Our Lady of the Rosary-
From Commerce to Holiness
by Father Reginald Martin, O.P.
The Feast of the Holy Rosary
Over centuries, profits from trade made
a center of art and culture. But with the fall of Constantinople in
no longer dominated the valuable Mediterranean trade routes to the east.
Four generations of
merchants tried to maintain neutral relations with both
and Moslem forces, but they grew frightened when the strategic port of
fell to the Turks in 1522.
Fifty years later (in
1570), when the
the surrender of Cyprus, the Venetians appealed to
Pius V, who assembled a multinational naval expedition that engaged the
at Lepanto, near the Bay of Corinth, on
Christians were greatly outnumbered in
this encounter. They commanded only 214 boats
and 80,000 troops. The Turkish
force totaled 120,000 troops, about
225 galleys, and an additional
50 smaller boats. The battle occurred at a time of
transition in naval warfare, and Lepanto stands as the last great naval
engagement in ships powered by oars. Every schoolchild knows how the battle ended. The
weather, which favored the Turks at dawn, changed, and
Christian forces were able to overwhelm their
enemy. 9,000 Christians
died in the battle, but
were released from slavery in Turkish galleys. Turkish
losses were far greater. Even by modern standards, these are amazing statistics for a
single battle, fought within a single day.
Pius V, a Dominican,
the Rosary throughout the battle and
attributed the victory to the intercession of the Blessed
Virgin. Hence the feast of Our Lady
the Rosary, October 7, is so
dear to Dominicans and their friends. But the Pontiffs were not the
only prayers addressed that day to the
The Christian troops are said to have
throughout the night before the battle, and some sources say that the rhythmic
repetition of the prayer thoroughly
frightened and demoralized the Turkish host.
Modern sensibility may question the propriety of finding
hand in such a bloody undertaking - and for no better reason than to protect commercial
interests - but those who fought at Lepanto had no doubt that
God accomplished remarkable results from these
less than promising beginnings. The Church
does the same thing, taking the anniversary of a bloody victory and transforming it - not
by concentrating on the battle, but by focusing on the
that won the battle.
These prayers continue to take the
fallen stuff of our lives and transform it into something
noble and fine.
In the Rosary we have the opportunity to
contemplate all the human events we are
familiar with - birth, death,
and triumph - and to
them by identifying our experience of these events with the experience of
the same events in the lives of Our Savior
The Mysteries of Light, Part I
We do not need to be physicists to appreciate the wonder of
It makes things
it makes them warm - no
wonder Our Savior is called the
Light of the World, and no wonder that we
welcome His birth when the world is at its
and coldest - at least in the Northern Hemisphere.
Light has another property that we
sometimes forget: it makes things safe. We
have only to attempt to negotiate familiar territory during a power failure to realize the
immense difference light makes in our
perception and ability to master our world.
What better title, then, than "Mysteries of Light"
to describe the additional Mysteries the
Father introduced in October, 2002,
to inaugurate a special Year of the Rosary. These events in the
life of Our Savior, taken directly from the
Scripture, expand the traditional
fifteen decades of the
and invite us to consider particular moments and ways in which
brightened, warmed, and made our lives safe by sharing
Light and Life with us.
The First Mystery:
The Baptism of the Lord
We are appropriately humbled by the magnitude of the
but what the primitive Church found even
more sublime than
birth into our flesh were the
or manifestations of Christs divinity
through our flesh. The most famous of
these, of course, is the revelation of Christ's majesty
to the wise men when they made their pilgrimage to Bethlehem
and laid their gifts at the feet of the newborn king.
We encounter a
epiphany when the gospel tells us
presented Himself to be
announced "This is My beloved Son with Whom I am well
pleased" (Matthew 3:17). We can become spoiled by our
familiarity with the gospel story, so we may not be shocked by these accounts of the
worlds early encounters with Jesus.
But the gospel is a story about us, so each of these epiphanies is an
invitation to feel new surprise and a renewed sense of awe as we discover that although
the Jesus in our midst looks very ordinary,
He is no mere
There are three very important messages
in the mystery of
baptism by John in the Jordan. The
first is that
looks so familiar we can easily miss Him.
God tells the prophet
"Here is My Servant . . . He shall bring forth justice for the nations
[but] not crying out, not shouting, not making His voice heard in the street"
(Is. 42:2). Unlike the public figures we may be familiar with,
has very little to say for Himself, so we
must be very alert to recognize Him when
He comes into our lives.
The second thing we must realize is that
the flesh which makes the
Incarnate Word so indistinguishable from the rest
of us is capable of some astonishing feats. Again,
speaks to the prophet Isaiah, "I have
called You for the victory of justice... [I] have set You as a covenant of the people, a
light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from
confinement, and from the dungeon those who live in darkness" (Isaiah
The third thing we must realize is that
if Jesus looks so much like us, then we must
look a great deal like Him. There are as
many individual vocations as there are individuals in our midst, but our common vocation
as Christians is to live up to the
nobility of this
we share with Christ. The
Spirit may not have descended as a dove at our
baptism, but the effect was the same. Our
baptism is an
God initiated in history to make us
children, anointed to be a covenant, a
light, and the
The birth of Jesus - like any of our
births - is the beginning of a long process of growth and development. At the
tells Mary, "The
Child you are to bear shall be called the Son of God" (Luke
1:32). The future tense of that "shall"
does not mean that Jesus will suddenly
become something He wasn't before. It means
that His right to the title "Son of God" is something that will become clearer as
the gospel story unfolds.
At Jesus Baptism Gods voice
confirms what the angel promised
calls us to respond to the mighty acts God
initiated when the Spirit descended at our
baptism. In one of his orations
of Nazianzen urges us, "Christ is
illumined, let us shine forth with Him . . . ." And he continues,
"be cleansed so that you may be like lights for the world . . . and stand
as perfect lights beside that great Light, and learn the mystery of the illumination of
heaven . . . ."
The Second Mystery:
The Wedding at Cana
The Marriage at Cana - by
VERONESE, Paolo -
from Musée du Louvre, Paris . . . .
This depiction of the Marriage at Cana reminds us of the Kingdom of God which Christ often
compares to a banquet. Click to enlarge.
St John the Evangelist relates the events at
a mere eleven verses, much less than a
single page. But these verses contain a wealth of
instruction for the Christian willing to
learn. St John introduces the story of the wedding at Cana
by telling us - even before he mentions that Jesus
and his disciples were among the guests - that "the mother
of Jesus was there" (John 2:1). This gives a hint of the
part Mary will play in the drama that
unfolds, but it tells us a great deal more.
The title "the mother of Jesus" occurs
only twice in St John:
here, and where we encounter her again at
the foot of Christ's
(John 19:25). At Cana the
of Jesus is concerned for the reputation of
a newlywed couple who will be disgraced if
they fail to provide adequate hospitality for their guests. At
she becomes the
Eve, concerned for the welfare of everyone
entrusts to her when
bids her "behold
your son" in the evangelist who stands for
Cana marks the beginning of
ministry, Calvary its conclusion. The
feast reminds us of the Kingdom,
which Christ often compares to a banquet; on
completes the sacrifice that gains us entry
to that everlasting feast.
Mary's remark to
at Cana ushers in His work
among us, and her presence at the
Cross witnesses its triumphal conclusion.
Mary is present at all the important moments in
Jesus life, and because so little of
her personality intrudes in the gospel story, we
are called to find ourselves wherever we encounter
Mary tells the servants to
"do whatever He tells you," and they fill the water jars to
the brim. St John calls us to identify ourselves with those servants,
doing the bidding of Christ at the
invitation of His
When our Holy Father visited Ireland in
1979, he prayed to
At this solemn moment we listen with particular attention to
your words . . . and we wish to respond to your words with all our heart. We wish to do
what Your Son tells us . . . to carry out and fulfill all that comes from Him, all that is
contained in the Good News, as our forefathers did for many centuries . . . .
St Bernard takes the desire to do
will one step further, identifying in the
water jars "the six observances which the
holy Fathers laid down for the purification of the hearts of the faithful."
The first is
the third hard personal work so that we may
not live by the sweat of anothers brow, but by our own. Bernard
identifies the fourth jar with
prayer vigils by which we may
hope to purchase back some of the time we have
wasted. The fifth jar is
silence, the safeguard of religion, and the
through which we learn to live not by our own will
but by the will of another.
The water jars, St John tells us, held between
and thirty gallons, thus yielding between
one hundred twenty and
hundred eighty gallons of exquisite wine.
The volume and quality of the wine at
demonstrate both our Savior's
munificence. Of the former
teaches, "It belongs to magnificence to do something great"
(Summa, II-II, 134.2);
the latter is the generous spirit that moves an individual to perform such noble, external
Two final thoughts should occupy us as we
meditate upon this mystery. The
sanctification of marriage,
the second the larger significance of this
sign for the entire world. St Cyril remarks,
many things . . . are prefigured at the same time by this
singular and earliest sign. For honest nuptials are sanctified, and the curse that was
laid on womankind is taken away. No more shall she bring forth children in sorrow, since
Christ has placed His blessing on the beginning of human generation.
The old admonition before
reminded a couple that the vows they were about to profess were "most sacred and most serious" because
mankind "a share in the greatest work of creation, the continuation
of the human race." Christ blessed
at Cana, and made it a sign
of His divine sacrificial love for the
Underlying everything else at Cana is
affirmation of the goodness of creation.
Changing water into
relieved an anxious host and his bride, but it is also a
of what Christ has done for us by taking on
our flesh, transforming the dull water of
our everyday existence into something extraordinary and of