Friday 24 July 2015

The English Martyrs and the Rosary

Anne Howard, the wife of Saint Philip Howard, praying the rosary
Screenshot taken from 'Saint Robert Southwell' film
© Mary's Dowry Productions

From the start of Saint Henry Garnet's missionary work to defend and preserve the Catholic Faith in England in Penal times, he had encouraged Catholics to enrol themselves in a pious sodality known as the Confraternity of the Rosary.  At no time did he doubt that the fight for the old religion was to be won mainly by spiritual weapons.

From his own experience, Saint Henry Garnet set great store by the merits and prayers of the martyred priests, and it was this that made him their first and most detailed historian.  He treasured also the prayers of his Roman friends.  Whenever he wrote to Acquaviva he included a petition for his prayers and the prayers of his Roman friends.

Saint Henry Garnet and Saint Robert Southwell
Screenshot taken from our film 'Saint Robert Southwell'
© Mary's Dowry Productions

In Rome, Saint Henry Garnet had witnessed a growing devotion to the Rosary.  When Pope Pius V had called for a crusade against the Turks he urged all Catholics to support it with the regular recital of the rosary.  Devout persons in all countries attributed the victory of Lepanto to the widespread use of the rosary in the churches of Rome and Italy.  Garnet himself had witness the inauguration of the feast of the Rosary by Pope Gregory XIII in 1573.  Before leaving for England he had received from the Dominican General special faculties, reserved normally to the friars of that Order, to admit English Catholics into the Confraternity.  A crusader at heart, Saint Henry Garnet believed that prayer would be effective against heresy in England as it had been in the time of Saint Dominic against the Albigenses.

While Saint Robert Southwell was engaged writing the Supplication, Saint Henry Garnet wrote his first published English work, The Societie of the Rosary.  The title page explains his intention.  There the antiphon of the office of Our Lady is printed - Gaude Virgo Maria, cunctas hereses sola intermisti in universe mundo: Rejoice Virgin Mary, since thou alone hast crushed all heresies throughout the world.

In October 1591 Saint Henry Garnet wrote urgently to Acquaviva reminding him that he had already asked him for a renewal of his special privileges regarding the Confraternity of the Rosary, for he feared that they had lapsed with the death of the Dominican General Sixtus Fabri, in 1589.  Now he added a request for the new Master General to grant a dispensation from the rule that the names of members should be inscribed in a book. 

It was one thing to allow Catholics to risk arrest by keeping rosary beads secretly in their homes, another to draw up a list of members which if they fell into the hands of the priest-hunters would bring ruin to their homes.  To spread the devotion more quickly, Saint Henry Garnet was anxious that more English priests should be given the faculties that he himself had been granted.

Anne Howard, wife of Saint Philip Howard, praying the rosary
Screenshot taken from our film 'Saint Robert Southwell'
© Mary's Dowry Productions

Saint Henry Garnet's book on the rosary was widely diffused.  When the stock of the first edition was seized in a raid on Saint Henry Garnet's press a second edition was out within a year.  An engraving of the Virgin with her infant son appeared on the new title page.  This was Saint Henry Garnet's hope against heresy.  He was "fully persuaded" that Catholics should enlist on their side the power of Our Lady's intercession and "obtain from her a new rainbow, which being a sign of God, cannot signify falsely, but (must) most certainly foretell our comfort and relief"'

Taken from 'A study in Friendship - Saint Robert Southwell and Saint Henry Garnet' by Philip Caraman, S.J.  

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