October 7 is the date set aside on the liturgical calendar for the Feast of the Rosary. This Feast is known under several titles including: “Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary,”, “Our Lady of Victory,” and “Feast of the Holy Rosary.” Historically, this feast celebrated the intercession of Our Lady, via the Rosary, in the Battle of Lepanto. As a result of this 16th Century naval battle the invading Turkish forces retreated and Christianity in Western Europe was secured.
In 1571 Pope St. Pius V attributed the victory to the Holy Rosary which was prayed throughout Europe, especially as the battle was waged. It was he, who instituted the feast under the title of “Our Lady of Victory.” Later, in 1573, Pope Gregory XIII changed the title of the Memorial to “The Feast of the Holy Rosary;” and Pope Clement XI extended its celebration to the entire Latin, officially inserting it into the Roman Calendar of Saints in 1716. While initially celebrated on the first Sunday in Rome, in 1913 Pope Pius X changed the date to October 7.
Throughout the centuries, the Rosary has been a powerful tool, a tool we would do well to use each and every day. Through this inspired prayer, we contemplate the salvific action of Our Lord by meditating on a series of mysteries, while praying sequence of “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and “Glory Be” prayers. The succession of prayers and mysteries works together to draw Our hearts closer to Christ through the message of the Angel Gabriel to Our Blessed Mother, at the moment of the Annunciation: “Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum: benedicta tu in muleribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui.”(Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb). As our hearts beat in unison with Our Lady’s, we contemplate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Oceans of grace are poured out upon us. Through this magnificent prayer miracles abound, both in the past and present.
One such celebration of the grace which accompanies the Holy Rosary has been an annual favorite of mine for years. Tomorrow, in Champion, Wisconsin my family and I will be present during the Vigil Celebration of the Anniversary of the Night of the Miracle of the Pestigo Fire. For the next two days we will celebrate an event that occurred in 1871, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. This is the only Vatican recognized, Bishop approved, Marian apparition site in the U.S. On this night, in 1871, a terrible hurricane of fire consumed an area of northern Wisconsin equal in size to the State of Rhode Island. Approximately 2,500 settlers lost their lives, many more were burned badly, and the loss of crops and livestock was enormous.
This intense wall of fire actually jumped Green Bay, and burned not only the area around Pestigo, but also part of the Door County Peninsula. Almost 10 years to the day of the fire, Our Lady had appeared to a young immigrant woman, Sr. Adele Brise, warning her that people needed to turn back to God. On this terrible night, October 8, 1871, area settlers remembered the warning, and fled to the tiny Chapel with their families and livestock. They prayed the rosary on their knees in procession. As the smoke would choke them, they would turn and process in another direction. Their efforts continued throughout the night. In the morning, a rain began to fall, and in the light of dawn the reality of the miracle became evident. The five acre site of the Chapel, and all who had prayerfully sought refuge there were safe. The Shrine stood as an “emerald Isle in a sea of ash.” Even the fence posts bore witness to the miracle: they were charred on the side facing the fire, yet perfectly intact on the side facing the Chapel.
Tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. the Vigil celebration begins with the reading of the history from the Chapel history book, followed by an outdoor candle-lit rosary procession, Benediction and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. This event deeply touches my heart, the rustle of corn in nearby fields, the scent of a distant fire, the chill of the air, the voices in prayerful harmony, together create a deep impression of the magnitude of what transpired on the night of October 8, 1871. The following day, Holy Mass is celebrated in memory of this incredible miracle.
For more information on Sr. Adele, the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, and the Miracle, visit their website at: http://www.shrineofourladyofgoodhelp.com/.
Tomorrow night, as we process around that same 5 acre site praying the rosary, I will remember each of you and your intentions in my heart. May Our Lady lead you to her Divine Son!
Happy Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary!
Ad Jesum per Mariam,