The Battle of Lepanto might occasionally be the correct answer to a Jeopardy question, but it is also a significant part of the reason why October is now designated as the month of the Holy Rosary. We celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7 in remembrance of the battle of Lepanto in 1571 that brought the defeat of the naval forces of the Ottoman Empire by the naval forces of the Holy League. It was a victory that modified western civilization. In our world, which is too filled with the horrors of war, it is somehow incongruous for us to associate the Mother of God with such activities. Nonetheless, people of faith and with deep devotion to the Blessed Mother believed that Her intervention was paramount in that victory.

The Rosary is a Catholic prayer par excellence, and it is often associated with our requests for the intercession of the Blessed Mother in critically difficult situations – sickness, death, and personal tragedies of all types. We also pray the Rosary to place before the Mother of God some of the issues that only Her maternal intervention seems capable of resolving. Pope Francis has asked Catholics everywhere to pray the Rosary daily during this month of October. The requests that we place before Mary may be varied indeed.

October is also Respect Life Month and the life issues that need Mary’s powerful help might fit conveniently within the framework of the mysteries of the Holy Rosary. Each set of the four mysteries of the Rosary seem to me to be suitable for a particular component of these critical life issues. I would suggest that the Joyful Mysteries have a special affinity to the protection of the lives of the unborn since these five spiritual events reference the birth of Christ: The Annunciation recalls His conception, the Visitation recalls Mary’s and Elizabeth’s encounter with one another as women bearing within their wombs the infant life of the Christ and His herald John the Baptist. The Nativity is the observance of the very birth of the One who was destined to be for us Emmanuel. The Presentation in the Temple is the humble ritual offering of the child Jesus to His Father – an offering that would be brought to perfection on the Cross. The Finding in the Temple recalls that the Lord Jesus enjoyed a childhood like all of us – one that was filled with all the challenges of adolescence and parental worry.

The Sorrowful Mysteries bring into sharp focus the plight of prisoners and those who are incarcerated – occasionally as with Jesus who was unjustly charged. As Jesus contemplated His suffering in the agony in the garden, He was like so many languishing in our prisons. The scourging at the pillar reflects the sometimes inhumane treatment of those in prisons. The crowning with thorns is an example of the humiliation that incarceration carries. The bearing of the cross is another expression of the suffering that imprisonment brings. The crucifixion is the imposition of capital punishment – and this time on One who was completely innocent. It is true that criminals can be dangerous, vicious and violent. They have harmed society in many horrendous ways. But Christ Himself singled them out and personally identified with them when at the final judgment He tells the sheep and the goats that He awaited a visit while He was a prisoner.

Pope Saint John Paul II added a new set of mysteries to this ancient Marian prayer of the Rosary in 2002 with the Luminous Mysteries, and these might appropriately reflect a few of the challenges that face the precarious state of our environment. The Baptism of the Lord blessed the ordinary water of the Jordan as the primal element of baptism. The Wedding Feast of Cana once again showed how the Lord could use the precious gift of water to become the joyful gift of wine. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God invites to see how the kingdom of this world is a bridge to that one which will be perfect in every respect. The Transfiguration of Christ is a sign of how God’s creation can conceal and then reveal the Father’s presence in ordinary events and elements. The Institution of the Eucharist once again uses elements of nature – bread and wine fruit of the earth and of the vine – to invite us into the very presence of God Himself. These mysteries use the ordinary elements of the earth to nudge us into the heavenly kingdom. Each mystery allows the things of nature to become the vehicles of salvation.

The Rosary itself can thus become a helpful means of reflecting on the precious gift of life in its various circumstances, because each one is treasured before the Lord.