Defeat of the Catholic fleet would mean the military decimation of Catholic Europe and an even deeper moral defeat in the eyes of the Protestant north.
The Catholics, however, had a secret weapon: the Queen Mother of God and Ark of the New Covenant. Described as “the world’s first love” by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Mary is not only God’s ideal woman (He choose her as His mother after all) but she is also prefigured in the Old Testament in the figures of Israel’s queen mother and the Ark of the Covenant. In short, the kings of Israel never ruled with their wives as queen but rather with their mothers – and just as Jesus perfects God’s promise that a king will sit on David’s throne forever (Jeremiah 33:17), Mary shares in Christ’s reign as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Now the Hebrew root of Queen Mother comes from a word meaning warrior – a role which Mary played spiritually at Lepanto. Lastly, Mary is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant in her carrying of Christ (and for more on this, check out this scriptural comparison of between the Old and New Testaments on the Ark and Mary). Just as the Israelites carried the Ark into battle, so too will Catholics at Lepanto – and they did this in more ways than one!
As a prelude to the battle, Pope St. Pius V called on all Catholics to arm themselves with Mary’s intercession in spiritual warfare. The Catholic armada – largely outnumbered by the Islamic fleet – was led by a multinational, ragtag group under the command of Don Juan of Austria. If Austria provided the leader, Venice provided the six “high-tech” galleasses which proved so technologically crucial in battle. Additional spiritual warfare was brought to bear in a physical manifestation by the Knights of Malta, a group of warrior monks founded in 1023 to protect pilgrims and sacred places in the Holy Land. The biggest weapon of the fleet, however, was the Mother of God herself, provided by the Spanish via a replica of the Our Lady of Guadalupe image from the New World. Having been pressed against the original, it was brought to the Old World and mounted on Don Juan’s flagship – a ship which would soon also carry the head of the Islamic fleet’s commander mounted on a pike.
Though the feast day has been re-named a much less militaristic “Our Lady of the Rosary” (due to her victorious intercession through the Rosary), her intercession is still invoked by Catholics – especially Catholics at war on October 7.
Today, however, is also the ten year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. Sadly there are Catholics using this day to pray the Rosary and march against war. If anything, we should follow the example of the early Christians who prayed for military victory even if they themselves were not on the battlefields in great numbers. Lepanto, however, was a military victory of Catholics seeking to end the caliphate dreams of the Islamic caliphate. This dream has been reawakened in the jihadists and their supporters. Instead of protesting, let us take recourse to the Rosary and pray for victory on foreign battlefields. Let us pray our civic and military leaders protect Christians overseas as much as anyone else and that they have the wisdom to outsmart those who seek to overthrow the nations under God.
This article was originally posted on October 7, 2011.