The month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary. According to an account by fifteenth-century Dominican, Alan de la Roch, Mary appeared to St. Dominic in 1206 after he had been praying and doing severe penances because of his lack of success in combating the Albigensian heresy. Mary praised him for his valiant fight against the heretics and then gave him the Rosary as a mighty weapon, explained its uses and efficacy, and told him to preach it to others.
"Since the prayers of the Rosary come from such excellent sources — from Our Lord Himself, from inspired Scripture, and from the Church — it is not surprising that the Rosary is so dear to our Blessed Mother and so powerful with heaven.
"If we consider the power of the Rosary as seen in its effects, we find a great abundance of proofs of its wonderful value. Many are the favors granted to private individuals through its devout recitation: there are few devoted users of the Rosary who cannot testify to experiencing its power in their own lives. If we turn to history, we see many great triumphs of the Rosary. Early tradition attributes the defeat of the Albigensians at the Battle of Muret in 1213 to the Rosary. But even those who do not accept this tradition will admit that St. Pius V attributed the great defeat of the Turkish fleet on the first Sunday of October, 1571, to the fact that at the same time the Rosary confraternities at Rome and elsewhere were holding their processions. Accordingly, he ordered a commemoration of the Rosary to be made on that day. Two years later, Gregory XIII allowed the celebration of a feast of the Rosary in churches having an altar dedicated to the Rosary. In 1671, Clement X extended the feast to all Spain. A second great victory over the Turks, who once, like the Russians, threatened the ruin of Christian civilization, occurred on August 5, 1716, when Prince Eugene defeated them at Peterwardein in Hungary. Thereupon Clement XI extended the feast of the Rosary to the whole Church.
"Today, when dangers far greater than those of the ancient Turks threaten not only Christianity but all civilization, we are urged by our Blessed Mother to turn again to the Rosary for help. If men in sufficient numbers do this, and at the same time carry out the other conditions that she has laid down, we have the greater reason for confidence that we will be delivered from our dangers."
Ash Wednesday is from a liturgical point of view one of the most important days of the year. In the first place this day opens the Liturgical Season of Lent, which formerly began with the First Sunday and comprised only thirty-six days. The Addition of Wednesday and the three following days brought the number to forty, which is that of our Lord's fast in the desert.
In the Old Law ashes were generally a symbolic expression of grief, mourning, or repentance. In the Early Church the use of ashes had a like signification and with sackcloth formed part of the public penances. The blessing of the ashes is one of the great liturgical rites of the year. It was originally instituted for public penitents, but is now intended for all Christians, as Lent should be a time of penance for all. The ashes used this day are obtained by burning palms of the previous year. They are blessed by four ancient prayers, sprinkled with holy water and incensed, and then placed in the form of a cross on the foreheads of each of the faithful with the words:"Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return." The ancient prayers of the blessing suggest suitable thoughts for the opening of Lent. They are summarized here:
"Almighty and everlasting God, spare the penitent...bless these ashes, that they may be a remedy to all who invoke Thy name...O God, Who desirest not the death but the conversion of sinners, look in kindness upon our human frailty...and bless these ashes, so that we, who know ourselves to be but ashes...and that we must return to dust, may deserve to obtain pardon and the rewards offered to the penitent."
Copyright: The Roman Catholic Daily Missal (1962) Angelus Press, 2004.