“Sweetly rest in her embrace”: The 125th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s last Rosary encyclical

Mariologists, as well as Dominican priests entrusted with the direction of the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary in their provinces, explain why Pope Leo XIII wrote his Rosary encyclicals and to reflect on the continued significance of Pope Leo’s teaching.

Pope Leo XIII in a portrait painted in 1900, three years before his death, by Philip de László (Image: WIkipedia; image of Rosary: Myriams-Fotos/Pixabay)

One hundred twenty-five years ago, on September 5, 1898, Pope Leo XIII issued Diuturni temporis (“Of a long time”), the last of his dozen Rosary encyclicals.

Pope Leo was eighty-eight years old and had reigned for two decades when he wrote Diuturni temporis (Latin text, English translation). Addressed to the Church’s bishops, it is a brief encyclical letter of only seven paragraphs. In it, the Pontiff thanked Almighty God for the graces he had received, summarized the teaching of his previous Rosary encyclicals, and promised to publish a document on the Rosary sodality (confraternity)—a pledge he fulfilled a month later with the apostolic constitution Ubi primum.

Diuturni temporis is written with tenderness. In the first paragraph, Pope Leo speaks of the “sweet remembrance of the motherly protection of the august Queen of Heaven.” In the concluding paragraph, he expresses hope that “in the last hour of life, the faithful may be aided by her assistance and sweetly rest in her embrace.”

To commemorate the encyclical’s 125th anniversary, CWR asked Mariologists, as well as Dominican priests entrusted with the direction of the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary in their provinces, to explain why Pope Leo XIII wrote his Rosary encyclicals and to reflect on the continued significance of Pope Leo’s teaching. CWR also asked them to describe how Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have fostered devotion to the Rosary in the decades since the publication of the last major papal document on the Rosary, Pope St. John Paul II’s 2002 apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae.

Pope Leo XIII and the Rosary

Father Edward Looney, the president of the Mariological Society of America and a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay, said that Pope Leo XIII wrote his Rosary encyclicals “for various reasons. One would be to remind the faithful of the importance of the month of October and the value of the Rosary.”

Pope Leo “also saw the error and danger of his times and believed the Rosary could respond to it,” Father Looney added. “Not only did the world face problems, but in his second [Rosary] encyclical, he [wrote] about trials within the Church. In the same encyclical, Pope Leo XIII was concerned about a health crisis affecting Italy.”

Rev. Dr. R. K.Samy (Rayar Kulandaisamy), a priest who ministers in the Diocese of Thanjavur, is the founder of Mariological Society of India. Describing Pope Leo XIII as “a workers’ pope with a different weaponry” (i.e., the Rosary), Father K.Samy said that the Pontiff “steadfastly promoted the use of the Rosary and scapular,” which shows “how easy the devotion to Mary is and how suitable they are to the people.”

Pope Leo “offers an absolutely perfect model of domestic life in meditation on the Holy Family at Nazareth,” he continued. “The larger society could thus experience the salutary effects of the devotions.”

“Pope Leo XIII had a great devotion to the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Louis de Montfort,” added Dr. Robert Fastiggi, professor of systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary (Detroit) and a member of the administrative council of the Mariological Society of America. “This helps to explain his love of the Rosary.”

“From his writings, it’s also clear he saw the Rosary as a spiritual weapon to offset the movements in Europe that were threatening the Catholic faith, such as Freemasonry, Communism, and anti-clericalism,” Fastinggi continued. “We must remember that Leo XIII became Pope in 1878, which was just eight years after the Papal States had been seized by [Giuseppe] Garibaldi, who was a Freemason. In his writings on the Rosary, he frequently refers to the growing threats to the faith and [to] the Rosary as an antidote.”

“Politically, the Church was being ostracized by many secular governments,” said Father Paul Marich, O.P. Promoter of the Rosary for the Dominican Province of St. Joseph. “In the academic world, sacred truths were being denied or questioned. Even on the social scene, the Industrial Revolution was threatening family life and the rights of the working class, which Leo addressed in his famous encyclical Rerum novarum.”

“Catholics living in the modern world need the encouragement to know that the Church is not irrelevant, that the beliefs we hold dear are indeed true, that there is something sacred to be embraced,” added Father Marich, who is responsible for the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary in his province. “The Rosary helps accomplish all of this.”

Father Marich explains:

By meditating on the mysteries of Christ’s life, we reaffirm our belief in the truth that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14), and that he died and rose for our sins. The Rosary allows people, especially the family gathered in the home, to gather together for something sacred. It would also be a means of forming greater solidarity among like-minded Catholics, seen in the reestablishment [by Pope Leo] of the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary.

Father Dismas Sayre, O.P., director of the Rosary Center in Portland (OR) and Promoter of the Rosary Confraternity for the Western Dominican Province, said that “it seems that every Pope decries the moral and spiritual circumstances of his particular time, but Pope Leo XIII is attempting to answer his own particular troubles: namely, the encroachment, as he saw it, of secular powers into religious spheres, whether by the marginalization of the religious to merely ‘worship’ within a church building, or by the outright attack of the secular on the religious, whether by Communists, Freemasons, what have you.”

Pope Leo “was not against a secular government per se; indeed we see in Diuturnum the Pauline idea that a Christian is an ideal citizen even in a non-Christian or pagan state,” Father Sayre continued. “Still, there were forces within and without the Church pressing on all sides, whether a growing body of skeptical theological schools that dismissed all miracles or the divine inspiration of Scripture, or that asserted that science somehow ‘disproved’ Christianity, and so forth. Militant atheist Communism was on the rise, and was beginning to make its presence felt in various struggles.”

“In his [Pope Leo’s] mind, the Rosary is the most beloved and most efficacious means of imploring the Mother of God for her help, as had been shown in various times in history, especially at the most dire situation of the Battle of Lepanto,” Father Sayre added.

Continued significance

Asked to reflect on the most important lessons that Pope Leo XIII’s Rosary encyclicals offer today, Father Looney said that “it is important for us to understand the significant role that the Rosary has played in the long history of the Church.”

“Leo goes to great lengths to remind us of the powerful ways the Rosary has aided the Church and society,” said Father Looney. “It’s a reminder to us of the power of Mary’s intercession when we have recourse to her. Reading the encyclicals will also help a person gain a greater appreciation for the three sets of mysteries known to Leo, the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious.”

Quoting Diuturni temporis (n. 3), Rev. Dr. R. K.Samy said that Pope Leo “pointed out that the origin of this form of prayer is divine rather than human, showing it to be an admirable garland woven from the Angelic Salutation, together with the Lord’s Prayer, joined to meditation, and that this form of prayer was most powerful and particularly efficacious for attaining eternal life. Besides the special excellence of the prayers, it affords a powerful protection to faith and conspicuous models of virtue in the mysteries proposed for contemplation.”

The founder of the Mariological Society of India also referred to differences between the mysteries of the Rosary and the approach taken by some Hindu texts. “Unlike the Puranas and Ithikasas, the mysteries of salvation were not just abstract truths, but events in the lives of Jesus and Mary, as recollected by the earliest generations.”

“The Rosary encyclicals of Leo XIII are a rich treasure house of deep Mariological themes,” observed Dr. Fastiggi. Citing the encyclicals Octobri mense (1891) and Adiutricem (1895), Dr. Fastiggi said, “I think we should appreciate how Leo XIII points to the importance of Mary as the Mediatrix of all graces and her role in the work of redemption as the ‘Reparatrix of the whole world.’”

The Rosary encyclicals show Catholics today that “the Rosary is a prayer for everybody, whether they realize it or not,” added Father Marich. “Of course, it is a devotion, and not a liturgical prayer or sacrament. But the Rosary is rooted in Scripture, to the point that Pope Leo XIII even says that ‘this form of prayer is divine rather than human’” (Diuturni temporis, 3).

“All Catholics can embrace the Rosary, because it is centered on Christ, it is rooted in Scripture, and it allows us to meditate on the mysteries of our salvation, all with and through the intercession of the one who was closest to Christ, His Mother Mary,” Father Marich continued.

“For Pope Leo XIII, ‘the more the better,’ so to speak,” said Father Sayre. He explained that Pope Leo

notes how historically, when the people of God gather together in prayer for one common cause, we are more certain of victory. Likewise, he believes that “public prayers are much more excellent and more efficacious than private ones,” (Augustissimae Virginis Mariae), meaning as a Church, and not just as individuals.

Man is a social creature, and gathering in holy and pious groups such as this both helps the individual and society, as we all “pull” together in prayer for the good of Holy Mother Church and all mankind. This is why he encourages membership in the Rosary Confraternity — a few prayers here and there from an individual are one thing, but imagine if all those aboard the Barque of Peter rowed in harmony, at the same time, for the same things?

The tradition continues

In Diuturni temporis (n. 4), Pope Leo XIII recalled how five previous popes fostered devotion to the Rosary. In the century after Pope Leo’s death in 1903, Pope Pius XI (in 1937), Venerable Pius XII (1951), Pope St. John XXIII (1959), and Pope St. Paul VI (1966) devoted encyclicals to the Rosary. Saints John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II further enriched papal teaching on the Rosary in apostolic letters and exhortations (1961, 1974, 2002).

Neither Pope Benedict XVI nor Pope Francis has published a document of similar stature on the Rosary — but both have prayed it and have continued to foster devotion to it. In 1985, nearly three decades before he became pope, the future Pope Francis began to “recite the 15 mysteries of the Rosary every day,” he recalled in 2005.

“For me, the contribution of these two popes is their witness,” said Father Looney. “Specifically, [Pope Benedict] would stop in front of a statue of Mary in the Vatican Gardens and pray the Rosary.”

“Both Benedict and Francis have advanced the cause and message of Fatima drawing attention to the messages,” he continued. “Both pontiffs have also been pilgrims. The witness of Pope Francis visiting St Mary Major before and after apostolic trips speaks volumes to Marian devotion. And Pope Francis’s love of Our Lady Undoer of Knots has the Rosary attached to it as part of its devotion.”

“Both Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have visited Fatima, which shows their support for Our Lady of Fatima, who stresses the importance of the Rosary,” added Dr. Fastiggi. “I think Pope Francis provided a living witness to the power of the Rosary when he prayed it in the Vatican Gardens to bring an end to the pandemic”.

“He also composed some prayers to be used after the recitation of the Rosary” to invoke an end to the pandemic, Dr. Fastiggi continued. “In a general audience this past May, Pope Francis explained why the Rosary should be prayed.”

“Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have been very forward in their Marian devotion, trying to lead by example,” said Father Marich. He explained:

They have continued the tradition of visiting the statue of the Immaculate Conception in the Piazza di Spagna in Rome every December 8, which popes have been doing since the 1950s. Pope Francis in particular made a visit to the Basilica of St. Mary Major the day after he was elected to entrust his papacy to Our Lady.

Both popes have also been seen holding their Rosaries in moments of prayer, both in large group settings or quiet private moments (Pope Benedict was known to make Rosary walks in the Vatican gardens). They have also encouraged the praying of the Rosary in different homilies and speeches throughout their pontificates. The example of these popes should be a catalyst for Catholics everywhere to see why the Rosary is so important to the life of our faith.

“I would say that the greatest witness to the Rosary that Pope Francis and Pope Benedict have shown, as different as they are in personality, is that even the Holy Fathers are not ashamed to be seen publicly reciting the Rosary, or are often caught praying it in private,” said Father Sayre. “Some of the most beloved images of the Pontiffs, when not in some major assembly, have been of them simply reciting the Rosary by themselves, or while walking with another person in the Vatican gardens.”

“That, more than anything else for many, really unites the Pontiff with ‘the common layfolks’ and puts us on the same plane, simply as Christian believers together in imploring the Mother of God for her help,” he added. “However educated or uneducated you may be, however rich or poor, whatever your status of life, the Rosary is a chain of charity to unites us and binds us together as children of Mary.”

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About J. J. Ziegler 57 Articles
J. J. Ziegler, who holds degrees in classics and sacred theology, writes from North Carolina.


  1. Thank you. Look forward to articles on the Rosary. Is there a book that covers all the Popes encyclicals on the Rosary. I have a small booklet on St John Paul II encyclical, would be nice to have a book covering all the Rosary encyclicals.

    Additionally think Priests should include or incorporate the importance of saying the Rosary in their sermons. It seems that Rosary and its importance is rarely if any mentioned in Sunday sermons. Somehow the word needs to get out to Priests that the Rosary is very important and needs to be emphasized and properly understood as explained in this article. Again Thank You to CWR for this article.

  2. Thank you – has there been such a Feast at CWR of grateful in any recent times – of respectful words about the Holy Father , mentioning him along with Pope Benedict too in courteous terms , with mention of both reciting the Rosary .
    Hope this is a preview of the New Wine at Cana – orchestrated with waters drawn by the honored guests – Mo.Teresa along with Pope Benedict ,St.John Paul 11 and others ..hope those who have allowed the father wounds of fear and betrayal related to events around the arrival of Pope Francis , envy too may be from fear that such deep compassion and genuine love for the poor – of the spiritual kind too cannot be achieved fast enough without being in the lives of such ..
    Good article to help those who want less of the bitterness and more of light and truth –

  3. Divine Mercy in My Soul; 438
    Through your prayers, you shall mediate between heaven and earth.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul; 531
    Your purpose and that of your companions is to unite yourselves with Me as closely as possible; through love You will reconcile earth with heaven, you will soften the just anger of God, and you will plead for mercy for the world.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul; 320
    The prayer of a humble loving soul disarms the anger of My Father and draws down an ocean of blessings.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul; 383
    My daughter, for the sake of your sincere and generous love, I grant them many graces although they are not asking Me for them. But I am doing so because of the promise I have made to you.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul; 435
    By your entreaties, you and your companions shall obtain mercy for yourselves and for the world.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul; 367
    To comfort you, let Me tell you that there are souls living in the world who love Me dearly. I dwell in their hearts with delight. But they are few. In convents too, there are souls that fill My Heart with joy. They bear My features; therefore the Heavenly Father looks upon them with special pleasure. They will be a marvel to Angels and men. Their number is very small. They are a defense for the world before the justice of the Heavenly Father and a means of obtaining mercy for the world. The love and sacrifice of these souls sustains the world in existence.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul; 1767
    My daughter, I want to instruct you on how you are to rescue souls through sacrifice and prayer. You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons.

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