Himself in prayer. It helps us follow the admonition of Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

The succession of Hail Marys in the rosary achieves the same purpose. Anyone who prays the rosary knows that the peaceful cadence created by the repetition of the prayers slows down our minds and spirits and focuses our attention so that we can prayerfully reflect on different aspects of Christ’s life.

I Just Called to Say I Love You

On another level, John Paul II encouraged us to think of the repetition of Hail Marys within the context of a relationship of love. I may tell my wife “I love you” several times a day. Sometimes I say these words to her as I am going out the door for work in the morning. Other times I whisper them just before we fall asleep at night. On special occasions, I may write these words in a card. When we are out to dinner, I may look her in the eyes as I say, “I love you.” Although she has heard me repeat these same words to her thousands of times, never once has she complained, “Stop saying the same thing over and over again!”

In an intimate, personal relationship such as marriage, two people may repeat to each other certain expressions of love, but each time the same words express anew the heartfelt affection the people have for one another. Indeed, repetition is part of the language of love.

We have an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. By reciting the Hail Mary throughout the rosary, we participate over and over again in the wonder-filled response of Gabriel and Elizabeth to the mystery of Christ. Bead after bead, we ask Mary to pray for us that we may be drawn closer to her Son  (Ed.  who better to ask than the mother of the One Who can grant the favor?  Jn 2:3). And most of all, prayer after prayer, we affectionately speak the name of our Beloved at the very center of each Hail Mary: “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus . . . Jesus . . . Jesus.” The holy name of Jesus, repeated with tender love, is the heartbeat of the entire rosary.”

Love,
Matthew

Rosary: does the Bible really condemn repetitious prayer?

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church teach that the rosary is a legitimate prayer when the Bible forbids repetitious prayer?

The rosary is a popular Catholic devotion that the Catechism endorses as a “form of piety” that expresses the “religious sense of the Christian people” (1674).  [It is a prayer form that developed for the illiterate, ordinary people as only clerics were taught to read and write.  Those same clerics were required to recite the Liturgy of the Hours, which is a formalized way of singing the Psalm twenty-four hours a day, praising God for time, which is a holy gift from God.  Since ordinary people could not read the books for this form of prayer, the rosary developed, so they could say the simple prayers they had memorized in imitation.] But for many Protestants, the rosary, with its repetition of the Hail Mary (Lk 1:46-55) prayer, contradicts Jesus’ command to “Use no vain repetitions as the heathens do” (Matt. 6:7; KJV). It would seem that the Catholic practice of praying the rosary is a direct violation of Jesus’ command.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. Jesus wasn’t condemning prayers that involve repetition, but rather the idea that the quantity of prayer determines its efficacy.

The Greek word translated “vain repetition” is battalogeō, which can mean to speak in a stammering way, saying the same words over and over again without thinking. But it can also mean “to use many words, to speak for a long time.” So it can connote either mindless repetition or quantity.

Which meaning does Jesus have in mind?

The context reveals that Jesus has the quantity of prayers in mind. For example, Jesus says in verse 7, “For they [the Gentiles] think that they will be heard for their many words,” as if their many words could wear down the gods in order to get what they wanted. This is the mentality of prayer that Jesus is telling his disciples to avoid—the mentality that sheer volume of words ensures that God hears us.

This explains why Jesus says in verse 8, “Don’t be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” The implication is that it’s futile to think a bunch of words is needed for God to hear a prayer, because he already knows it.

So, Jesus is not concerned with repetition simply. He’s concerned with the idea that simply multiplying words makes prayers efficacious.

2. The rosary is not meant to gain favors from God due to the amount of prayers repeated.

According to the Catechism, the rosary is an “epitome of the whole gospel” (971). It is meant to focus our hearts and minds on the mysteries of Christ’s life, mysteries such as his conception in Mary’s womb at the Annunciation, his birth in Bethlehem, his baptism and preaching ministry, his glorious resurrection, and his ascension into heaven.

Meditating on these mysteries is meant to give us a deeper knowledge of Christ and draw us into a deeper communion with him, so that we can be more conformed to him. And we include Mary in that meditation because her soul “magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46). The rosary, therefore, is a way to meditate on Christ in order to foster a greater love for him. The repetition of prayers serves that meditation—and that’s a biblical thing.

3. The Bible affirms prayers that involve repetition.

We can start with Jesus Himself. Notice that right after Jesus condemns the “vain repetitions” of the Gentiles, he commands the apostles, “Pray like this…Our Father who art in heaven.” Does Jesus intend for us to only say it once? Are we forbidden to repeat the Lord’s Prayer? Most Protestants have said it many times; perhaps they say it more than once a day.

Another example is Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father…remove this cup…not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Mark tells us that Jesus prayed this multiple times: “And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words” (14:39). Surely, Jesus wouldn’t be violating his own command not to pray with “vain repetitions.”

We also have an example from the “four living creatures” (angels) that John sees in heaven: “Day and night they never cease to sing, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev. 4:8). If any prayer involves repetition, it’s this one!

The Psalms even give us forms of prayer that involve repetition. Consider, for example, Psalm 136. Its refrain, “for his steadfast love endures forever,” occurs twenty-six times. Must we say that the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity) who inspired the Psalmist to write this, is at odds with Jesus (the second person of the Trinity)?

Since the Bible affirms prayers that involve repetition, we can conclude that the repetition in the rosary does not violate Christ’s words.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Why should we think that a condemnation of useless repetition is a condemnation of any repetition? Couldn’t there be repetitious prayer that is heartfelt and helps us love God more?

[Editor: Ps 51:1]

AFTERTHOUGHT: One of the benefits of praying the rosary is that it protects us from focusing our prayer too much on what we want and need. Praying for our needs is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be the only thing we pray about. The rosary helps us to focus on what should be the first object of prayer: Jesus.

Love,
Matthew

Mary & the Rosary lead Non-denominational pastor: Part 4 of 4


-by Anne Barber, Anne was born in Haddonfield, NJ. From age seven, she began traveling the world with her parents, as her father’s jobs with the US government took them to live in Germany, Iran, and Brazil. Later, she received a BS from San Diego State University with a double major: Zoology and Spanish, and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Miami School of Law. She still holds an active law license in Florida. The same year she entered law school, Anne completed her studies for ordination through the Evangelical Church Alliance. She began leading mission trips to Cuba twice a year for 8 years beginning in 2003, completing a total of 16 trips. In 2004, Anne was one of the founders of My Father’s House, a nondenominational church in Ellenton, FL, and pastored for 12 years. During this time, she was a regular contributor to the clergy column, Faith & Values, in the Bradenton Herald. Her journey into the Catholic Church began in 2016.

Disappointing News

I completed my RCIA classes. I had finally procured a new pastor for My Father’s House. But when the Easter Vigil was a week away, I was still waiting for an annulment of the marriage to my first husband, whom I had divorced 40 years prior. I received on Monday the call saying that it was granted, and I fully expected to enter the church that Saturday night. However, Father Jim (who was serving in his first pastorate), didn’t quite know what to do with me, since he was waiting for the bishop’s instruction. There was an unresolved question of whether, as the former pastor of an Evangelical church, I needed to completely disassociate myself from that congregation — whose church building is located on the small farm where I live. Since no answer was forthcoming, I was sorely disappointed not to be permitted to enter the Catholic Church at the 2017 Easter Vigil.

It was then that I contacted the Coming Home Network, asking for assistance. Jim Anderson, a pastoral care coordinator, reviewed my situation and said he believed that, as long as the congregation knew I was no longer the pastor, and I refrained from participating in the communion there, he knew of no rule against a former pastor continuing to attend his or her prior church, especially if the ex-pastor’s spouse still attended there. I then wrote a letter to the bishop, stating my cause, and asking him to please allow Father Jim to bring me into the Church. But there was no response.

Time passed, and I grew despondent, feeling rejected and crushed. Never had I wanted anything more in my life, and I felt the blessing was torn from me at the last minute. I stopped attending Mass. After two months, I contacted Jim Anderson again, and he suggested that I see another priest for a second opinion.

Finally I am Catholic!

At the end of August, I met with Father Bernie at Holy Cross Catholic parish in Palmetto, FL. He was a seasoned priest and agreed with Jim Anderson’s assessment. He was happy to baptize me (as I had no certificates, photos, or other first-hand proof of my baptism as a baby), and on October 6, 2017, at the Mass of Our Lady of the Rosary, I was baptized into the Catholic Church and received the Eucharist for the first time. I was content to wait for the 2018 Easter Vigil to be confirmed. I regard both events as the two most important days of my life. Unfortunately, my husband, by now quite upset that I continued to be serious about entering the Catholic Church, refused to be present at either event.

I spent a year at Holy Cross, where I joined the Legion of Mary and played the flute at the Saturday Mass. Additionally, since the first statue I painted had turned out beautifully, I continued to paint concrete statues of Mary, and gave them away to different people in both parishes. (To date, I have painted 13 statues of Mary and eight statues of different saints.)

On October 6, 2018, again on the day of Our Lady of the Rosary, I returned to my initial Catholic parish, St. Frances Cabrini in Parrish, FL, and the first priest I had ever met, Father Jim. That is where I currently attend.

My journey is ongoing, and not without heartache, family upheaval, and occasionally wavering faith. But my Catholic family continually upholds me in prayer. Some of my sisters in the Legion of Mary have been my strongest lifeline in the face of unexpected and emotionally painful trials, which threatened to derail me from following my new Catholic Faith.

But there is absolutely no turning back. When Jesus calls — or sends Mary to bring someone to where He wants that person to be — truly, how can we refuse to go?

Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last and the last will be first.” – Mark 10:29-31 NAB

Love,
Matthew

Mary & the Rosary lead Non-denominational pastor: Part 3 of 4


-by Anne Barber, Anne was born in Haddonfield, NJ. From age seven, she began traveling the world with her parents, as her father’s jobs with the US government took them to live in Germany, Iran, and Brazil. Later, she received a BS from San Diego State University with a double major: Zoology and Spanish, and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Miami School of Law. She still holds an active law license in Florida. The same year she entered law school, Anne completed her studies for ordination through the Evangelical Church Alliance. She began leading mission trips to Cuba twice a year for 8 years beginning in 2003, completing a total of 16 trips. In 2004, Anne was one of the founders of My Father’s House, a nondenominational church in Ellenton, FL, and pastored for 12 years. During this time, she was a regular contributor to the clergy column, Faith & Values, in the Bradenton Herald. Her journey into the Catholic Church began in 2016.

The Honeymoon’s Over!

“On Christmas day 2016, after the morning service, our worship leader pulled me aside to let me know that he was very unhappy with the new statue of Mary. I already had angel statues surrounding the chapel, but Mary was just too much for him.

He asked, “What kind of church are we?” “We’re non-denominational evangelical,” I replied. “But are we Catholic now? If I thought this was a Catholic church, I never would have come here. I’ll give you two weeks’ notice to find another music leader if we leave.” Wow! I never saw this coming.

His wife was waiting in their car, and I went to speak to her. She was fuming. I’d never seen her angry before. Through the open car window, she went into a full-on rant: “I was Catholic for many years, but I never prayed the Rosary! Then I got saved and took off all my jewelry, and I’m free! I’m free!” (She was yelling now.) “That’s why I don’t let any of my children wear jewelry!”

“You’re not free,” I replied, “You’re in Pentecostal legalism.” The meaning was completely lost on her, but her husband smiled and nodded. What shocked me most was that this lady was one of the parents who had provided permission to give her children rosaries. And she had asked me for an NAB Bible for herself when I handed them out to the youth. Now, suddenly, rosaries were evil and the statue of Mary a forbidden idol.

After they drove off, I went into the house, called my prior worship leader, and he was available and happy to come back and take over. The following Sunday was New Year’s day 2017, and our prior worship leader was leading the music. And just like that, five people who had been with the church for nine years (the parents and three kids) were gone. My youth leader was devastated, as she was very attached to all of the children.

Shortly after that confrontation, I spoke with another long-term faithful parishioner on the pathway by the Mary statue. “So, do you like the Mary statue,” I asked. “No, Pastor Anne, I don’t,” she replied emphatically. “But that was my two-month art project,” I smiled. “Why don’t you like it?”

“I was Catholic as a child, and even wanted to become a nun. But my priest said I should go to college.” “But what happened to you that caused you to leave the Catholic Church?” I asked. “It’s a long story,” she said. But I never got to hear it; within months, she, her husband and their three children left the church. Between these two families, a fifth of our tiny congregation was gone — over my beautiful Mary statue.

Several people suggested I move it, or hide it on Sunday morning under a bag. But I reasoned, “It’s in front of the house, not the chapel. If the parishioners use the walkway that goes directly to the chapel, they wouldn’t even see her.” Yet the suggestions continued, and the youth leader (also an ex-Catholic) admonished that I should have submitted the rosaries, NAB Bibles and statue of Mary to the church council for a vote before implementing them.

Finally I asked Father Jim to come and bless the Mary statue so the negativity would stop. And it eventually did. After pretty much all the congregation left.”

Love,
Matthew

Mary & the Rosary lead Non-denominational pastor: Part 2 of 4


-by Anne Barber, Anne was born in Haddonfield, NJ. From age seven, she began traveling the world with her parents, as her father’s jobs with the US government took them to live in Germany, Iran, and Brazil. Later, she received a BS from San Diego State University with a double major: Zoology and Spanish, and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Miami School of Law. She still holds an active law license in Florida. The same year she entered law school, Anne completed her studies for ordination through the Evangelical Church Alliance. She began leading mission trips to Cuba twice a year for 8 years beginning in 2003, completing a total of 16 trips. In 2004, Anne was one of the founders of My Father’s House, a nondenominational church in Ellenton, FL, and pastored for 12 years. During this time, she was a regular contributor to the clergy column, Faith & Values, in the Bradenton Herald. Her journey into the Catholic Church began in 2016.

The Honeymoon

For the next eight and a half months, I attended two morning Masses each week, followed by my RCIA classes, as well as the Saturday afternoon Mass. I joined the parish, received my own envelopes, and began contributing weekly.

I read the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the first month of my journey, then numerous books on Mary, the Fathers of the Church, and testimonies of other Protestants who had found the truth of the Catholic Church — all this while still pastoring my little flock at My Father’s House. I had asked the Lord early on, “Do you want me to leave my church?” to which He replied, “I don’t want you to leave, I want you to lead.”

So I began teaching many of the principles I was learning in RCIA to my church, even transcribing some of the homilies (sermons) that I heard on EWTN and preaching them to my congregation. At St. Frances’ thrift store, I purchased rosaries, and with their parents’ permission, gave them out to the youth group in My Father’s House. The church pew Bibles were replaced with NAB Catholic Bibles, and each child was presented with an NAB Youth Bible to keep. I now wore a crucifix around my neck, together with a hidden Miraculous Medal of Mary. I wrote my last article as the Rev. Anne Barber for the Bradenton Herald, published on September 17, 2016, entitled “Protestants Should Try Reading Missing Old Testament Books.”

Meantime, at the Catholic church, I experienced profound joy, love, and the same wonder and excitement I had experienced when I met Christ for the first time 40 years prior. Now I was meeting Him anew through Mary. What happiness I felt! No one on the outside could discourage me. The more I attended Mass, and the more people I met, at some point I lost my fear of being recognized as a local pastor, and just let myself become a member of the St. Frances congregation. Within months I knew 25 people by their names.

Then, in November of 2016, tragedy struck at St. Frances, with the accidental death of Father David. I had been in his office the Thursday before, then attended his last Mass on the Saturday prior to his death. We had talked for an hour, during which I shared with him my experience of Mary. He agreed to come and preach at My Father’s House in January of 2017. I felt a real kinship with this elderly priest.

In his Saturday homily, two days after that conversation, Father David spoke of Christ being crucified between two thieves. He walked back and forth across the sanctuary (altar area) as he spoke, and as I watched him intently, I saw a pink-rimmed aura appear all around him. As he walked, the aura remained with him. The last words of his homily were, “Today you shall be with Me in paradise!” And he gestured broadly to the large crucifix on the wall behind him. When Father David consecrated the Eucharist, I remarked to Georgia, seated next to me, that I felt there was something extremely holy about him that afternoon. When he held up the host, still surrounded by a pink aura, I wished I could take a photograph so that I could try painting it later. Four days after that Mass, our beloved Father David died in a freak accident.

I attended his viewing, the vigil, the funeral, and the interment of his ashes. This was now my church, my priest, my sorrowing church family, and I cried with the rest of them. The funeral was unlike any I had ever attended: The Knights of Columbus led the casket down the aisle, and every priest in the diocese who could come was dressed in white, standing in the sanctuary. The bishop looked entirely regal, walking down the center aisle with his crosier (shepherd’s staff) in hand. The shared testimonies from the priests and family members brought both laughter and tears. Finally, it was time to go forward for the Eucharist. I was in the line for the Bishop and was thrilled to receive his blessing.

The memory of that funeral stayed with me for weeks. I had never experienced anything like it. There really is nothing quite like the beauty and kindred spirit of the Catholic family. I truly felt that I belonged. I was eagerly looking forward to the evening of the Saturday before Easter, when new converts are received into the Church, and I too could experience my Savior in the Eucharist.

Meanwhile, back at My Father’s House, I was busily trying to put things in order so that I could step back from the pulpit. With the church located in a chapel on our farm, it wasn’t easy to find a replacement who would be content to preach in a semi-hidden location down a semi-paved road. Additionally, I was bringing a new perspective to my sermons that I knew the next pastor probably wouldn’t bring.

Around this same time, I bought a concrete statue of Mary as a Christmas present for my friend Gloria, bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t have one for myself, as my congregation probably wouldn’t tolerate it. But at the statue store that day I encountered a four-foot stone statue of Mary, Our Lady of Grace, at a greatly reduced price. My husband encouraged me to go ahead and get her. After she was delivered, I put her in the back of the carport so I could paint her without anyone seeing her. I had never painted on concrete before, and it was quite a challenge. But after two months, she was perfect: the snake was an awesome rattlesnake with a nasty green eye, and Mary was painted in gold, brown, and white, with a crown of 12 stars on her head and a rosary in her hand.

Even my husband liked the statue and built a concrete platform to install her in the garden area in front of our home, just to the left of the chapel. In December, three of us struggled to move the 500 pound Mary statue to her new home. I put a solar light in front to illuminate her at night. I was so pleased with how she looked. But my happiness was short-lived.”

Love,
Matthew

Mary & the Rosary lead Non-denominational pastor: Part 1 of 4


-for greater detail, please click on the image


-by Anne Barber, Anne was born in Haddonfield, NJ. From age seven, she began traveling the world with her parents, as her father’s jobs with the US government took them to live in Germany, Iran, and Brazil. Later, she received a BS from San Diego State University with a double major: Zoology and Spanish, and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Miami School of Law. She still holds an active law license in Florida. The same year she entered law school, Anne completed her studies for ordination through the Evangelical Church Alliance. She began leading mission trips to Cuba twice a year for 8 years beginning in 2003, completing a total of 16 trips. In 2004, Anne was one of the founders of My Father’s House, a nondenominational church in Ellenton, FL, and pastored for 12 years. During this time, she was a regular contributor to the clergy column, Faith & Values, in the Bradenton Herald. Her journey into the Catholic Church began in 2016.

How It Began

In early August 2016, my life suddenly changed — irrevocably and forever. It began on the night I picked up a rosary and a “How to Pray the Rosary” pamphlet, sat in the candlelight on my front porch, and prayed it for the first time. From the first prayer, tears began to roll down my cheeks. As I stumbled over — then embraced — the sentence, “Holy Mary, Mother of God,” I felt a distinct motherly presence next to me. Unseen, yet comforting, consoling, inviting. I remember saying, “Mary, if you’re there, I could sure use a mother.” And a response came, “I chose you.”

Since 2004, I had pastored My Father’s House, an Evangelical church in Ellenton, and later Parrish, Florida. I am also an attorney and a licensed member of the Florida Bar. I had never given Catholicism even a passing thought. But I had a number of rosaries in my house, thanks to my dear friend, Gloria Martinez, who had worked for me for 10 years. Gloria was a devoted Catholic woman who truly lived her faith. Over the years, she obligingly provided me with rosaries. First I asked her for a red rosary to hang in my red car. Then a blue one to hang on a blue stained glass mirror. Then rosaries for friends who saw mine and wanted one. Of course, they were only for decoration, since I absolutely did not believe Mary was anything more than Jesus’ earthly mother.

Like most evangelicals, I believed Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. But I also believed Mary had at least seven other children with Joseph after Jesus was born (Matthew 13:55–56). I felt the title “Mother of God” bordered on blasphemy.

Now, sitting on my porch, speaking to the warm presence I felt near me, I was immediately able to put all my prior concepts about Mary aside. They simply didn’t matter any more. What mattered was that she had apparently entered my life, and I decided to let her show me who she was.

I had discovered the EWTN Catholic television network, and had begun watching the programs. Soon I ordered a painting from their Catalogue, one of Mary holding the infant Jesus and a lamb in her arms, entitled Innocence. I also ordered two books by Mother Angelica. I put the painting on my bedroom wall, where any parishioners entering my home would not see it.

One night, as I sat on the bed, reading one of Mother Angelica’s books, I looked up at the painting, and it seemed as if I saw one of Mary’s hands move. I kept watching, and it did move! So did her head, as she bent down toward the baby. Then her mouth opened as if she were speaking to the child. (However, I heard no sounds.) Following this, it seemed His head turned up to look at her. Finally, she appeared to sway back and forth as if rocking the baby and the lamb, with her dress clearly blowing in the wind!

What?! I was so startled that I took off my glasses and put them on again. Surely this was some sort of optical illusion. But no, the painting began to move again. Now I was frightened! Was there something evil about this painting? Was this woman about to step out of the painting into my bedroom? Was God displeased that I had been talking to Mary? That I had hung the painting? I prayed to God that it would stop moving. It sort of did, but I felt there was still an entity in my room, and it scared me.

The next day, I tried to contact Gloria, to ask her about it, but I couldn’t get in touch with her. That night, the painting moved again. This time, the lamb also opened its mouth, as if it were bleating, and the baby’s face turned red, as if he had been awakened and was about to cry. The third night, too, the painting moved as if it were a living scene, and rays of light shone out from the painting into the room. Absolutely shocking!

I decided, then and there, that I either needed a psychiatrist or a priest! The following day, I visited a local Catholic church, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Parrish, FL. My husband, Bob, and I had been there before to visit their thrift store. Afterwards, on one or two occasions, we entered the empty sanctuary to see the artwork and statuary. I’d even given a donation to light a candle for prayer requests. 

On the day after the third evening of seeing the painting of Mary come alive, Bob accompanied me to St. Frances’ thrift store, and I asked one of the workers how I could learn more about the Catholic Church. The thrift store lady kindly informed me that RCIA classes were beginning the following week, and if I was interested, I should visit the office. She explained these were classes for adults inquiring about the Roman Catholic Faith, and that taking the classes did not mean I had to become Catholic.

We went to the church office. Bob is a retired Lutheran Pastor, now pastoring a Community Church part time. He loves to “talk shop” with other clergy, and asked to see the priest. The retired priest in residence, Father David, graciously made time for him, and the two of them went to a conference room. I spoke with the secretary, meanwhile, asking her about the RCIA classes. She immediately recognized me from my photo in the Bradenton Herald, for which I wrote an occasional article for the Pastors’ “Faith Matters” section. “You want to know about the classes for yourself?” she asked incredulously.

Next, I spoke with the woman in charge of parish education, and cried when I related my experience with the Rosary. When I told her of the moving picture of Mary, she didn’t react adversely, but explained what an “apparition of Mary” was. It was if I were being propelled quickly in this new direction. I didn’t know it then, but Mary had taken me firmly by the hand and was leading me step by step to her Son in the Eucharist.

I was assigned a wonderful RCIA teacher, Georgia, who agreed to teach me privately, so as to not expose me to folk in the community who might know who I was. (“To prevent scandal,” she said.) My husband was nonplussed, having decided I was going through some sort of “phase” that would pass. He even agreed to attend a morning Mass or two with me.

Georgia suggested she attend daily Mass twice a week with me, to answer any questions, and afterwards, we could meet for class. The second Mass Bob and I attended was on a Tuesday. For the Eucharist, Georgia explained that I could go forward, cross my arms when I got to the priest, and receive a blessing. I happily did so. After Father spoke the blessing over me, I felt like an anointing had been poured on me. I could physically feel a warm, weighty substance on the top of my head. When I got back to my seat, I said to Georgia, “I felt something. I can’t move.” She replied, “God is pouring out His graces on you.” I knew right then that there had to be something profoundly different about the Catholic Communion and began intensely desiring to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist.

The Mass ended with a novena to the Virgin Mary. Bob could barely tolerate listening to it and later reiterated the Protestant view on what he termed “Catholic heresies.” I didn’t care. Something had happened to me, and I wasn’t going to fight it. I knew that God was sending me in this direction and that I would become Catholic. Not because of the Church’s great theology, or because the Fathers of the Church were convincing, or because I had thoroughly analyzed my experiences in light of scientific evidence, or because I understood anything intellectually. Simply put, I had met Mary. She had made herself known to me, crept into my heart, and I was already prepared to follow her anywhere she led me.”

Love,
Matthew

Any weapons to declare? Yes, I do!


-by Br John Mark Solitario, OP

“As Mother Teresa passed through the airport security checkpoint, she had to endure that embarrassing procedure that is part and parcel of our troubled times: “Any weapons on your person?” Unexpectedly, the childlike yet remarkably bold sari-clad woman replied in the affirmative! She did have a weapon. She then indicated the Rosary beads dangling from her hand.

This story is told as one of many insightful accounts in Marian Father Donald H. Calloway’s recently published Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon. Many Dominicans throughout the world have endorsed this book for its historical and practical value. Fr. Bruno Cadore, successor to St. Dominic and Master of the Order of Preachers, hopes that it will help form “fervent and enthusiastic apostles of the rosary for our times.” But how?

Fr. Calloway presents a careful and very readable history of the Rosary’s development and its significance in the spreading of the Gospel. He traces it back to medieval accounts of prayer beads used by monks and soldiers to recite the “Angelic Salutation” (cf. Lk 1:28) and the “Our Father.” This led to the more widespread popularity of the “Psalter of our Lady,” some 150 “Hail Mary’s” mirroring the monastic chanting of the Psalms. Then came the Dominican innovation: pre-existing prayer beads met the friar-preacher’s desire to instill the saving mysteries of Christ’s life in the hearts and imaginations of the faithful. From St. Dominic onward, the “Hail Mary” became “a weapon and a rose” to defend faith in the God who became man and to draw close to the Mother who leads us to salvation in her Son. And the prayer became immensely popular!

Champions of the Rosary traces the spiritual impact of this “Gospel of Jesus Christ on a string of beads,” worn and prayed by countless priests, brothers, nuns, sisters, and lay confraternity members over the years. Indeed, it appears that Christian civilization was advanced at several crucial junctures through the faithful praying of the Rosary. Victories that saved Christian Europe at Lepanto and Vienna, the devotional intuition of suffering indigenous peoples in America and Asia, and apparitions of the Blessed Virgin especially prevalent in recent times all testify to the power of this prayer. In addition to praising its many virtues, Fr. Calloway addresses the challenges that this very Catholic devotion has posed to various figures and times, from Martin Luther to the scientific concerns of the 20th century. Most of all, this book boldly fosters zeal by reflecting on the lives that have been transformed through praying the Rosary.

Fr. Calloway turns to a host of personal witnesses to complete his case for the authenticity and power of this devotion. Twenty-six “champions of the Rosary” (including St. Dominic, Bl. Bartolo Longo, and St. Teresa of Calcutta) have remarkable stories about the Rosary and its role in advancing the Gospel and crushing temptations to doubt and despair. He devotes special attention to examining Rosary artwork in order to show the prevalence and beauty of this devotion. Finally, a section with Scripture-based meditations, explanations of relevant indulgences, and information on joining associations devoted to the Rosary gives us what we need to take up this much-used tool of Christian holiness.

It has been said that the Rosary is refreshment for spiritual giants and food for beginners in faith. As much as we desire peace in this tumultuous world and want harmony in our own lives, we might be anxious to find anything that can lead us toward that for which we thirst. Fr. Calloway’s book joins Mother Teresa in suggesting a “weapon” more powerful and penetrating than any blade or pistol: “Peace will come into the world through Mary. But first in our hearts. Pray the Rosary with faith.””

Love,
Matthew

Bring back the Rosary

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berrigan
-by Rev. Daniel Berrigan, SJ

This article appeared in the October 1978 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 43, No. 10, pages 24-25).

“Religious devotions are a little like lost-and­-found objects. Something gets lost, at least in the sense of losing sight of it. And then we come on it again, unexpectedly perhaps, lying there at our feet. It had been there all the time. But now it has about it a kind of glow, a patina. It is something like an old coin, the gospel says; we have every right to rejoice in finding it again.

All sorts of arguments can be lined up against the above. The rosary, it will be adduced, went out with the other immigrant clutter. And good riddance. It belonged to a former state of things, to a partial understanding of what was central and what merely hung around at the edges. More, it was another weapon in the arsenal of the gargoyles who held us captive on perches, chattering the tunes, and ringing the changes of Baltimore Catechism Number One.

Something like this occurred in the course of my benighted childhood. We lined up for the rosary as we lined up to take our cod-liver oil. In both cases, unpleasant medicine was considered a specific against world, flesh, and devil. Religion was medicinal; you took your medicine. I think I was too habitually low in spirit even to question the diagnosis or to revolt at the cure.

Well, things changed, but not much. In the novitiate they gave us a rosary, a huge one this time. It was to be looped around one’s cincture—some said to form the letter M for Mary; others said no, it was a sword. In any case, this enormous, chained object was neither lost nor found, but sternly, gratuitously conferred, like an Immortal soul. It could also, unlike a soul, be flipped around the neck; there it hung, every day, as we wandered the acres reciting the mysteries. Huge cocoa beads, a linked chain of such impregnability that today it might serve in the streets of the Big Apple, to protect one’s parked bicycle from felonious hands. Indeed, this was no kid stuff, but a formidable engine of salvation. Some Jesuits around our time discarded the Big Fifteen. This was serious; we were warned against backsliding. Indeed, Our Lady had confided to some saints that wearing the rosary and reciting it would ensure one’s vocation, for good and forever.

All of which “makes to reflect,” as the French say. When things get urged too hard in this matter of salvation, they usually end up getting discarded too easily. There’s always that little gyroscope in the soul trying to keep a balance. It took most of us not more than five years to scuttle the rosary for good. The act, I think, was a perfectly wordless argument against the big pitch. We simply let it all go. It didn’t mean we gained a great deal; indeed, it might be argued we lost considerably. But I think we were asserting our self-respect in one of the few ways open to us; in those days, we would make our own way in prayer and symbol, for a change.

Still, rosary or no, it is important that faith commend itself, make sense to those who profess it. Very little else in life makes sense today, or is designed to, once we get beyond the tawdry chatter. But the faith has a public calling. As the culture creaks along and breaks up, the importance of a public faith, a living (and kicking) tradition, only grows. What else do we have by way of resource or sanity? In such circumstances, I think the faith is called to raise very hell—if we are not all to end up in hell. I mean here and now, in this world, where official insanity has concocted the ultimate weapon (the ultimate symbol of the culture): a bomb that will leave buildings intact and wipe out the only expendable thing around—people.

So here we are. We are not going to get far in this business of survival without all the help we can muster. That means Jesus and Mary. And Joseph even. And all that cloud of witnesses who in one way or another hearkened their own voices and visions, were stubborn kickers against Caesar’s goal, refused to lie down and die at the behest of Big Huff, or walked to their own drummer. Their crime, as I understand it, was to stand at the opposite moral pole from the neutron bomb. That is to say, they valued people over property. That made criminals of many among them. That ought to make criminals of us to the degree that in the eyes of the Big Mastiffs the phrase “criminal church” would even be redundant.

How then do we get that way, which was the way of Jesus and the saints? At its deepest, there isn’t any “how.” There is only the way.

The rosary takes us along that “way” which the book of Acts uses as another word for Christianity itself. A series of mysteries. Moments in the life of that moving target, Jesus. The short stops of the long-distance runner, where we too may savor (share?) his loneliness.

I think we need that. My thinking of our need, of course, adds nothing and subtracts nothing. Yet I insist on it, our need. I long with all my cranky, double-dealing heart to belong to a reality that all my life long presses on me. The reality of Jesus, his life and death and comeback. Events that, far from shaking the world, bring it a far greater gift—rebirth.

I need to know that Jesus lived and died and the manner of his living and dying. Call it medicinal; call it antidote. I need an antidote to America. I need to live and die in a manner different from the way I am commanded to live and die in a tin-can culture, a culture which manages by a marvelous sleight of hand to be at the same time lethal, ridiculous, and immensely seductive.

Now the above, as I scan it, suffers from a defect. It is written in the past tense. But Jesus has no past tense. Who says he lived; who says he died; who says he rose from the dead? The 15 mysteries are a drama of the present, big as life, unfinished as today, untidy even.

But the neutron bomb, and all its malevolent ancestors and progeny, is pure past, passé. Bypassed. Not merely in the sense that the monkey wrenches will shortly concoct another even more lethal tin can to flatten this one. But from the point of view of existence itself, bombs are passé. Violence is passé. War is passé. If we discern the Mystery (Paul puts it always in the singular), we know this. Wars, bombs, slums are the junk of that junk culture which has simply withered away to allow us to get reborn.

Do we choose to get reborn? Or do we choose to wither away? According to the mystery of the rosary, we choose neither the one nor the other.

We can only choose to be chosen. That is all. Jesus chooses; the initiative is his. But that is already a great deal. So great a deal, in truth, that we shall spend our eternity dizzily, ecstatically trying to grasp it.

But to speak of the present, one thing seems fairly clear. (And given the American church, what follows is bound to be a minority, even a miniscule, opinion.) We cannot at one and the same time choose America and be chosen by Christ. We cannot serve God and mammon. “Mammon” here being a catchall word for that ball of snarls, that concatenation of money, sexism, racism, consumerism, appetite and futility and nausea, that fork in the tongue of authority, that tic of violence, that dread of neighbor, that night sweat at the presence of death—let us say, those 15 or so infernal “mysteries” to whose worship the culture summons us. To adore. To be depraved and deprived and degraded and disenfranchised. And then, to be transformed. In the image of that which we adore: stocks and stones and neutron bombs.

And finally, the whole thing explodes. As it was meant to do. That is to say, the ruling image and reality of our lives becomes a nuclear one. We cannot get things together, keep them together. Neither marriage nor friendship nor a reasonably sane sense of ourselves nor a modest place in the world. We are bombed out by the demons. All of which perhaps brings us back to our subject, to that non-nuclear, companionable, compassionate found object.

I don’t want to come on as a pusher for the rosary. We have too many pushers already—for almost every gimmick under the sun. Who needs gimmicks? We need only to be still, to resign from rat races where a few win and many lose and all, according to the metaphor, are reduced to rodents. We need our humanity, that lost object. Can the rosary help us? Will we one day cry aloud in exaltation like the woman Jesus tells of who found her lost coin? We, having found our precious, lost, squandered sense of ourselves? There is not one mystery of the 15 (now 20) that is not also a clue to who we are, to where we come from, to where we might go. In a night without stars.”

I, for one, NEED the Rosary. When praying it, I soar, I fly. (Not physically.) 🙂 No joke. I do. Praise God!!!  Come, fly with me!!!

Love,
Matthew

Our Lady of the Rosary & Victory & grace of & prayers for a happy death

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O my Lord and Savior, support me in my last hour by the strong arms of Thy sacraments and the fragrance of thy consolations. Let Thy absolving words be said over me, and the holy oil sign and seal me; and let Thine own body be my food and Thy blood my sprinkling; and let Thy Mother Mary come to me, and my angel whisper peace to me, and Thy glorious saints and my own dear patrons smile on me, that in and through them all I may die as I desire to live, in Thy Church, in Thy faith, and in Thy love. Amen.
Bl John Henry Cardinal Newman

“O Dearest Lady, sweet Mother mine, watch the hour when my departing soul shall lose its hold on all earthly things, and stand unveiled in the presence of its Creator. Show thyself my tender Mother then, and offer to the Eternal Father the precious blood of thy Son Jesus for my poor soul, that it may, thus purified, be pleasing in His sight. Plead for thy poor child at the moment of his (or her) departure from this world, and say to the heavenly Father: Receive him (her) this day into Thy kingdom! Amen.

Through your help I hope to die a happy death. O my Mother I beg you, by the love you bear my God, to help me at all times, but especially at the last moment of my life. Do not leave me, I beseech you, until you see me safe in Heaven, blessing you and singing your mercies for all eternity. Amen, so I hope, so may it be.”
St Alphonsus Ligouri

Grant unto us, Lord Jesus, ever to follow the example of Thy holy Family, that in the hour of our death Thy glorious Virgin Mother together with blessed Joseph may come to meet us and we may be worthily received by Thee into everlasting dwellings: Who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.

Lord Jesus, pour into us the spirit of Thy love, that in the hour of our death we may be worthy to vanquish the enemy and attain unto the heavenly crown: Who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.

Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that in the hour of our death we may be refreshed by Thy holy Sacraments and delivered from all guilt, and so deserve to be received with joy into the arms of Thy mercy. Through Christ our Lord.

hyacinth_grubb
-by Br Hyacinth Grub, OP

“It was not too long ago that I stood in a hospice center praying at the bedside of a friar in his final hours. At one point the social worker on duty came in to offer some surprising advice: leave him be. She told me that some people prefer to die alone, and that they’ll hold on until the room is empty. She described dying as “a wonderful expression of our autonomy.” Our society celebrates autonomy in all its forms, but this advice seemed particularly audacious. Especially because the limits of autonomy are most transparent at the end, when suffering and death strip away our illusions of ultimate power and self-determination.

It’s not that we don’t have a real power to choose, or that our will isn’t free, or that our choices are unimportant. Though, in a certain sense, the many choices we make throughout our lives on earth are really many acts of just one choice: the choice to pursue God or to pursue ourselves. We are continually deciding whether to worship God or ourselves, to follow His will or our own, and, ultimately, whether to accept His gift of Himself (heaven) or reject it (hell). In this way we are faced with the same choice that the angels had, but we decide it differently. For the angels are more noble beings, and when they were created they chose in a single act of the will. We, as men and women living in time and constrained by our physical natures, have to make this choice throughout our lives, in our daily acts. Our choice, and how each of our acts moved us toward it, will be the subject of our particular judgment.

Every act of ours is therefore a movement giving primacy to God’s will or to our own will. And in this sense it could be said that the most autonomous souls, the most independent, are those deepest in hell. Having chosen to reject every help, they have chosen instead to be utterly alone.

To speak of autonomy at someone’s deathbed is a futile grasp at a failing value. But what is proper to speak of, then? It’s not an academic question — we will all be there sooner or later. When we reach our end, facing a fate that seems to be a final defeat, what do we cling to? (For we should cling to something other than ourselves.) We should cling to our Savior and trust in His mercy.

We cling to Jesus and His Mother Mary, and especially to the lifeline that they have given to us in the rosary. Holding onto the rosary, we are pulled out of darkness and into light. Through the rosary we anchor ourselves in the mysteries of Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection; in those chains of beads we are tangled up within His salvific love, we are bound to His divine life. There is a reason that Our Lady of the Rosary and Our Lady of Victory are two names for the same feast day. For in repeating the Hail Mary we repeat the names of Jesus and Mary, and we recall that in the Incarnation God “emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:6) We ask Mary to pray for us, now and until the end. We ask her to be with us, and to not leave us to face the sting of death on our own. So that, remembering Christ’s victory over death, we can echo the bold words of St. Paul: “Death, where is thy victory? Death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)

What better way to live and to die than in the rosary, in the continual repetition of those two holy and sweetest names of Jesus and Mary? What better way than by begging, again and again, for Mary’s intercession? So we stayed by our brother’s side in his final moments, praying the rosary when he could not. And in such a way may “the angels lead [us] into paradise,” may the martyrs receive us into the Holy City of our God, with the names of Jesus and Mary sounding in our ears and written on our heart.”

Love,
Matthew