This is part 1 of a series on the writings of Pope Leo XIII on the Rosary.
"Help from Heaven" (n. 1)
On the first of September, 1883, Pope Leo XIII presented to his brothers in the episcopate the first of a series of encyclicals on the Rosary and the importance and benefit of devotion thereto: Supremi Apostolatus Officio. This document marked the beginning of a pious campaign to stir up true devotion to the Rosary, which had proven efficacious in past times of tribulation for the Church.
His Holiness begins this encyclical by calling to mind the reliance of all humanity on the graciousness of God, as well as the unfailing patronage of the Blessed Mother: "We constantly seek for help from Heaven -- the sole means of effecting anything -- that our labors and our care may obtain their wished for object. We deem that there could be no surer and more efficacious means to this end than by religion and piety to obtain the favor of the great Virgin Mary, the Mother of God."
Origin of the Rosary (nn. 2-3)
He then describes the historical dependence of the Church and its faithful on Mary's "maternal goodness": "It has always been the habit of Catholics in danger and in troubling times to fly for refuge to Mary." "This devotion, so great and so confident, to the august Queen of Heaven" has never been more evident than in times of heresy, moral corruption, or attacks on the Church by powerful enemies. Pope Leo writes about the foundation of the Rosary: "Our merciful God ... raised up against [the Albigensian heretics] a most holy man, the illustrious parent and founder of the Dominican Order." St. Dominic fought against these heretics by "trusting wholly to that devotion which he was the first to institute under the name of the Holy Rosary." This new method of prayer "would be the means of putting the enemy to flight, and of confounding their audacity and man impiety."
The Efficacy of the Rosary (nn. 4-5)
Having established its origin, the Holy Father then recounts other circumstances in which the Church flew to the protection of the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. He mentions the 16th century, when "the Turks threatened to impose on nearly the whole of Europe the yoke of superstition and barbarism" and Pope St. Pius V "strove ... to obtain for Christendom the favor of the most powerful Mother of God". And so, in addition to Christian soldiers "prepared to sacrifice their life and blood for the salvation of their faith and their country", there were those who "saluted her again and again in the words of the Rosary, imploring her to grant the victory to their companions engaged in battle." Pope St. Pius V desired that a feast be established to celebrate the anniversary of this victory, and his successor, Pope Gregory XIII, did so: the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated (in the pre-conciliar calendar) on October 7th.
After victories over the Turks during the 18th century, which "coincided with feats of the Blessed Virgin and with the conclusion of public devotions of the Rosary", Pope Clement XI extended the feast to the whole Church.
Pope Leo then recounts various praises for the Rosary from Pontiffs past: Urban IV, Sixtus IV, Julius III, St. Pius V, and Gregory XIII who pronounced that "the Rosary had been instituted by St. Dominic to appease the anger of God and to implore the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary."
Present Need (nn. 6-7)
Then the Holy Father writes that he too deems it "most appropriate for similar reasons to institute solemn prayers", and to address "the Blessed Virgin in the recital of the Rosary to obtain from her son Jesus Christ a similar aid against present dangers." He mentions the trials facing the Church at the time: the attacks on Christian piety, public morality, and the very faith itself: "It is one of the most painful and grievous sights to see so many souls, redeemed by the blood of Christ, snatched from salvation by the whirlwind of an age of error, precipitated into the abyss of eternal death."
Present use (nn. 8-11)
Pope Leo recounts that St. Dominic composed the Rosary "as to recall the mysteries of our salvation in succession": its purpose is to meditate on the salvation obtained for us by Jesus Christ, "the way, the truth, and the life", and to seek the "intercession with God of that Virgin, to whom it is given to destroy all heresies." His Holiness desires "that the whole month of October" of that year "be consecrated to the Holy Queen of the Rosary, and that from October 1st through November 2nd (33 days) throughout the Church "let five decades of the Rosary be recited with the addition of the Litany of Loreto." The Pope attached indulgences to the pious recitation of these prayers as well.
In closing, Pope Leo reminds his brethren that it is "part of the designs of Providence that, in these times of trial for the Church, the ancient devotion to the august Virgin should live and flourish amid the greatest part of the Christian world", and that we can be sure that "the heavenly Patroness of the human race will receive with joy these prayers and supplications" and that "God who is the avenger of crime, moved to mercy and pity may deliver Christendom and civil society from all dangers, and restore to them peace so much desired."
Later that year, Pope Leo XIII would add to the Litany of Loreto the title "Queen of the Most Holy Rosary" (Regina Sanctissimi Rosarii), through the proclamation Salutaris Ille of December 24.