TODAY IS THE FEAST OF Our Lady of Victory or, no, it’s the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Or the commemoration of the miracle at the Victory of Lepanto, or something. It is the evolution of this Feast that has me thinking this morning. How we talk of military victories and spiritual victories and how we unfold that conversation. At the same time, I am thinking of a presentation I have to make on the second book of Maccabees to my chapter of Lay Dominicans. The question of the commemorations noted at Hanukkah also raised the same meditative points: moving from a military Victory to a spiritual celebration.
The Wiki (as of today) has a decent description of the history of the feast day celebrated on 7 October. Notice please that as the feast develops the Battle of Lepanto increasing the Falls by the wayside in terms of what is celebrated here:
Pius V instituted “Our Lady of Victory” as an annual feast to commemorate the victory at Lepanto, which he attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary.The Wikipedia Retrieved on 7 Oct 2020
In 1573, Pope Gregory XIII changed the title of the “Feast of Our Lady of Victory” to “Feast of the Holy Rosary”, to be celebrated on the first Sunday of October. Dominican friar Juan Lopez in his 1584 book on the rosary states that the feast of the rosary was offered “in memory and in perpetual gratitude of the miraculous victory that the Lord gave to his Christian people that day against the Turkish armada”.
In 1671 the observance of this festival was extended by Clement X to the whole of Spain, and somewhat later Clement XI, after the victory over the Turks gained by Prince Eugene in the Battle of Petrovaradin on 5 August 1716 (the feast of Our Lady of the Snows), commanded the feast of the Rosary to be celebrated by the universal Church.
Leo XIII raised the feast to the rank of a double of the second class and added to the Litany of Loreto the invocation “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary”. On this feast, in every church in which the Rosary confraternity has been duly erected, a plenary indulgence toties quoties is granted upon certain conditions to all who visit therein the Rosary chapel or statue of Our Lady. This has been called the “Portiuncula” of the Rosary.
Pius X in 1913 changed the date to 7 October, as part of his effort to restore celebration of the liturgy of the Sundays. In 1960 under Pope John XXIII it is listed under the title “Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary”; and under the 1969 liturgical reforms of Pope Paul VI “Our Lady of the Rosary” is mentioned as a mandatory memorial.
The Liturgy of the Hours, in describing this feast, note that it was established in celebration of the victory at Lepanto, but goes on to say “the celebration of this day invites all to meditate upon the mysteries of Christ, following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary who was so singularly associated with the Incarnation, passion, and glorious resurrection of the Son of God.” While the feast was instituted to mark Lepanto the celebration of the feast itself has nothing to do with a military victory but rather the meditations of the Rosary.
Although there are churches around the world dedicated to Our Lady of Victory that title is not included in the church’s litany for the Blessed Virgin Mary. The titles included in the litany is Queen of the Most Holy Rosary as well as Queen of Peace. So, without denying the military event at the route, the actual focus is completely shifted. We don’t have parades or great monuments erected to commemorate this military Victory. Instead, we celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary Queen of the Rosary. The feast celebrates and asks for the intercession of Our Lady to which intercession are attributed a multitude of miracles, helps, salvations, and – yes – military victories.
As I mentioned I am working on a presentation on the book of 2nd Maccabees for our Dominican Laity. First Maccabees celebrates the military victories and the gradual political decline of the Hasmonean dynasty. The book of 2nd Maccabees, however, seems to focus more on the spiritual content of the same period of time. From this time arises the celebration of Hanukkah in the Jewish tradition. The reader may be familiar with the story of the miracle of the lights that burned for eight days. This story is not in any of the writings called Maccabees in the Catholic or Orthodox Bibles (in the latter there are four books of Maccabees, not just two). Although the Feast of Hanukkah was celebrated by the time the book of 2nd Maccabees was being composed, the Miracle of the Lights is not in it. Rabbi Hillel was already engaged in discussions about the burning of candles at Hanukkah, but there was no discussion of the great miracle itself.
The miracle of the lights came later as the focus of Hanukkah moved from the military victory to a spiritual victory. Already at the time of the composition of 1st and 2nd Maccabees, there seems to be a discussion between the two authors about what should be the focus. Should we commemorate a military victory, as an action of God using armed human strength? Or, on the other hand, should we commemorate the spiritual victory that gave rise to the liberation of the Israel from the Seleucids? Second Maccabees, with its discussion of the spiritual strengh of martyrdom and prayer, seems to settle on the second option. Yes, God gave us a military victory, but it was not because we were brave or strong so much as because we were willing to die for the faith of our fathers.
Today, 2,000 years after the fact, one rarely hears of the military victories of the Maccabee Clan. Although one could claim that all the discussion of “Great Miracles in those days at this time of year” is actually code for military victory, it is so far removed from military language and so covered up by the miracle of the oil burning for 8 days but that seems improbable. Although Israel, today, seems to celebrate military strength and wants to connect to a past long disconnected, for most of the Diaspora this is a time of quiet, familial joy around the Winter Solstice – perhaps competing for attention with the Christian holiday celebrated at the same time.
Likewise, the celebration of the Rosary no longer focuses on Lepanto except to note it as one of many miracles which Our Lady has given us in response to our prayers. Equally likewise the constant attempt to “reconnect and remember Lepanto” is really a cultural war issue, one that has more to do with defeating our enemies then praying for them, loving them, and winning them to Christ.
We just fought a war at Lepanto
And suddenly the game
Will never be the same again
We beat back the Turks at Lepanto
The victory we’ve found
Will let the west abound
Say it loud and there’s sailors sailing
Say it soft and it’s almost like praying
I’ll never stop saying
– Hymn to Our Lady of Victory
With apologies to L. Bernstein