On this day, the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary (that resides within October, the Month of the Holy Rosary), The Catholic Gene takes a look at the centuries-old devotion that is making a resurgence in the lives of the faithful and may have played a role in the daily life of many of our Catholic ancestors’ families.

In her recent article, Full of Grace: Reclaiming the Rosary, Alice Camille, M. Div. gives a nice overview of the recent renewed interest in the Rosary and its value as a tool to “ponder the greatest events in salvation history” through the eyes of Mary, the young woman from Nazareth who watched them unfold before her.  As explained on the Catholic Culture website, “The Rosary is a Christocentric setting forth of the entire life of Jesus Christ, the passion, death, resurrection and glory.”

The Rosary is a series of prayers repeated while those praying (individually or in a group) focus their thoughts on the various moments of joy, light, sorrow and glory during the life of Jesus and his mother Mary.  The prayers are inspired by – and often taken word for word from – the Bible. In the rhythm of prayer that the Rosary creates, the faith-filled Catholic can take time within his or her day to rise from the duties and tasks of everyday life, and to find inspiration for living.

The Nativity: the third joyful mystery used for meditation during the Rosary*

It is a way of prayer that has been practiced by Catholics throughout the world for centuries. As far back as the 13th century, the Rosary was present within the church close to its current form, and was being promoted by religious orders such as the Dominicans, Franciscans, Cistercians and Servites. Since various family branches of my Eastern European ancestors lived in an area with a strong Franciscan influence, I have no doubt that the Rosary played a role in their faith lives for many generations.  (More on the devotion to the Rosary within my family tree in an upcoming article later this month.)  If you, too, have Catholic ancestors, chances are that this traditional way of prayer was a part of their lives, too.

The Hail Mary - a central part of the Rosary - printed here in the Croatian language*

During the 15th century as the Ottoman Empire was ravaging Eastern Europe (Constantinople had fallen to the Turks in 1453), devotion to the Rosary was growing throughout much of the continent. In the year 1569, Pope Pius V (a Dominican) first officially established devotion to the Rosary within the Catholic Church through the Consueverunt Romani Pontifices (this link provides an English summary of this document). Only two short years later in 1571, Catholic Europe found itself facing the wrath of the Ottoman Empire at a location too close for comfort – off the coast of western Greece.  The Holy League – a coalition of Catholic states coordinated by Pope Pius V – took on the defense of Europe.

"The Battle of Lepanto" as depicted in the 17th century by Andries van Eertvelt

As the naval Battle of Lepanto raged, the faithful throughout all of Europe prayed the Rosary for victory at the request of Pope Pius V.  Their prayers were answered and Catholic Europe was spared. The victory prevented the Muslim forces from taking complete control of the Mediterranean Sea and reaching further into the south of Europe.  Rome and western Europe were saved from a devastating invasion by the Ottoman Turks.

In celebration and thanksgiving to God, Pope Pius V declared that October 7 would be remembered as the Memorial of Our Lady of Victory.  Today the day is celebrated throughout the universal church as the Memorial of the Most Holy Rosary, and the month of October is dedicated to the Rosary.

If you think the Rosary might have played a role in the lives of your Catholic ancestors, you may be interested in reading more about the history of the devotion.  John D. Miller’s book Beads and Prayers: The Rosary in History and Devotion is an interesting overview.  The book places special emphasis within several chapters on the development of the Rosary within England and Ireland as well as continental Europe. His book also references an extensive online timeline of the Rosary’s history entitled Journaling the Bead by the Rosary Workshop.

The Hail Mary printed in Irish Gaelic script*

If you find, as I did, a reference in one of your ancestor’s obituaries to membership within the Confraternity of the Most Rosary or a similar society, you may be interested in looking into the history and activities of the organization. My great-grandmother, a member of the Mother Butler Society, hand-knotted Rosaries for many years to be sent to missions in other countries.

Lisa's beloved Grammy Ulaky and one of her handcrafted Rosaries

I am very happy to have inherited one of her Rosaries, and have enjoyed passing down her love for the devotion to my children. My daughters are following in their great-great-grandmother’s footsteps in a way.  They use another technique – beading – to create beautiful Rosary bracelets, sharing the age old faith they have inherited with a new generation of faith-filled Catholics.

*The artistic ceramic panels depicting the mysteries and prayers of the Rosary were photographed on the grounds of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre in Washington D.C. within the Rosary Portico, a beautiful covered walkway. If you’d like to know more about the monastery, visit my article here at The Catholic Gene entitled Ave Maria in the Languages of Our Ancestors.