Milwaukee Catholic Mamas

The month of October has been dedicated to the rosary. (Photo by Colleen Jurkiewicz)

Every year since the time of Pope Leo XIII, the Church has dedicated the month of October to the Rosary. October has many tie-ins with the rosary — the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, which lent its date (Oct. 7) to the celebration of Our Lady of Victory and later Our Lady of the Rosary. Our Lady of Fatima gave us “The Miracle of the Sun” on Oct. 13, 1917. And October is also home to the feast days of several Marian saints, like St. Therese of Lisieux and Pope St. John Paul II.

If ever a year needed a month dedicated to rosary, it would be the year 2020.

Pandemic? Check. Social unrest? Double check. Election? Just around the corner. Economic upheaval, attacks on religion and on the religious, the rise of a culture of chaos which denies the very existence of objective moral truths — to dwell on it all is to be tempted into a sin against the Holy Spirit, that of despair.

St. Dominic felt, in the year 1214, much like we do today. He had spent his priestly career traveling from town to town preaching against the Albigensian heresy (for a full understanding of this heresy and its doctrines, read “The Albigensian Attack” by Hilaire Belloc), with little effect. He retreated to the forest to engage in penance and prayer. It was in that forest, tradition holds, that the Virgin appeared to him with the solution to the problem — the Marian Psalter, a collection of Hail Marys and Paternosters said upon prayer beads. The Psalter had been in existence for some time but, heretofore, without any meditative element concerning the lives of Jesus and Mary. This addition of the mysteries — Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious — gave the rosary an evangelical dimension that could fuel St. Dominic’s efforts against the Albigensian errors.

Against the rosary — containing as it does the very prayer taught by Christ and the Angelic salutation that heralded his coming into this world — the devil has been shown, time and time again throughout history, to have no power.

“This life is nothing but warfare and a series of temptations; we do not have to contend with enemies of flesh and blood, but with the very powers of hell,” wrote St. Louis de Montfort in “The Secret of the Rosary.” “What better weapons could we possibly use to combat them than the Prayer which our great Captain taught us, and the Angelic Salutation which has chased away devils, destroyed sin and renewed the world?”

“The prayer is composed of words proceeding from God Himself, from the Archangel Gabriel, and from the Church,” writes Pope Leo XIII in “Octobri mensi,” one of his many encyclicals about the rosary. In the same encyclical, he beseeches the faithful to embrace anew this ancient devotion, “especially in the passage of difficult times.” Though it was promulgated in 1891, “Octobri mensi” speaks to a world that is not so unlike our own. The Pope writes of “a storm of evils” — specifically, the erosion of a sense of religion in the world, and Catholics who have grown lukewarm in their faith.

“How grateful and magnificent a spectacle to see in the cities, and towns, and villages, on land and sea — wherever the Catholic faith has penetrated — many hundreds of thousands of pious people uniting their praises and prayers with one voice and heart at every moment of the day, saluting Mary, invoking Mary, hoping everything through Mary,” he wrote. “Through her may all the faithful strive to obtain from her Divine Son that the nations plunged in error may return to the Christian teaching and precepts, in which is the foundation of the public safety and the source of peace and true happiness.”

A popular historical anecdote details how Oliver Cromwell, who was tasked by the English government with subduing Roman Catholicism in Ireland during the English Civil War, wrote to Parliament decrying his own poor progress. “You gave us the money, you gave us the guns,” he is said to have written. “But let me tell you that every house in Ireland is a house of prayer, and when I bring these fanatical Irish before the muzzles of my guns, they hold up in their hands a string of beads, and they never surrender.”

We have no control over this pandemic, mamas. We have no control over who wins the election next month (even if it is our duty to vote righteously). We cannot singlehandedly heal racial divides. And though we can strive to be Christs in our families and our communities, we cannot convert the world.

But we can say our rosary. Like St. Dominic, we can retreat into a figurative forest of prayer each day, and emerge with our weapons in hand. We can hold up our beads, and we can never surrender.

Stayed tuned for more stories on the impact the rosary has had in the lives of Milwaukee Catholic moms.