A bit of historical trivia: Why is October, the 10th month of today’s 12-month calendar, named after the Greek word “octo” meaning “eight”?
Simple — October was the 8th month of the early Roman 10-month-calendar instituted, according to legend, in 738 BCE by Romulus, the founder and first ruler of Rome. October became the 10th month when the second Roman ruler, Numa Pompilius (715–673 BCE), added January and February to account for the winter gap, thereby creating the 12-month-calendar, which was then re-calibrated to become the Julian calendar beginning 46 BCE, and the Gregorian calendar from October 1582 AD to date.
An almost Christmassy month with a cooler temperature, October has its unique historical actualities — from the temporal to the spiritual — petering out on “All Hallows Eve” with the joyful sound and scent of Yuletide fast breaking through.
From a temporal perspective, the approach of October trumpets the revelry of the world’s largest folk festival — Oktoberfest. The German “beer extravaganza” is held over a two-week period, peaking and ending on the first Sunday in October.
WORLD’S LARGEST ‘VOLKSFEST’
As the story goes, Octoberfest originated in Munich, Germany on Oct. 12, 1810, in celebration of the marriage of Bavaria’s crown prince — later King Ludwig I — to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The festival lasted five days, ending with a horse-race in a 42-hectare area called Theresienwiese (“Therese’s green”) in honor of the Crown Princess, although the locals shortened the name to “Wiesn.”
The anniversary celebration is held regularly, growing more popular with the years. When the city began allowing beer on the fairgrounds, makeshift beer stands began cropping up, eventually replaced by beer halls/tents sponsored by local breweries that are also represented in parades featuring horse-drawn beer wagons/floats (the Paulaner, Hofbrau, Augustiner, Spatenbrau, Hacker-Pschorr brau, etc.), with people in folk costumes amidst carnival and crazy-rides.
A highly profitable attraction in Munich, it is said to earn over 450 million euros each year, drawing more than six million people annually. Beer consumption is claimed to “go upwards to 2 million gallons with large supplies of pork sausages, smoked fish, spit-roasted chickens, among others, for the two-week extravaganza.”
Adding to the festivities is Rosa Wiesn — the “Gay Oktoberfest” event. Its high-point, called Gay Sunday, is said to attract over 8,000 LGBTQ festival goers, the second biggest LGBTQ event after the June 28th Christopher Street Day, forerunner of Gay Pride Day.
Oktoberfest has spread worldwide, taking after the traditional German beer festival, keeping alive the Bavarian sense of cordiality. However, with COVID-19 on the rampage, this fabled folk festival may take a respite this year. And for Oktoberfest Philippines? Good luck 2021!
But beyond this worldly extravaganza, what is it about October that makes it remarkably spiritual to churchgoers in this Asian Christian nation?
Ecclesial references point to October as the month when the feast days of some of the more popular saints of the universal Church are celebrated: St. Therese the Little Flower (Oct. 1), St. Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4), St. Faustina Kowalska (Oct. 5), and, St. Teresa of Avila (Oct. 15), among others.
Foremost is the devotion to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary (originally instituted by Pope Saint Pius V as the feast of Our Lady of Victory to commemorate the miraculous Oct. 7, 1571 Victory at Lepanto) to which October is dedicated.
The Holy League’s naval victory over the Ottoman Turks at Lepanto, Gulf of Patras in Western Greece — though out-numbered three to one, the Holy League’s navy sank about 200 enemy ships, killing over 30,000 — spelled the decline of the Ottoman Empire, saving Christian Europe from going the way of another Faith. The Holy League (made up of the Venetian Republic, Papal States and Spanish Empire) attributed its victory to Christian Europe’s praying the Holy Rosary. The Venetian Senators declared after the Battle of Lepanto that: “It was not courage, not arms, not leaders, but Mary of the Rosary that made us victors!”
Then there is La Naval de Manila, the Philippines’ parallel to Lepanto when, in a series of five naval battles circa 1646, the out-numbered Spanish-Filipino forces repulsed the superior naval forces of the Dutch Republic which were attempting to conquer Manila. In commemoration of that victory (attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin), the La Naval de Manila procession is likewise held in October, coinciding with the established devotion to the Lady of the Holy Rosary.
Yet another October event connected to the Virgin Mary is the Miracle of the Sun. On Oct. 13, 1917, amid the brewing Bolshevik Revolution (which erupted alongside the Great War of 1914-1918, with the deadliest pandemic of modern history, the Spanish flu, following soon), the miraculous solar phenomenon was witnessed by about 70,000 in Fatima, Portugal (shortly after the apparition of the Blessed Virgin who identified herself as the “Lady of the Holy Rosary”). Not long after, the Great War ended.
Ironically, it took 13 years (on Oct. 13, 1930) for the Bishop of Leiria, Portugal to accept the vision of the three peasant children — Lucia dos Santos and cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto — as truly the apparition of the “Lady of the Holy Rosary.” And the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin came about, so with the recitation of the Rosary for the cause of World Peace.
Not too long after the 1914-1918 Great War, the world was again facing a black time. There was a perceived waning of the public recitation of the Holy Rosary. And by late 1930s to mid-’40s, barely two decades after World War I, came the prophesied destructive modern war foreshadowed at Fatima. And the “ideology of Godlessness” was on the offensive: Communism rapping closer to the underbelly of the Free World.
The October miracle at Fatima was an alarm bell, an urgent call to return to prayer. “We put great confidence in the Holy Rosary for the healing of evils which afflict our times” said Pope Pius XII (1939-1958 pontificate). And the rest is history.
But how did the Rosary come about? Again, a bit of reverent trivia: the word “rosary” comes from the Latin word “rosarium” meaning “rose garden.” The same way “orchidarium” means “orchid garden.”
The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes the Rosary as a religious activity in which prayers are recited and counted on a string of beads called a chaplet — a kind of garland or wreath worn on the head in those early times — arranged in five decades.
The origin of the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin as a popular Catholic method of public and private prayer is associated with St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order, who received it, according to tradition, in that early-13th century Marian vision in Prouille, France. It reached its definitive form in the 15th century through the preaching of the Dominican, Blessed Alan de la Roche.
The Rosary’s mysteries — four sets of five mysteries each — emphasize the Rosary’s Cristocentric nature. The New Testament on a knotted cord, so to speak.
In 1520, Pope Leo X gave the Rosary official approbation. And in 1826, Venerable Pauline-Marie Jaricot founded the Living Rosary Association, supported by Pope Gregory XVI, receiving official canonical status in 1832. In a “Living Rosary,” people represent each bead of the rosary, with each person leading one prayer of the rosary.
Fittingly observed as Holy Rosary month, October beckons: that we pause a bit from the temporal, humble ourselves, give thanks, and, in the “noisy-confusion-of-life,” bend our knees in supplication — more so with COVID-19 still fiendishly challenging the mettle of medical science and economics, the resilience of our social fabric, and the depth of our Faith in this age of disruptions.
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP.
Antonio “Tony” T. Hernandez is management and development finance consultant; Past President & Advisory Council member of the Government Association of CPAs; past Director of PICPA; and former senior officer of Land Bank of the Philippines.