Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the Rosary
promulgated on 5 September 1895.
To Our Venerable Brethren the
Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and other Ordinaries in Peace and Communion
with the Apostolic See.
1. The mightiest helper of the Christian people, and the most merciful, is the Virgin
Mother of God. How fitting it is to accord her honors ever increasing in splendor, and
call upon her aid with a confidence daily growing more ardent. The abundant blessings,
infinitely varied and constantly multiplying, which flow from her all over the whole world
for the common benefit of mankind, add fresh motives for invoking and honoring her.
2. For such magnanimous favors, Catholics on their part have not failed to return to
her the tender devotion of grateful hearts; because, if ever there was a time when love
and veneration of the Blessed Virgin were awakened to new life and inflaming every class
of society, it is in these days so bitterly anti-religious. The clearest evidence of this
fact lies in the sodalities which have everywhere been restored and multiplied under her
patronage; in the magnificent temples erected to her august name; in the pilgrimages
undertaken by throngs of devout souls to her most venerated shrines; in the congresses
whose deliberations are devoted to the increase of her glory; in other things of a like
nature which are praiseworthy in themselves and augur well for the future.
3. It is specially deserving of notice, and it gives Us the greatest pleasure to
recall, that of all the forms of devotion to the Blessed Virgin, that most excellent
method of prayer, Mary's Rosary, is establishing itself most widely in popular esteem and
practice. This, We repeat, is a source of great joy to Us. If We have spent so large a
share of our activities, in promoting the Rosary devotion, We can easily see with what
benevolence the Queen of Heaven has come to Our aid when We prayed to her; and We express
the confident conviction that she will continue to stand at Our side to lighten the
burdens and the afflictions which the days to come will bring.
4. It is mainly to expand the kingdom of Christ that We look to the Rosary for the most
effective help. On many occasions We have declared that the object which at the present
time engrosses Our most earnest attention, is the reconciliation to the Church of nations
which have become separated from her. We recognize, at the same time, that the realization
of Our hopes must be sought chiefly in prayer and supplication addressed to almighty God.
This conviction We again affirmed not long ago, when We recommended that special prayers
be offered for this intention to the Holy Ghost during the solemnities of Pentecost; a
recommendation that was adopted everywhere with the greatest good will.
5. But in view of the importance and the difficulty of such an undertaking, and the
necessity of perseverance in the practice of any virtue, it is well to recall the
Apostle's apt counsel: "Be instant in prayer"'1counsel all the
more to the point because an auspicious beginning of the enterprise will supply the best
inducement to perseverance in prayer. Next October, therefore, if you and your people
devoutly spend the whole month with Us in praying assiduously to the Virgin Mother of God
through her Rosary and the other customary devotions, nothing could do more to further
this project or be more pleasing to Us. We have the best reasons for entrusting Our plans
and Our aspirations to her protection and the highest hopes of seeing them realized.
6. The mystery of Christ's immense love for us is revealed with dazzling brilliance in
the fact that the dying Saviour bequeathed His Mother to His disciple John in the
memorable testament: "Behold thy son." Now in John, as the Church has constantly
taught, Christ designated the whole human race, and in the first rank are they who are
joined with Him by faith. It is in this sense that St. Anselm of Canterbury says:
"What dignity, O Virgin, could be more highly prized than to be the Mother of those
to whom Christ deigned to be Father and Brother!"2 With a generous heart
Mary undertook and discharged the duties of her high but laborious office, the beginnings
of which were consecrated in the Cenacle. With wonderful care she nurtured the first
Christians by her holy example, her authoritative counsel, her sweet consolation, her
fruitful prayers. She was, in very truth, the Mother of the Church, the Teacher and Queen
of the Apostles, to whom, besides, she confided no small part of the divine mysteries
which she kept in her heart.
7. It is impossible to measure the power and scope of her offices since the day she was
taken up to that height of heavenly glory in the company of her Son, to which the dignity
and luster of her merits entitle her. From her heavenly abode she began, by God's decree,
to watch over the Church, to assist and befriend us as our Mother; so that she who was so
intimately associated with the mystery of human salvation is just as closely associated
with the distribution of the graces which for all time will flow from the Redemption.
8. The power thus put into her hands is all but unlimited. How unerringly right, then,
are Christian souls when they turn to Mary for help as though impelled by an instinct of
nature, confidently sharing with her their future hopes and past achievements, their
sorrows and joys, commending themselves like children to the care of a bountiful mother.
How rightly, too, has every nation and every liturgy without exception acclaimed her great
renown, which has grown greater with the voice of each succeeding century. Among her many
other titles we find her hailed as "our Lady, our Mediatrix,"3
"the Reparatrix of the whole world,"4 "the Dispenser of all
9. Since faith is the foundation, the source, of the gifts of God by which man is
raised above the order of nature and is endowed with the dispositions requisite for life
eternal, we are in justice bound to recognize the hidden influence of Mary in obtaining
the gift of faith and its salutary cultivation of Mary who brought the "author of
faith"6 into this world and who, because of her own great faith, was
called "blessed." "O Virgin most holy, none abounds in the knowledge of God
except through thee; none, O Mother of God, attains salvation except through thee; none
receives a gift from the throne of mercy except through thee."7
10. It is no exaggeration to say that it is due chiefly to her leadership and help that
the wisdom and teachings of the Gospel spread so rapidly to all the nations of the world
in spite of the most obstinate difficulties and most cruel persecutions, and brought
everywhere in their train a new reign of justice and peace. This it was that stirred the
soul of St. Cyril of Alexandria to the following prayerful address to the Blessed Virgin:
"Through you the Apostles have preached salvation to the nations. . . through you the
priceless Cross is everywhere honored and venerated; through you the demons have been put
to rout and mankind has been summoned back to Heaven; through you every misguided creature
held in the thrall of idols is led to recognize the truth; through you have the faithful
been brought to the laver of holy Baptism and churches been founded among every
11. Nay she has even, as this same Doctor claims, upheld and given strength to the
"sceptre of the orthodox faith."9 It has been her unremitting concern
to see to it that the Catholic Faith stands firmly lodged in the midst of the people,
there to thrive in its fertile and undivided unity. Many and well known are the proofs of
her solicitude, manifested from time to time even in a miraculous manner. In the times and
places in which, to the Church's grief, faith languished in lethargic indifference or was
tormented by the baneful scourge of heresy, our great and gracious Lady in her kindness
was ever ready with her aid and comfort.
12. Under her inspiration, strong with her might, great men were raised
upillustrious for their sanctity no less than for their apostolic spiritto
beat off the attacks of wicked adversaries and to lead souls back into the virtuous ways
of Christian life, firing them with a consuming love of the things of God. One such man,
an army in himself, was Dominic Guzman. Putting all his trust in our Lady's Rosary, he set
himself fearlessly to the accomplishment of both these tasks with happy results.
13. No one will fail to remark how much the merits of the venerable Fathers and Doctors
of the Church, who spent their lives in the defense and explanation of the Catholic Faith,
redound to the Virgin Mother of God. For from her, the Seat of Divine Wisdom, as they
themselves gratefully tell us, a strong current of the most sublime wisdom has coursed
through their writings. And they were quick to acknowledge that not by themselves but by
her have iniquitous errors been overcome. Finally, princes as well as Pontiffs, the
guardians and defenders of the faiththe former by waging holy wars, the latter by
the solemn decrees which they have issued have not hesitated to call upon the name
of the Mother of our God, and have found her answer powerful and propitious.
14. Hence it is that the Church and the Fathers have given expression to their joy in
Mary in words whose beauty equals their truth: "Hail, voice of the Apostles forever
eloquent, solid foundation of the faith, unshakable prop of the Church."10
"Hail, thou through whom we have been enrolled as citizens of the One, Holy, Catholic
and Apostolic Church."11"Hail, thou fountain springing forth by God's
design, whose rivers flowing over in pure and unsullied waves of orthodoxy put to flight
the hosts of error."12 "Rejoice, because thou alone hast destroyed
all the heresies in the world."13
15. The unexampled part which the Virgin most admirably played and still plays in the
progress, the battles, and the triumphs of the Catholic Faith, makes it evident what God
has planned for her to do. It should fill the hearts of all good people with a firm hope
of obtaining those things which are now the object of our common desire. Trust Mary,
implore her aid.
16. That the one self same profession of faith may unite the minds of Christian nations
in peace and harmony, that the one and only bond of perfect charity may gather their
hearts within its embracesuch is our prayerful hope! And may Mary, by her powerful
help, bring this ardently desired gift into our possession! And remembering that her only
begotten Son prayed so earnestly to His heavenly Father for the closest union among the
nations whom He has called by the one Baptism to the one inheritance of salvation bought
for an infinite price, will she not, for that reason, see to it that all in His marvelous
light will strive as with one mind for unity? And will it not be her wish to employ her
goodness and providence to console the Spouse of Christ, the Church, through her
long-sustained efforts in this enterprise, as well as to bring to full perfection the boon
of unity among the members of the Christian family, which is the illustrious fruit of her
17. A token that the fulfillment of these hopes may soon be a reality is to be seen in
the conviction and the confidence which warms the hearts of the devout. Mary will be the
happy bond to draw together, with strong yet gentle constraint, all who love Christ, no
matter where they may be, to form a nation of brothers yielding obedience to the Vicar of
Christ on earth, the Roman Pontiff, their common Father.
18. Here our mind, almost of its own accord, looks back through the annals of the
Church to the illustrious examples of her ancient unity, and dwells with affectionate
regard on the memory of the great Council of Ephesus. The absolute unity of faith, the
participation in identical worship, which in those days linked East with West, manifested
itself in the Council with a strength unparalleled, and shone beyond it with a radiant
beauty when,after the Fathers had emphasized the dogma that the Blessed Virgin is the
Mother of God, the news of their procedurespread abroad from the exultant populace
of that most devout of citiesfilled all Christendom with transports of universal
19. Every motive which bolsters and increases confidence in the power of our mighty and
kindhearted Virgin Mother to obtain the things we ask for, should act as a powerful
incentive generating in us that fiery zeal to pray to hera zeal We would incite in
every Catholic heart. Let each one weigh for himself, moreover, how fitting is this
practice and how fruitful to himself; and how acceptable and pleasing to the Blessed
Virgin it is bound to be. For, possessing as they do unity of faith, Catholics thus make
clear not only that they value this precious gift at its true worth, but also that they
intend to hold to it with jealous tenacity. No better way is afforded of proving a
fraternal feeling toward their separated brethren than to aid them by every means within
their power to recover this, the greatest of all gifts.
20. Such brotherly affection, truly Christian and practiced as long as the Church can
remember, has traditionally sought a special efficacy from the Mother of God, since she
has been the foremost promoter of peace and unity. St. Germain of Constantinople addresses
this prayer to her: "Be mindful of Christians who are thy servants; commend the
prayers of all; help all to realize their hopes; strengthen the faith; keep the Church in
unity."'14 And to this day the Greeks beseech her in this manner: "O
Virgin most pure, whose privilege it is to approach thy Son without fear of rebuff!
Beseech Him, O Virgin most holy, to grant peace to the world and to breathe into the
churches of Christendom one mind and one heart; and we shall all magnify thee."15
21. There is another special reason why Mary will be favorably disposed to grant our
united prayers in behalf of the nations cut off from communion with the Church: namely,
the prodigious things they have done for her honor in the past, especially in the East. To
them is due much of the credit for propagating and increasing devotion to her. From them
have come some of the best remembered heralds and champions of her dignity, who have
wielded a mighty influence by their authority or by their writingseulogists famed
for the ardor and the charm of their eloquence; "empresses well beloved of God,"16
who imitated the Virgin most pure in the example of their lives, and paid honor to her
with lavish generosity; temples and basilicas built to her glory with regal splendor.
22. And We may here add a detail not foreign to Our subject and reflecting further
glory upon the Mother of God. It is common knowledge that, under the changing fortunes of
time, great numbers of venerable images of our Lady have been brought from the East to the
West, most of them finding their way to Italy and to Rome.
23. Our forebears received them with deepest respect and venerated them with
magnificent honors; and their descendants, emulating their piety, continue to cherish
these images as highly sacred treasures. It is a delight for the mind to discover in this
fact the approval and the favor of a mother wholly devoted to her children. For it seems
to indicate that these images have been left in our midst as witness of the ages when the
entire Christian family was held together by ties of absolute unity, and as so many
precious pledges of our common inheritance. The very sight of them must needs invite
souls, as though the Virgin herself were bidding them, to keep in devout remembrance those
whom the Catholic Church calls with loving care back to the peace and the gladness which
they formerly enjoyed, within her embrace.
24. And so, in Mary, God has given us the most zealous guardian of Christian unity.
There are, of course, more ways than one to win her protection by prayer, but as for Us,
We think that the best and most effective way to her favor lies in the Rosary. We have
elsewhere brought it to the attention of the devout Christian and not least among the
advantages of the Rosary is the ready and easy means it puts in his hands to nurture his
faith, and to keep him from ignorance of his religion and the danger of error.
25. The very origin of the Rosary makes that plain. When such faith is exercised by
vocally repeating the Our Father and Hail Mary of the Rosary prayers, or better still in
the contemplation of the mysteries, it is evident how close we are brought to Mary. For
every time we devoutly say the Rosary in supplication before her, we are once more brought
face to face with the marvel of our salvation; we watch the mysteries of our Redemption as
though they were unfolding before our eyes; and as one follows another, Mary stands
revealed at once as God's Mother and our Mother.
26. The sublimity of that double dignity, the fruits of her twofold ministry, appear in
vivid light when in devout meditation we think of Mary's share in the joyful, the
sorrowful, the glorious mysteries of her Son. The heart is inflamed by these reflections
with a feeling of grateful love toward her and, esteeming everything beneath her as so
much worthless chaff, strives with manful purpose to prove worthy of such a Mother and the
gifts she bestows. Meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary, often repeated in the spirit
of faith, cannot help but please her and move her, the fondest of mothers, to show mercy
to her children.
27. For that reason We say that the Rosary is by far the best prayer by which to plead
before her the cause of our separated brethren. To grant a favorable hearing belongs
properly to her office of spiritual Mother. For Mary has not brought forthnor could
shethose who are of Christ except in the one same Faith and in the one same love;
for "Can Christ be divided?"17 All must live the life of Christ in an
organic unity in order to "bring forth fruit to God"18 in the one
same body. Every one of the multitudes, therefore, whom the mischief of calamitous events
has stolen away from that unity, must be born again to Christ of that same Mother whom God
has endowed with a never failing fertility to bring forth a holy people. And this Mary,
for her part, longs to do. Adorned by us with garlands of her favorite prayer, she will
obtain by her entreaties help in abundance from the Spirit that quickeneth. God grant that
they refuse not to comply with the burning desire of their merciful Mother but, on the
contrary, give ear, like men of good will, with a proper regard for their eternal
salvation, to the voice, gently persuasive, which calls to them: "My little children,
of whom I am in labor again, until Christ be formed in you."19
28. Knowing what power our Lady's Rosary possesses, not a few of Our Predecessors took
special care to spread the devotion throughout the countries of the Eastin
particular Eugene IV in the Constitution "Advesperascente" issued in 1439, and
later Innocent XII and Clement Xl. By their authority, privileges of wide extent were
granted to the Order of Preachers in favor of this project. The hoped-for results were
forthcoming, thanks to the energetic activity of the brethren of that Order, result to
which many a bright record bears witness, although time and adversity have since raised
great obstacles in the way of further progress. Yet even today the same zeal for the
Rosary devotion which We cited at the beginning of this Letter still fills the hearts of
great numbers in those landsa fact which, We trust, will be as useful in the
realization of Our hopes as it was in raising them.
29. Along with this hope, there is the joyful fact, of equal importance to the East and
the West, and in keeping with the longing We have expressed: namely the plan, Venerable
Brethren, which took form at the celebrated Eucharistic Congress held in Jerusalem, to
build a shrine in honor of the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary at Patras in Achaia, not far
from places where at one time Christianity, under her patronage, shone brilliantly. For,
as We have with great pleasure learned from the committee which was organized with Our
approval to advance the project and take charge of the work, most of you have already sent
in contributions collected for this purpose and have promised to continue your help until
the project has been completed.
30. On the strength of this it has been decided to begin work on a scale proportioned
to the size of the undertaking, and We have granted permission for the laying of the first
stone of the shrine at an early date with solemn ceremonies. The temple will stand as a
monument of ever lasting thanksgiving erected in the name of the Christian people to their
heavenly Helper and Mother. There she will be invoked unceasingly in the Greek and the
Latin rites that, ever more propitious, she will continue to heap new favors upon the
31. And now, Venerable Brethren, Our exhortation returns to the point from which it
began. Well may all, shepherds and flocks alike, fly with fullest confidence to the
protection of the great Virgin, especially next month. Let them not fail to call upon her
name, with one voice beseeching her as God's Mother, publicly and in private, by praise,
by prayer, by the ardor of their desire: "Show thyself our Mother." May her
motherly compassion keep her whole family safe from every danger, lead them in the path of
genuine prosperity, above all establish them in holy unity. She looks upon Catholics of
every nation with a kindly eye. Where the bond of charity joins them together she makes
them more ready, more and more determined, to uphold the honor of religion which, at the
same time, brings upon the state the greatest blessings. May she look with utmost
compassion upon those great and illustrious nations which are cut off from the Church and
upon the noble souls who have not forgotten their Christian duty.
32. May she aspire in them most salutary desires, foster their holy aspirations, and
bring them to happy completion. In the East, may that widespread devotion to her which the
dissident nations profess, as well as the countless glorious acts of their ancestors in
her honor, effectively aid them. In the West, may the memory of her beneficent patronage
stand its dissidents in good stead; with surpassing kindness she has, through many ages,
manifested her approval of, and has rewarded, the admirable devotion shown her among every
33. May the peoples of the East and West, and all the others wherever they may be,
profit by the suppliant voice of Catholics united in prayer, and by our voice which will
cry to Our last breath: Show thyself a Mother.
Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, the fifth day of September, in the eighteenth year of
1. Col. 4:2.
2. St. Anselm, Orat, 47.
3. St. Bernard, Serm. II in Adv.
4. St. Tharasius, Orat. in Praesentatione.
5. On Off. Graec., 8 Dec.
6. Hebr. 12:1.
7. St. Germ. Constantinop., Orat. 11, in Dortnitione B.M.V.
8. St. Cyril Alex., Homil. contra Nestor.
10. Ex hymno Graecorum.
11. St. John Damasc., in Annuntiatione Deigenitricis, n. 9.
12. St. German. Constantinop., Orat. in Praesentatione B.M.V.