Rorate Caeli

Sermon - The Rosary: In Lepanto as Today, God is Concerned with the presence of Truth in the World He Created

Fr. Richard G. Cipolla
Sunday, October 11, 2015
XX Sunday After Pentecost

Last Wednesday was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  It is a feast beloved by so many Catholics, for the Rosary is one of the most popular, in the best sense of that word, prayers among Catholics.  

And rightly so.  For the power of the Rosary lies in its essence as prayer, in the affirmation of our faith that begins this prayer, where we affirm our faith in the oldest of all the Creeds, where we pray that prayer taught to us by the Lord Jesus himself in which we address God as our Father, where we use the angelic salutation to Mary as the means, the springboard, to a contemplation of those events in the life of our Lord that are the historical bases of our faith.  For Christianity, like Judaism, is an historical faith, its basis is in our time and place; it is not merely other worldly but is linked deeply and finally in our time and place in this world. The lynch pin of the Rosary lies in the prologue of the Gospel of St. John: and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. It is the Incarnation of God in the flesh, the making of the infinite Word of God flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, that lies at the heart not only of the Rosary but the whole Christian faith itself. 

 But the Rosary has a history. It did not drop down from heaven like the dew in Rorate Caeli nor was it discovered on tablets in upstate Connecticut.  There is an association of the Rosary with St. Dominic and that link is protected by pious recollection.  Whatever the origin of this prayer, there is no doubt that by the fifteenth century it is one of the widespread forms of prayer in the Church.  

Both Judaism and Christianity are historical religions, not merely in the sense that they have an origin and unfolding in history but also that they are convinced that God works in human history, even if many times that working is not clear, but nevertheless real. How God works in human history is not clear, it is not something that one can point to with definition, but nevertheless, one can and must insist that God acts in human history and his will for us lies at the heart of history even if we cannot see this clearly.  God could not save us who live in human history if he not only entered human history in the person of his Son but also if he does not continue to guide the course of human events.  The Jews understood this deeply. For the Old Testament writers there is no doubt the history of the Jews is the history of the relationship between the Jews as God’s chosen people and God himself.

The Jews never believed in objective history, as if history is a dispassionate recording of mere events through time where the viewpoint of the observer or writer has no relationship to the events themselves.  This brings us to the origin of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, whose origins lie not only in piety but in history, specifically the history of the West.  If we had been alive in the 16th century we would have been existentially aware of not only of the religious upheavals caused by the Protestant Reformation, not only of the strong and necessary response of Catholic Counter-Reformation, not only of the exploration of what was known as the New World, but also of the constant and ever more serious threat to Christian civilization by the Turkish-Muslim determination to conquer the Christian West.  Things rapidly came to a head in the late sixteenth century when the Muslim forces captured Cyprus and besieged Malta.  The plan of the Turks was to attack Rome itself, and remember what time this was in the history of the West, to attack and conquer Rome and so establish Islam not only in Europe but in the New World as well. Under Pope St Pius V a coalition of forces gathered from Spain, Genoa and the Papal States was assembled to oppose the forces of the Turks.  The Pope, St Pius V, no touchy feely guy, asked the whole Christian world to pray the Rosary for the success of the battle against the Turks and the preservation of Christian civilization. For that was what was at stake:  Christian civilization, something not perfect, and yet open to perfection through the Christian faith.  So the Pope led a Rosary procession in Rome, and Christians throughout Europe prayed the Rosary.  And despite being outnumbered in ships and in men, the Christian forces prevailed at the battle of Lepanto, off the coast of Greece.   And in response the Pope instituted the feast of our Lady of Victory.  The next Pope changed the name of the feast from Our Lady of Victory to our Lady of the Rosary.  But if you go to the church of S. Maria della Vittoria in Rome, a church I love because it is so over the top baroque, you will see there a painting of the battle of Lepanto and Our Lady offering her intercessions for the Christian forces.  And so in this way Our Lady of Victory became our Lady of the Rosary.  But it was still a local feast.  It was not until the battle of Vienna in 1683, in which the Muslim forces of the Ottoman empire were at the gates of Vienna, the entrance to Europe, and where the great Polish Catholic John Sobieski rallied and led the troops against the Muslim forces-here once again Christian civilization was saved when Pope Clement XI in thanksgiving for this deliverance from the hands of the enemy extended the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary to the universal Church. 

And so you see that the roots of this wonderful feast lie not only in the piety of the people but also in history, the history of the Christian West.  And this feast is rooted in the peculiar understanding of history that Christians share with Jews that God acts in history in behalf of truth against error. And while it is dangerous to declare at any given time what is God’s action in history, especially to declare that his action is in behalf of this nation or that, this group or that,  and this pertains to papal conclaves as well, the Catholic Christian cannot believe that God does not act in history in behalf of what is true and what is consonant with his will. To deny this is to fall back on Newton’s God who created all things and got bored and went away and left us on our own.  Or worse:  to believe that if there is a God, he is ultimately not concerned with the presence of truth in the word he created.

And so some may conclude from all of this that we once again stand at Lepanto and at the gates of Vienna, given the increasing Muslim presence in Europe and the West and the strain of violent Islam that is wreaking havoc in the Middle East today. That certainly bears consideration. But the enemy of Christian civilization, that is, Western civilization, today is mainly the decadent Christian West. We are the enemy.  It is not the Vandals and Goths who threaten us with pillaging and destruction. It is not the Franks and Gauls, who after all became the French who became the arbiters of good taste.  It is we who are the enemy, we who have succumbed to the powerful siren call of that secularism that destroys any objective basis for beauty, goodness and truth. 

And what is the antidote to the poison that spreads through our society, that not only denies the truth of the Christian faith but that also insists that there is no truth at all except in the totally subjective sense?  I dare say what the antidote is, and I say it knowing that in saying it I am a worm but no man, in saying it I am speaking into the wind that will bear my words away as soon as I have spoken them.  It is true that there is not just one antidote to the contemporary poison that threatens us in the name of freedom and mercy and love.  But one part of the antidote is the worship of God in Spirit and in truth. And yet the worship of God in the Mass has been broken for so many years, broken in the sense that the worship of God is confused with the worship of man, of each other, that in the words of Roman Guardini modern man is no longer capable of worship of God, because he is totally self-referential and so totally consumed with himself.

 One of the antidotes to the poison that afflicts the world and the Church is how we worship in this parish.  The priest and the people, according to the Tradition of the Church, face God together to pray and to offer the Holy Sacrifice in every Mass celebrated in this church.  The altar rail has been restored, and our people are welcomed to come to kneel before the Lord as did the Wise Men at the Epiphany and as did St. Peter himself in his unworthiness before the Lord.  The beauty of this church has been restored so that it is now a fitting place for the worship of Almighty God to whom we must give our best. This parish is where children of all ages are learning how to sing that music that lies at the heart of Catholic worship, namely Gregorian chant and polyphony and in doing so are transformed by their entering into the beauty of the Catholic musical tradition.  But above all --and this is no put down of nor prejudice against those who come to the Novus Ordo celebrations of the Mass that is the Ordinary form of the Mass, either in English or in Spanish, who are in fact the majority of this parish and who are faithful in the deepest sense of that word.  Nevertheless, it is the presence of the Traditional Mass in this parish that forms the core of the renewal of this parish and from here the renewal of the whole Church will come forth. The Traditional Mass lies at the very heart of Christian civilization. The history and development of the Roman Mass is coterminous with the history and development of Christian civilization.  And it continues to be where Catholics can enter the sacred Tradition itself whose center is Christ and thereby be strengthened to fight the battle for that civilization that has Christ at its center, and therefore has Love at its center. The recovery of the Tradition of the Church and its becoming a living reality in our people at this time in history is the key to the future of the Church and to winning the battle against the foes of Christian civilization. 

 May our Lady of the Rosary pray for us that we have the courage to fight for truth, goodness and beauty and the strength to do it with that Love that has already conquered in the world, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.