Pope Leo XIII’s Lessons on the Rosary

Pope Leo XIII’s Lessons on the Rosary


In recent memory, the Church has been blessed with Marian popes.  Paul VI authored the Magna Carta of Mariology in his apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus.  John Paul II’s mantra was Totus Tuus, Totally Yours Mary, and he gave the Church the five Luminous Mysteries in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae.  Pope Benedict also expressed his devotion to Mary in varied ways.  And of course, Pope Francis is a devotee of Mary, Undoer of Knots, and he regularly prays at St. Mary Major in front of the Madonna for safe travels, giving a marvelous example of Marian piety.

Perhaps less well known is the Marian devotion of Pope Leo XIII who could be dubbed “The Rosary Pope” since he published twelve encyclicals and several letters on the rosary over the course of his pontificate (1878-1903).  Given that the Church annually observes October as a month dedicated to the holy rosary and encourages its recitation, let us turn to the rosary encyclicals of Leo XIII and find the treasure contained therein.  Let us examine eight lessons Pope Leo XIII teaches the Church about Mary and the rosary.

Lesson One:  Emphasis on October

Pope Leo XIII published his rosary encyclicals in September (with few exceptions) in anticipation of special devotions in October.   The encyclicals called for a focus within parishes on the rosary devotion, emphasizing evening prayer services in the local parish community.  With each encyclical, Pope Leo XIII opened the treasury of grace (i.e. indulgences) especially for those who attended the evening services in the parish.  For those unable to do so due to work in the fields, Leo extended provisions for them to also obtain the indulgences.  In addition to praying the rosary, Leo XIII called for the recitation of the Litany of Loreto during the month of October.

Lesson Two:  Role of the Hierarchy

Most of the encyclicals were addressed to the “Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops and Bishops of the Catholic World” and some of them were addressed only to the Bishops of Italy.  Regardless of who the intended recipients were, all the encyclicals have lessons to teach us about the rosary and Mary’s role in the life of the pilgrim Church. The encyclicals of Leo XIII challenged bishops to promote the rosary in their dioceses with great zeal and ardor.  Specifically Leo says “Let it be your work venerable brethren to revive the Christian feeling among your people, and interest in the Catholic cause, a confidence in Our Lady’s help, and a spirit of prayer” (Quod Auctoritate, 4).    For the Catholic faithful, pray for your priests and bishops, that they may have a Marian fervor and promote Marian devotion in their parishes and dioceses.

Lesson Three:  Spirit of the Times

Over and over again Leo XIII wrote about the error of his times and the need to pray the rosary.  Oftentimes in our postmodern culture we romanticize about previous eras and how much better they were.  Just think, if Leo XIII was writing about the errors and evil sprit of his time, how much more do we need the rosary in our day and age.  Consider the moral decline of our times, with the legalization of abortion and so-called same sex marriages, or the moral depravity involved with the sexual license of our times through contraception and pornography.  Just as Leo XIII relied on Mary’s intercession for his time, how much more do we need Mary’s prayers in the third millennium?  We need her prayers for the conversion of our hearts so that we may turn away from the sins that plague our lives.  In the rosary we ask Mary to pray for us sinners, that is you and me, and the whole world.  We need her prayers.

Lesson Four:  Insights into the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries

In the encyclicals, Pope Leo reflected on the three sets of mysteries and gave new insights for meditation.

Pope Leo XIII In Laetitiae Sanctae names three principal spirits which downgrade society: distaste for the simple, rejection of suffering, and forgetfulness of heaven.  Leo goes on to explain how the rosary corrects these spirits specifically by the mysteries of the rosary.  The joyful mysteries propose the simplicity of Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth, and how the incarnate son of God was born in simplicity–in a cave and placed in a manger.  When Jesus is presented in the temple, the Holy Family offered a pair of turtle doves, the simpler offering.  Meditating on these mysteries cultivates an awareness of Jesus’ simplicity and the call to implement it in one’s own life.  In the sorrowful mysteries, the suffering of Jesus is placed before the eyes of the devotee.  If society rejects suffering, one can look to Jesus who took on suffering for the salvation of all.  Lastly the glorious mysteries reflect on Jesus’ defeat over death and ascension into heaven, and ends with Mary’s glorification in her Assumption and coronation as Queen of Heaven and Earth.  Praying the rosary does not allow one to forget heaven, but rather, focus on the mysteries of Heaven.  As we ask Mary to pray for us now and at the hour of our death, we beseech her to help us get to Heaven by her prayers.  The rosary is an antidote for whatever troubles our times.

In Pope Leo’s 1894 encyclical Iucunda Semper Expectatione he reflected on Mary’s role as the co-redemptress and Mediatrix of Divine Grace within the tripartite mysteries.  For a further review, see paragraphs two, three, and four of that encyclical.

In Augustissimae Virginis Mariae (1897), Pope Leo XIII in paragraph 10 reflects on how the rosary proposes the mysteries of our redemption for consideration.  Contained within those mysteries includes the contemplation of Angelic hosts.  This is seen in the joyful mysteries when an angel announces the birth of Christ and then the hosts of angels sing Gloria in excelsis Deo at the Messiah’s birth.  In the sorrowful mysteries, Jesus is consoled by an angel in the Garden.  And in the glorious mysteries, angels announce the resurrection of Christ, Jesus is accompanied by angels in His ascension, and Mary is taken up by the angels to be their Queen.  Have you considered the angelic connection to the rosary?  If you have not, thank Pope Leo XIII for this new insight.

Lesson Five:  Efficacy of the Rosary

Leo XIII made recourse to the efficacy of the rosary.  He never relented in sharing Mary’s vanquishing of the Albigensian heresy in the revelation of the rosary to St. Dominic.  Similarly, he shared Mary’s defeat of war in a united world joined in prayer to conquer the Turks during the Battle of Lepanto.   This victory gave way to the feast of Our Lady of Victories (today, Our Lady of the Rosary) on October 7.  In Superiore Anno(1884), Leo acknowledged the cholera outbreak in Italy and the necessity of Mary’s help in driving out that plaque.  Leo also referenced the countless fruits of the rosary, which include: faith, nourishment, strength, repentance, unity, growth in virtue, and maternal protection, among many others.  Lastly, as mentioned already, Leo exhorted the rosary’s recitation because of the errors of the time.  He was confident in Mary’s intercession over the culture and in the lives of Marian devotees.  As children of Mary, we too should have that same confidence.

Lesson Six:  Language of the Fifth Marian Movement

Some Marian theologians (Dr. Mark Miravalle, Msgr. Arthur Calkins) have called upon the Holy See to define a fifth Marian dogma regarding Mary’s role in redemption as co-redemptrix, mediatrix of grace, and advocate.  This topic has been met with some reservation.  Regardless of whether or not this should be defined as dogma, the reality is the Church’s tradition has used this language from Patristic writers like Irenaeus of Lyons to more recent theologians (Cardinal Mercier, Fr. Emil Neubert, etc.) and pontiffs.  The issue is not whether or not these roles should be accorded to Mary, but rather, whether or not it should be dogmatically defined.  The movement employs a specific vocabulary: associate of the redeemer, co-redemptrix, co-redemptress, mediatrix, distributrix, reparatrix, among others.  The encyclicals of Leo XIII use this language and explains Mary’s role in salvation history.  This appeal of Leo XIII surely fueled the movement which climaxed in the 1950’s and 1960’s but since has lost momentum.

Lesson Seven:  Popular Movements

Pope Leo XIII highlighted popular movements within his encyclicals.  He referred to two confraternities: the Confraternity of the Holy Family and the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary.  In the present age of the Church confraternities have not gained much notoriety or interest, perhaps dismissed as old-fashioned.  The Rosary Confraternity still exists today.  One other movement he referenced in Augustissimae Virginis Mariae(1897) was the Living Rosary, a movement founded by Pauline Jaricot which comprised a group of 15 fifteen individuals who prayed one decade of the rosary each day.

As referenced earlier, Pope Leo XIII called for the praying of the rosary in parishes, especially during the month of October, but he also recommended its recitation on all Marian feast days too.  Perhaps in our times this needs to be reintroduced as a way to reclaim Sunday as a day dedicated to the Lord.  Maybe today a new movement needs to emerge to reclaim these suggestions of Pope Leo XIII.

Lesson Eight:  Titles of Mary

Pope Leo XIII used many titles and described Mary in many ways throughout his twelve encyclicals.  I am sure the following list is not exhaustive, but it affords us the opportunity to reflect on Mary’s many titles.  These titles go beyond the Litany of Loreto, which the pontiff encouraged to be recited after the rosary during the month of October.  The following list of titles could become a secondary litany for you by simply adding the phrase “pray for us” after each one.

Mother of God
Divine Mother
Mother of the Almighty
Benign Mother
Gracious Mother
Mother of Sorrows
Mother of God and of Men
Mother of the Church
Immaculate Virgin
August Queen of Heaven
Queen of the Rosary
Teacher and Queen of Apostles
Queen of the Universe
Guardian of our Peace
Our Helper
Our Consoler
Mighty in War
Giver of Peace
Glorious Intermediary
Mighty Helper of Christians
Help of Christians
Vanquisher of Heresies
Authoress and Teacher of the Rosary
Seat of Divine Wisdom
Guardian of Christian Unity
Mystical Rose of Paradise
The Reparatrix of the whole World
Mediatrix of Divine Grace
Mediatrix to the Mediator
Minister of Heavenly Grace
Minister of the Divine Gifts
Dispenser of all Heavenly Gifts

Concluding Thoughts

Pope Leo XIII continued the Marian devotion of his predecessors, as he named them in his final encyclical Diuturni Temporis (1898):  Sixtus V, Gregory XIII, Clement VIII, Clement XI, and Benedict XIII.  In more recent history, that same Marian fervor has been exercised in the papacies of Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis.  Pope Leo XIII has given us a treasury of teachings on the rosary, and the lessons outlined in this article do not do justice to the many more contained in his writings.  If you wish to grow in your appreciation for the rosary, consider seeking out Pope Leo XIII’s encyclicals and reading them for yourself.


  • Encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII available online at:http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo13/index.htm
  • James Buckley, “Leo XIII and the Rosary” Homiletic and Pastoral Review (May 2003): 18-21.
  • Thomas Thompson, “The Rosary Encyclicals” The Priest (October 1998): 39-43.

image: Roland45 / Wikimedia Commons

Fr. Edward Looney


Fr. Edward Looney was ordained to the priesthood on June 6, 2015 for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. A member of the Mariological Society of America, he has written extensively on the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. His most recent works include A Novena to the Queen of Heaven, Our Lady of Good Help and a Prayer After Holy Communion for the Conversion of Sinners. To learn more, visit his website.

Our Lady of the Rosary


October is the month of the Holy Rosary.  Today’s Feast was originally known as Our Lady of Victory because  “On October 7, 1571, a great victory over the mighty Turkish fleet was won by Catholic naval forces primarily from Spain, Venice, and Genoa under the command of Don Juan of Austria. It was the last battle at sea between “oared” ships, which featured the most powerful navy in the world, a Moslem force with between 12,000 to 15,000 Christian slaves as rowers. The patchwork team of Catholic ships was powered by the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary” (Fr Ladis J. Cizik, Blue Army National Executive Director).  Fr. Cizik explains, the feast of October 7th was renamed ‘Our Lady of the Rosary’ and extended throughout the Universal Church by Pope Clement XI in 1716.”

In all Her appearances at Fatima, Portugal, the Blessed Mother repeatedly emphasized the importance of praying the Rosary daily and performing acts of reparation and sacrifice. Our Lady of Fatima requested the solemn public Consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart by the Pope and all the Catholic bishops of the world.

To pray the Rosary:

Make the +Sign of the Cross:

In the Name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pray the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

Pray the Our Father:

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Pray three Hail Mary’s (for faith, hope and charity):

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Pray the Glory Be:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Each of the five decades begins with one Our Father, then ten Hail Mary’s, then one Glory Be.

Conclude each decade with the Fatima Prayer:

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are in most need of Thy mercy.

The five decades are followed by the Hail Holy Queen:

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us. And after this our exile, show unto us the blessed Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us, o Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: O GOD, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating upon these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

A full Rosary consists of 20 decades, 5 each of the Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous, and Glorious Mysteries. A Rosary may be prayed in full or in part.

Joyful Mysteries

1. The Annunciation

2. The Visitation

3. The Nativity of Jesus

4. The Presentation in the Temple

5. The Finding in the Temple

Sorrowful Mysteries

1. The Agony in the Garden

2. The Scourging at the Pillar

3. The Crowning with Thorns

4. The Carrying of the Cross

5. The Crucifixion

Luminous Mysteries

1. The Baptism in the Jordan

2. The Wedding at Cana

3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom

4. The Transfiguration

5. The Institution of the Eucharist

Glorious Mysteries

1. The Resurrection

2. The Ascension

3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit

4. The Assumption of Mary

5. The Crowning of Our Lady Queen of Heaven

Read more from the source: http://catholicexchange.com/our-lady-of-the-rosary

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Mary’s prayer is revealed to us at the dawning of the fullness of time. Before the incarnation of the Son of God, and before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, her prayer cooperates in a unique way with the Father’s plan of loving kindness: at the Annunciation, for Christ’s conception; at Pentecost, for the formation of the Church, his body (cf. Lk 1:38; Acts 1:14). In the faith of his humble handmaid, the Gift of God found the acceptance he had awaited from the beginning of time. She whom the Almighty made “full of grace” responds by offering her whole being: “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” “Fiat”: this is Christian prayer: to be wholly God’s, because he is wholly ours. The Gospel reveals to us how Mary prays and intercedes in faith. At Cana, the mother of Jesus asks her son for the needs of a wedding feast (Jn 2:1-12); this is the sign of another feast – that of the wedding of the Lamb where he gives his body and blood at the request of the Church, his Bride. It is at the hour of the New Covenant, at the foot of the cross (cf. Jn 19:25-27), that Mary is heard as the Woman, the new Eve, the true “Mother of all the living” (CCC: 2617-2618).