October and the Rosary
October – The Month of the Holy Rosary
Tradition holds that October has been celebrated as the month of the rosary since 1571, and the victory of the Catholic League (an alliance of Spain, Venice, the Papal States, Genoa, Savoy, and Malta) over the forces of the Ottoman Empire who were seeking to take over Italy in an effort to move into the heart of Europe. It was October 7, 1571 when the battle was fought and the Catholic League was able to overcome the Ottoman forces.
Prior to the ships sailing off towards battle, Pope Pius V prayed the rosary, asking for Our Lady’s intercession in victory, and every man on board carried a rosary. For this reason, as soon as the men returned from the battle, the good pope declared a feast day for Our Lady of Victory. A rosary procession was offered in St. Peter’s square after the victory and in time the whole month became associated with the rosary, rather than just one day. Pope Leo XIII officially established October as the Month of the Rosary in the 1884. That year, he published Superiore Anno, an encyclical which was focused on recitation of the holy rosary. In it, he called for the entire Church to dedicate the whole of the month to the rosary and pray it daily:
“Last year, as each of you is aware, We decreed by an Encyclical Letter that, to win the help of Heaven for the Church in her trials, the great Mother of God should be honored by the means of the most holy Rosary during the whole of the month of October. In this We followed both Our own impulse and the example of Our predecessors, who in times of difficulty were wont to have recourse with increased fervor to the Blessed Virgin, and to seek her aid with special prayers. . .
. . . We therefore decree and make order that from the 1st of October to the 2nd of November following in all the parish churches, in all public churches dedicated to the Mother of God, or in such as are appointed by the Ordinary, five decades at least of the Rosary be recited, together with the Litany. If in the morning, the Holy Sacrifice will take place during these prayers; if in the evening, the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed for the adoration of the faithful; after which those present will receive the customary Benediction. We desire that, wherever it be lawful, the local confraternity of the Rosary should make a solemn procession through the streets as a public manifestation of religious devotion.”
The encyclical referenced churches named for the Blessed Virgin, especially, and was written in response to an illness that was spreading in Europe, emphasizing that Europe’s need for intercession was particularly great. Still, the decree was meant for all of the Catholic Church and the practice continued for most of the next century.
However, in more recent years devotion to the rosary overall has not been what it once was, and so interest in celebrating October as Month of the Rosary has waned as well. Many churches, whether named for Mary or not, do not have a public rosary throughout the month and there has not been much publicized about reviving this.
In part, this seems to have come about due to some misconceptions after the Second Vatican Council concluded. One aim of the council was to ensure that Marian devotion remained balanced. Church documents reiterated the value of Marian devotion, but also re-emphasized the truth of her role as an obedient servant to God:
“Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator. For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer.” (Lumen Gentium - Pope Paul VI, 1964)
Abolition of the rosary, Mariology, or devotion to Mary was never the intent of the Second Vatican Council. The council in fact recommended fervent devotion to Mary and never said anything against the rosary. However an evening Mass replaced some evening services that had previously included Marian devotions, and the faithful were expected to no longer pray the rosary during Mass (which was not uncommon to see in a Latin Mass in the early 60s and before) but to participate in the Mass by attending to what was taking place at the altar. Many assumed that these things together were implications that Marian devotion should be repressed. This was not true, but there was some decline in devotion to the rosary during those next few decades.
Interest in the rosary began to be revived when in 2002, Pope John Paul II gave the world 5 new mysteries on which to meditate, and reiterated the value of the rosary as Christological prayer at its core. The world was in need of someone to speak out and encourage the rosary as a form of devotion again, and Pope John Paul II did this. It seems that devotion to the Blessed Mother through the rosary is increasing again. However, October as Month of the Rosary still does not enjoy the full participation by the faithful it once did.
This October would be a great time to work on changing that. Try calling your local parish; perhaps they do have a daily, public rosary planned for the month that has not been well-publicized. If they don’t, see if something can be scheduled for the month. If that is not a possibility, consider implementing a family rosary or a group rosary with friends or some others from your parish. If you do not pray a rosary daily as a private devotion, begin to do so this October. Aquinas and More has plenty of resources to help you, whether you are a beginner or have loved the rosary for years. We have everything from rosary beads and books on the rosary to rosary CDs.