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  A Christian Faith Magazine June 2003, Volume 8, Issue 11  
Under the Banner of Our Lady
Peter Cipriani
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Pope Pius V
Pope Pius V

The year was 1571. Muslim navies had reached the gates of the Mediterranean, and beyond it lay the last unconquered frontier of Christendom. Every Christian held his breath and watched these invaders prepare to conquer his civilization and destroy his religion. If the invaders penetrated, it was feared, the crescent would soon replace the Cross on top of Saint Peter's Basilica. Confronted with this threat, Pope Pius V rallied his children to prayer and urged them to seek the protection of The Holy Virgin. On October 7th at Lepanto, the outnumbered Christian fleet, sailing beneath the banner of Christ crucified, set out to engage the Muslim forces. As cannon fire exploded and clashing swords sparked, a different battle was raging on the shores of Italy. Armed with their rosaries and tenacious faith, the Christian people laid siege to Heaven with a steady bombardment of sustained prayer. On that day, as the Christian fleet was defeating the enemy in a near miraculous victory, the Pope saw a vision of the dismantling of the Muslim ships and joyously declared Christendom safe under the Blessed Mother's newly-won title of "Our Lady of Victory. " The rosary had won the day.

Begun as a devotion several centuries before Lepanto, the rosary has blossomed into the most beloved of all Church prayers. Over four hundred years after that fateful battle in 1571, Pope John Paul II continues to lead the Christian people into spiritual warfare. When he marked the twenty-fourth anniversary of his pontificate on October 16, 2002, he added five new mysteries to the rosary, the "Luminous Mysteries," and declared this year to be a Year of the Rosary. In the Apostolic Letter entitled Rosarium Virginis Mariae which our Holy Father issued on that occasion, he says that "the rosary is my favorite prayer. A marvelous prayer! Marvelous in its simplicity and its depth...At the same time our heart can embrace in the decades of the rosary all the events that make up the lives of individuals, families, nations, the Church, and all mankind." We can incorporate into this powerful prayer all the needs and concerns of ourselves and of our family; friends, and neighbors. By adding to the rosary more mysteries to meditate on the life of Jesus, the Pope has fortified the arsenal we can use in our own spiritual battle against evil.


The Holy Father notes that the rosary "marks the rhythm of human life." Yet it is precisely this rhythm or repetition that arouses suspicion about the rosary from many people. They refer to the Scripture verse in which Christ says, "In praying, do not babble like the pagans who think that they will be heard because of their many words. The kind of repetition that the rosary evokes, however is radically different from the kind to which Christ refers. As the theologian Romano Guardini succinctly states, "What else is the beating of the heart but a repetition...and yet it makes the blood circulate through the body. What else is breathing but a repetition?" All of life has its rhythms, as the setting and rising of the sun remind us daily. The spiritual realm is no different from the natural world. In fact, the heart and soul of a person should be in rhythm with the divine heartbeat and the breathing of the Incarnate Christ, who provides for us the most essential rhythm of all. As the Holy Father proclaims, the rosary brings us "into harmony with the rhythm of God's own life, in the joyful communion of the Holy Trinity, our life's destiny and deepest longing." Furthermore, each time we clasp the rosary, we place our hands in the hands of the Blessed Mother and travel with her on those same roads which lead us from our Savior's birth, to His public ministry, into the agonizing torments of His Passion and finally to the triumph of His Resurrection and Mary's Universal Queenship. Exploding with Scriptural references, the rosary is a tender conversation with Christ and Mary and places us beside them at each pivotal moment in their lives. It is a Gospel classroom where one is schooled in the lives and example of Christ and Mary; and where we open ourselves to the graces and insights which enable us to grow in holiness.

Given the current secular climate, Holy Mother Church is rallying us to pick up our swords and shields once again and fly to the aid of our Holy Father, who leads us behind the banner of Our Lady of Victory, to engage in what has now become a spiritual Lepanto. The invading armies of sin and Satan have ravished our society and decimated the stability of family life in particular. Here at the North American College, the rosary is like a set of lungs that keeps this house breathing. Whether we recite it each Saturday with our Rector, daily before lunch, on the streets of Rome going to and from class, or each morning during Lent when its echo rises up to nudge the still waking dawn as seminarians and priests walk to each Station Church, the rosary is a sacred chain that binds us to Christ and his Gospel. As in Lepanto in 1571, so now in 2003, the Catholic call to arms, led by our Holy Father, is, heard once more: "Today I willingly entrust to the power of this prayer the cause of peace in the world and the cause of the family."

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