Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of the Most Holy Rosary
(Our Lady of Victory)

Ever since Islam's inception in the early 7th century, its practitioners have been battling against Christians. And from the 11th century on, Muslim Turks warred against the Christian Byzantine Empire, chipping away at it until they replaced it with an empire of their own -- the Ottoman Empire. Always -- always -- seeking to conquer, they eventually turned their attention to Crete and Cyprus, which were under Venetian rule, and were very strategic assets in terms of trade. Though there was a peace treaty between the Ottomans and Venice, a Portuguese Jewish financier, Joseph Nasi,1 talked his friend, the Sultan, into war, hoping that he himself would be crowned King of Cyprus when it was over.

So, in 1570, around 400 Ottoman ships landed in Cyprus. The Venetians were radically outnumbered, so they surrendered after being told they could leave peacefully. But the Muslims lied, and went on to slaughter 20,000 people, taking women and little boys as slaves. The Christian commander, Marcantonio Bragadin, was killed in the most vile manner:

[T]he Turk compelled his noble prisoner [Bragadin] to carry loads of earth upon his shoulders for the repair of the walls, and to kiss his feet each time he passed before him; and not yet satisfied with the indignities he heaped upon him, he had him hoisted up aloft on the yard-arm of a vessel in the harbour, where he kept him exposed for hours to the gaze and scoff of the infidels, and then suddenly plungediiim into the sea. At last, after trampling him under foot, he doomed him to be flayed alive in the public square. The indomitable commander, who united in himself the resolute courage of a chivalrous soldier with the supernatural patience of a Christian martyr, amidst his untold agonies betrayed not a sign of pain, uttered not a murmur or a complaint against his torturers, but, as they stripped the skin from his quivering flesh, calmly prayed and recited aloud from time to time verses from the Miserere and other Psalms. When the Christians in the crowd heard him breathe the words, Domine , in manus tuas commendo spirittm meum, they thought he was rendering up his life to God; but tnere followed in tender accents, — as if to show Whose sufferings in that hour of agony were most present to his thoughts, and Whose meek and loving spirit then filled his inflexible and dauntless soul, — Pater, dimitte illis; non enim sciunt quid faciunt; and with this prayer for mercy on his tormentors the brave soldier of Christ passed to receive the martyr’s palm. But Turkish malice was not even yet exhausted. Mustapha caused the brave man’s body to be cut into four quarters, and each to be attached to the muzzle of the largest guns. His skin was stuffed with straw, and, together with a representation of our Divine Lord in His adorable Passion, paraded through the camp and through the town fastened on the back of a cow. Finally, he despatched both figures as trophies to the Sultan his master, with the head of Bragadino and those of the two murdered commanders. At Constantinople the skin of the heroic martyr was hung up as a spectacle for the Christian galley-slaves.2

In response to this barbarity, Pope Pius V formed what became known as "The Holy League" -- an army of Italians, Spaniards,3 and Hapsburg subjects whom he put under the command of Don John of Austria, the half-brother of Philip II of Spain, and the illegitimate son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.4

While the Holy League was preparing itself for battle, the Pope asked Catholics to pray the Rosary and ask Our Lady of Victory to come to the aid of her people. The people did. And she did: on October 7, the Muslim and Christian naval forces met up in the Gulf of Patras, a branch of the Ionian Sea in Western Greece, near the Greek City of Nafpaktos, which the Venetians called "Lepanto."

The Battle of Lepanto. Click to enlarge.

The battle began around noon on October 7, 1571, and when it did, the wind was working against the Christians' ships. But the wind suddenly shifted, and by that evening, it was all over. Within a few hours, the Christians soundly defeated the Muslims, killing 30,000 of them (7,500 Christians were lost), liberating thousands of Christian slaves, and destroying 117 of the Muslims' 189 galley ships and about a quarter of their galiot ships. 10,000 Muslims were taken prisoner.

All of October is especially devoted to the Holy Rosary, but because of the Christian victory at Lepanto, Pope Pius V ordered that the first Sunday of October be set aside especially to appreciate the devotion and to honor the Blessed Virgin as Our Lady of Victory. He also bestowed upon Mary the title of Auxilium Christianorum (Help of Christians), adding it to the Litany of Loreto. Clement XI extended the feast to the entire Church, and Pius X later fixed its celebration on October 7, which is when we celebrate it today -- the Rosary as a spiritual weapon that begs Our Lady of Victory to act as the Help of Christians. Consider these words from Pope Leo XIII's Supremi Apostolatus Officio:

This devotion, so great and so confident, to the august Queen of Heaven, has never shone forth with such brilliancy as when the militant Church of God has seemed to be endangered by the violence of heresy spread abroad, or by an intolerable moral corruption, or by the attacks of powerful enemies. Ancient and modern history and the more sacred annals of the Church bear witness to public and private supplications addressed to the Mother of God, to the help she has granted in return, and to the peace and tranquillity which she had obtained from God. Hence her illustrious titles of helper, consoler, mighty in war, victorious, and peace-giver.  And amongst these is specially to be commemorated that familiar title derived from the Rosary by which the signal benefits she has gained for the whole of Christendom have been solemnly perpetuated. There is none among you, venerable brethren, who will not remember how great trouble and grief God's Holy Church suffered from the Albigensian heretics, who sprung from the sect of the later Manicheans, and who filled the South of France and other portions of the Latin world with their pernicious errors, and carrying everywhere the terror of their arms, strove far and wide to rule by massacre and ruin. Our merciful God, as you know, raised up against these most direful enemies a most holy man, the illustrious parent and founder of the Dominican Order. Great in the integrity of his doctrine, in his example of virtue, and by his apostolic labours, he proceeded undauntedly to attack the enemies of the Catholic Church, not by force of arms; but trusting wholly to that devotion which he was the first to institute under the name of the Holy Rosary, which was disseminated through the length and breadth of the earth by him and his pupils. Guided, in fact, by divine inspiration and grace, he foresaw that this devotion, like a most powerful warlike weapon, would be the means of putting the enemy to flight, and of confounding their audacity and mad impiety. Such was indeed its result. Thanks to this new method of prayer-when adopted and properly carried out as instituted by the Holy Father St. Dominic-piety, faith, and union began to return, and the projects and devices of the heretics to fall to pieces. Many wanderers also returned to the way of salvation, and the wrath of the impious was restrained by the arms of those Catholics who had determined to repel their violence.

The efficacy and power of this devotion was also wondrously exhibited in the sixteenth century, when the vast forces of the Turks threatened to impose on nearly the whole of Europe the yoke of superstition and barbarism. At that time the Supreme Pontiff, St. Pius V., after rousing the sentiment of a common defence among all the Christian princes, strove, above all, with the greatest zeal, to obtain for Christendom the favour of the most powerful Mother of God. So noble an example offered to heaven and earth in those times rallied around him all the minds and hearts of the age. And thus Christ's faithful warriors, prepared to sacrifice their life and blood for the salvation of their faith and their country, proceeded undauntedly to meet their foe near the Gulf of Corinth, while those who were unable to take part formed a pious band of supplicants, who called on Mary, and unitedly saluted her again and again in the words of the Rosary, imploring her to grant the victory to their companions engaged in battle. Our Sovereign Lady did grant her aid; for in the naval battle by the Echinades Islands, the Christian fleet gained a magnificent victory, with no great loss to itself, in which the enemy were routed with great slaughter. And it was to preserve the memory of this great boon thus granted, that the same Most Holy Pontiff desired that a feast in honour of Our Lady of Victories should celebrate the anniversary of so memorable a struggle, the feast which Gregory XIII. dedicated under the title of "The Holy Rosary." Similarly, important successes were in the last century gained over the Turks at Temeswar, in Pannonia, and at Corfu; and in both cases these engagements coincided with feasts of the Blessed Virgin and with the conclusion of public devotions of the Rosary. And this led our predecessor, Clement XL, in his gratitude, to decree that the Blessed Mother of God should every year be especially honoured in her Rosary by the whole Church.

Finally, note this feast's similarity to the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary on September 12, when the Christian victory over Muslims at the Battle of Vienna is remembered -- the battle that finally ended Muslims' attempts to overtake Europe (well, until mass migration came about in spite of its being against the will of the people...)


Some may prepare for this feast by praying a Novena to Our Lady of Victory beginning on September 28 and ending on October 6. As to the feast itself, it's a given that today is a good day, as is every day, to pray the Rosary! And it's a good day, too, to pray the Litany of Our Lady of Victory.

As to music for this feast, Jacobus de Kerle wrote Cantio octo vocum de sacro foedere contra Turcas (Song in Eight Voices on the Holy League Against the Turks) to commemorate the Battle of Lepanto:

And there is this hymn to the Queen of the Holy Rosary that is a good fit for the day as well:

O Queen of the Holy Rosary,
O bless us as we pray,
And offer thee our roses
In garlands day by day,
While from our Father's garden,
With loving hearts and bold,
We gather to thine honour
Buds white and red and gold.

O Queen of the Holy Rosary,
Each myst'ry blends with thine
The sacred life of Jesus
In ev'ry step divine,
Thy soul was His fair garden,
Thy virgin breast His throne,
Thy thoughts His faithful mirror,
Reflecting Him alone.

O Queen of the Holy Rosary,
We share thy joy and pain,
And long to see the glory
Of Christ's triumphant reign.
Oh, teach us holy Mary,
To live each mystery,
And gain by patient suff'ring
The glory won by thee.

As to entertainments for the day, G. K. Chesterton wrote a poem, Lepanto, about this Christian victory. You can read it here: Lepanto (pdf).

And to keep your children busy, you could arrange for them to make a "rosary" by stringing popcorn, in the same way one strings popcorn to decorate a Christmas tree. You'll need a long needle, heavy thread (or fishing line), plain popped popcorn (if it's popped a day ahead, it will be easier to string),  a Cross shape cut from a piece of bread (a pumpernickel bread would be nice color-wise), and whatever you'd like to use for the Pater beads (dried apricots would work). Your child could eat it later, or he could take it outside and hang it on a tree for the birds and squirrels.

Or, if you prefer, you can print out this pdf of Rosary parts that your child can color in, cut out, and glue on to a piece of paper to make a "rosary." He would draw the rosary chain to "connect" the pieces: Rosary Craft (pdf)

--- While we're on the topic of children and rosaries, if your child is able to read, make sure he has the Rosary's prayers in print so he truly understands the words and is better able to remember them. I'm sure you don't want your kids thinking the Ave goes "Hail Mary, full of grapes," or that the Pater's text includes the line, "Harold be Thy name."

Those who are able might want to make a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, New York, the result of a dream had by Father Nelson Baker. His parish church -- dedicated to St. Patrick -- suffered a fire, but instead of rebuilding the church as it was, he was inspired to build a magnificent church on par with those of Europe, and to dedicate it to his patroness, Our Lady of Victory. He rallied the people, and made his dream come true: in just 5 years, the church -- now a basilica -- was built and paid for. And it is splendid. You can take a 3D tour here:

Those in Italy might consider a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Virgin of the Rosary of Pompei, which has an interesting history. A lawyer named Bartolo Longo, a Satanic priest who ridiculed Christianity, experienced a miraculous conversion through the influence of a saintly Dominican priest. Repenting of his ways, taking the Blessed Virgin as his patron, and praying her Rosary as his great spiritual weapon, he devoted himself to penance and making reparation for the damage he'd caused in his former life. He moved his law practice to Pompei -- the city, spelled in English as "Pompeii", which was buried by Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79. While there, he decided that the best thing he could do was to spread the practice of praying the Rosary, and to that end, he started a Confraternity of the Rosary, spread around Rosary pamphlets, and rallied locals to help him restore an old, dilapidated chapel in the area.

He looked for ways to beautify the building, and a nun in Naples offered him a painting of Our Lady of the Rosary with St. Dominic and St. Rose. He found the painting to be rather hideous, later writing,

Alas! No sooner did my eyes fall on it than my heart stopped. Not only was the picture old and wormeaten, but the face of the Madonna, instead of being that of a Virgin all sweetness, holiness and grace, seemed rather that of some course, rough woman of the people.

— Who ever painted that picture? Mercy on us! — I could not prevent myself from exclaiming, with a tone of voice half way between fright and surprise. I felt in my heart that the poor Pompeians would find great difficulty in experiencing any sort of devotional influence and feeling any kind of love for the Rosary with such a picture before them.

To the deformity and unpleasantness of the face must be added the fact that a full palm of canvass was missing directly above the head. The mantle was cracked, and time and wormeaten, and in many places the colors had fallen off altogether because of the cracks. Nothing can be said of the hideousness of the other figures. Saint Dominic, on the right, more than a saint, looked like a street idiot; to the left was a Saint Rosa, with a fat, rough, vulgar face, who looked exactly like a country-girl crowned with roses.5

But he didn't want to offend the nun, and he had nothing else, so he took the painting, fixing it so it looked a little nicer and so that St. Rose became St. Catherine of Siena. The image was placed in the restored chapel in 1875.

Click to enlarge

And miracles began to happen -- the first being the cure of a young girl who suffered from a severe case of epilepsy. Hundreds of miracles followed! Word spread, and pilgrims came, so plans for a larger church were put into action, with 300 locals pledging a penny a month to build it. The cornerstone for new church was laid on May 8, the church was 1876, consecrated in 1891, and it was enlarged and raised to the level of a basilica in 1939. The miraculous image was officially coronated by Pope Paul VI in 1965.

After the death of Bartolo Longo -- the "Apostle of the Rosary" -- he was declared a "servant of God" and was later beatified. And ever since the miracles that happen at Pompei began, many, especially Italians, invoke Our Lady as "the Blessed Virgin of the Holy Rosary of Pompeii" or simply as "Our Lady of Pompeii." Padre Pio had a great devotion to Our Lady of Pompeii, making many pilgrimages to her shrine. On his deathbed, he asked that a rose given to him by a devotee be taken to the basilica and offered to Our Lady by placing it in front of her miraculous image. It remains there, incorrupt, to this day.

Note that a practice related to Our Lady of Pompeii is the praying of the "Supplica" -- a Solemn Petition of Prayer to Our Lady of Pompeii --  at noon on May 8 (the date the cornerstone of the Basilica at Pompeii was put down) and at noon on the first Sunday of October (the original date of the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary). This prayer -- link below -- was written by Bartolo Longo, and Pope Leo XIII granted an indulgence to all who prayed it on the above dates.

Of interest, too, in Italy is an event which takes place not today, but every three years, in August: in Spelonga, in the Marche region -- about 100 miles northeast of Rome -- the Battle of Lepanto is remembered in a unique way in a days-long feast they call "la Festa Bella." At noon on the first day of the Festa Bella, the men gather in front of the Church of St. Agatha while the bells peal wildly. The women bring food they've prepared, and feed the men who then go off to the forest for three days. While in the forest, they cut down a large tree, clean it of its branches, and level the bottom so they can more easily drag it by hand back into town. The hewn tree arrives at the town square, greeted by the sound of the bells wildly pealing once again. Then the tree is further prepared, and then hoisted to act as a ship's mast, and at the top of it they hang a Turkish flag -- a copy of a seized original which came from the Battle of Lepanto and which is now kept in the church. Around the mast, the shape of a great ship is built up out of fir branches, and fir branches are used all over the town as decoration.


From "The Liturgical Year"
by Dom Prosper Gueranger

It is customary with men of the world to balance their accounts at the end of the year, and ascertain their profits. The Church is now preparing to do the same. We shall soon see her solemnly numbering her elect, taking an inventory of their holy relics, visiting the tombs of those who sleep in the Lord, and counting the sanctuaries, both old and new, that have been consecrated to her divine Spouse. But today's reckoning is a more solemn one, the profits more considerable: she opens her balance-sheet with the gain accruing to our Lady from the mysteries which compose the Cycle. Christmas, the Cross, the triumph of Jesus, these produce the holiness of us all; but before and above all, the holiness of Mary. The diadem which the Church thus offers first to the august Sovereign of the world, is rightly composed of the triple crown of these sanctifying mysteries, the causes of her joy, of her sorrow, and of her glory. The joyful mysteries recall the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth of Jesus, Mary's Purification, and the Finding of our Lord in the Temple. The Sorrowful mysteries bring before us the Agony of our blessed Lord, his being scourged, and crowned with thorns, the carrying of the Cross, and the Crucifixion. While, in the glorious mysteries, we contemplate the Resurrection and Ascension of our Saviour, Pentecost, and the Assumption and Coronation of the Mother of God. Such is Mary's Rosary; a new and fruitful vine, which began to blossom at Gabriel's salutation, and whose fragrant garlands form a link between earth and heaven.

In its present form, the Rosary was made known to the world by St. Dominic at the time of the struggles with the Albigensians, that social war of such ill-omen for the Church. The Rosary was then of more avail than armed forces against the power of Satan; it is now the Church's last resource. It would seem that, the ancient forms of social prayer being no longer relished by the people, the Holy Spirit has willed by this easy and ready summary of the Liturgy to maintain, in the isolated devotion of these unhappy times, the essential of that life of prayer, faith, and Christian virtue, which the public celebration of the Divine Office formerly kept up among the nations. Before the thirteenth century, popular piety was already familiar with what was called the psalter of the laity, that is, the Angelical Salutation repeated one hundred and fifty times; it was the distribution of these Hail Marys into decades, each devoted to the consideration of a particular mystery, that constituted the Rosary. Suchi was the divine expedient, simple as the Eternal Wisdom that oonceived it, and far-reaching in its effects; for while it led wandering man to the Queen of mercy, it obviated ignorance which is the food of heresy, and taught him to find once more " the paths consecrated by the Blood of the Man-God, and by the "tears of his Mother."

Thus speaks the great Pontiff who, in the universal sorrow of these days, has again pointed out the means of salvation more than once experienced by our fathers. Leo XIII., in his Encyclicals, has consecrated the present month to this devotion so dear to heaven; he has honoured our Lady in her Litanies with a new title, Queen of the most holy Rosary; and he has given the final development to tbe solemnity of this day, by raising it to the rank of a second class Feast, and by enriching it with a proper Office explaining its permanent object. Besides all this, the Feast is a memorial of glorious victories, which do honour to the Christian name.

Soliman II, the greatest of the Sultans, taking advantage of the confusion caused in the "West by Luther, had filled the sixteenth century with terror by his exploits. He left to his son, Selim II, the prospect of being able at length to carry out the ambition of bis race: to subjugate Rome and Vienna, the Pope and the Emperor, to the power of the Crescent. The Turkish fleet had already mastered the greater part of the Mediterranean, and was threatening Italy, when, on tbe 7th October, 1571, it came into action, in the Gulf of Lepanto, with the pontifical galleys supported by the fleets of Spain and Venice. It was Sunday; throughout the world the confraternities of the Rosary were engaged in their work of intercession. Supernaturally enlightened, St. Pius V. watched from the Vatican the battle undertaken by the leader he bad chosen, Don John of Austria, against the three hundred vessels of Islam. The illustrious Pontiff, whose life's work was now completed, did not survive to celebrate the anniversary of the triumph; but he perpetuated the memory of it by an annual commemoration of our Lady of Victory. His successor, Gregory XIII , altered this title to our Lady of the Rosary, and appointed the first Sunday of October for the new Feast, authorizing its celebration in those churches which possessed an altar under that invocation.

A century and a half later, this limited concession was made general. As Innocent XI, in memory of the deliverance of Vienna by Sobieski, had extended the Feast of the most holy Name of Mary to the whole Church; so, in 1716, Clement XI inscribed the Feast of the Rosary on the universal Calendar, in gratitude for the victory gained by Prince Eugene at Peterwardein, on the 5th August, under the auspices of Our Lady of the Snow. This victory was followed by the raising of the siege of Corfu, and completed a year later by the taking of Belgrade. [Ed. In 1913, the feast was moved to October 7.]


1 A few notes about Joseph Nasi: He was a proto-Zionist, wanting to get Jews to move to Palestine or, barring that, to Cyprus, which he, as said, expected to rule. Before the Battle of Lepanto, his cousin was convicted of blowing up one of the Christians' munitions depot in Venice. He also involved himself in the Eighty Years War: the Jewish Virtual Library entry on the man says, "In 1569 he encouraged the Netherlands' revolt against Spain and a letter of his, promising Turkish support, was read out at a meeting of the Calvinist consistory of Amsterdam."

2 From "The Knights of St. John: with the Battle of Lepanto and Siege of Vienna," by Augusta Theodosia Drane, 1858

3 Among the Spaniards at the Battle of Lepanto was Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. He was badly injured, losing the use of his left arm. Four years later, in 1575, he was captured by the Muslim Barbary Coast pirates who'd been raiding the coasts of Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, England, and the Netherlands, taking Christians as slaves, for many, many long decades. After 5 years, he was ransomed by the Trinitarians, an Order like the Mercedarians who specialized in ransoming Christian captives.

4 Note that the French are missing from the Holy League: King Francis I not only did not send men, he sided with the Turks because they were the enemies of his Hapsburg rivals.

5 "History of the Sanctuary of Pompei, dedicated to the Most Blessed Virgin of the Rosary," by Bartolo Longo, 1895. This book is available in this site's Catholic Library.

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