The historic and memorable happenings of October 7, 1571, the first Sunday of the month, gave rise to the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. The Western world faced total disaster and ruin from the Turks whose powerful fleet had already mastered the greater part of the Mediterranean and was actually threatening Italy. St. Pius V and other Christian leaders, convinced that only supernatural help could now ward off the oncoming invasion, turned their eyes heavenwards and begged their heavenly Mother to intercede on their behalf. The saintly Pontiff also asked that the Confraternities of the Holy Rosary intensify their devotion on this October 7 and celebrate it with an even greater solemnity.
It was on this day, indeed, that the allied Christian naval power encountered the confident Turkish fleet in the Gulf of Lepanto. It is said that while the all-important battle raged, Pius V, favored with a heavenly vision, exclaimed: “Victoria, Victoria!” The enemy fleet, in truth, suffered a deadly blow which broke the backbone of the Turkish power. It was not the Pope’s privilege to celebrate the anniversary of this momentous grace of God. His days had come to an end, but not before his proclamation of March 17, 1572, to the effect that in public thanksgiving to Mary and in deep appreciation for her protection, a special commemoration be given to her on October 7 under the title of Our Lady of Victory.
Gregory XIII, his successor, altered this title to Our Lady of the Rosary, and on April 1, 1573, decreed that the new feast be kept on the first Sunday of October, authorizing its celebration in those churches which possessed an altar under that invocation. One hundred years later, at the request of Mary Anne, Queen of Spain, this feast was extended to all of Spain, and shortly after, to numerous dioceses of Italy and other countries. On October 3, 1716, as a public acknowledgment for the victory gained by Prince Eugene of Savoy over the Turks in Hungary on August 5 under the protection of Our Lady of the Snow, Clement XI promulgated a document, prepared by his predecessor Innocent XI, extending the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary to the universal Church. Leo XIII elevated the feast to the rank of double of the second class. Finally, Pius X, in his Motu proprio of October 23, 1913, assigned the feast to October 7. (1)
The Late Fr. Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M., was a world-renowned authority on Mariology and the founder of The Mariological Society of America. This article was excerpted from Mariology, Bruce, 1961, Vol. 3.
(1) Cf. E. Campana, Maria nel culto cattolico, Torino, 1933, Vol. I, pp. 407-413.