7 October 2017
Our Lady of Victories
What a telling title: our Lady of Victories. So very Western Catholic; so Counter-Reformation ; so baroque; so redolent of the triumphalist Anglo-Catholicism of the 1920s and 1930s. When I was an undergraduate, the Church of S Paul up Walton Street was still a church and had a splendiferous statue of our Lady of Victories. You couldn't possibly imagine, could you, Byzantine Christians giving the Theotokos a title like that ...
Well, of course, they did. One of those Greeks did write a hymn to Mary as the hypermachos strategos with an aprosmakheton kratos (the Protecting General with an irresistible power). If the Orthodox had Hymns Ancient and Modern, you would probably find in it a paraphrase of the Hymnos Akathistos beginning: Stand up, stand up, for Mary. Or, taking my fantasy even further, imagine some Orthodox Sabine Baring Gould writing Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war; with the Robe of Mary, going on before.
East and West may wear different clothes, but their realities are often so uncannily similar. Because, of course, the title our Lady of Victories, just like the Akathist hymn, does have its military associations. That great Pontiff, S Pius V, established the Feast of our Lady of Victories to celebrate the triumph of Christian arms at the battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571, a victory won by the countless rosaries which clanked through the hands of the Rosary Confraternities of Western Europe. They begged God for the safety of Christendom against the invading Turk. Gregory XIII pusillanimously renamed the feast as 'of the Rosary', and popped it onto the first Sunday of October (a mere stone's throw from the Feast of the Protecting Robe of the Mother of God in some Byzantine calendars) where it stayed until the reforms of S Pius X.
But no homilist could be forbidden to preach tomorrow on our Lady of Victories, could he?
After all, her Immaculate Heart will prevail!