The Leonine Prayers and the Conversion of Russia

In reading this morning about the street fighting going on in Kingston, Jamaica, where battles between the police and drug dealers has left twenty-six civilians dead, plus thirty more between the gang members and police (if I am reading the report correctly), I came across the request of the Archbishop for all priests and religious to pray the traditional Saint Michael the Archangel prayer daily for an end to the violence. The Saint Michael Prayer is recited along with the other prayers for the conversion of Russia at the end of every low Mass where the traditional Latin Mass is offered. The prayer we are all familiar with is a shorter version of the original prayer composed by Pope Leo XIII. Although Russia certainly needed prayers for its conversion from schism, at the time Pope Leo composed the Archangel Michael Prayer he was more concerned about the rise of Masonic power in Catholic countries, especially Italy, where the liberty of the Church was under fierce attack by revolutionary forces. It was to defeat these violent forces that the Holy Father requested certain prayers to be said after every low Mass. Thus we pray after the Salve Regina for “the freedom and exaltation of holy mother Church.”

Russia was in turmoil long before 1888. Czar Alexander II was assassinated by revolutionaries in 1881. His son, Alexander III, cracked down with a vengeance on all opposition and undid many of the social reforms his father had initiated. The socialists went underground during his rule but they continued to fan the smoldering frustration of the underpaid and overworked proletariat who were enduring incredibly inhuman working conditions. Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks and Mensheviks had different strategies, but both were intent upon toppling Czardom and Russian Christendom. The situation in Russia was so bad that Czar Nicholas actually launched a war in 1904 against Japan (excuse given was control over the strategic, warm water Port Arthur in Manchuria) in order to divert the energy of his people away from revolutionary tendencies and funnel it to a patriotic cause. Russia suffered a humiliating defeat in the war and seventy thousand casualties. This defeat exacerbated the domestic discontent, which led to the failed revolution of 1905, and incessant riots and strikes, followed by bloody military suppressions for about two more years. Eight thousand revolutionaries were executed during those years. But the godless revolution did not die; it bided its time, recuperated, reorganized, and re-recruited. In October, 1917, it did not fail.

I do not know why there are two different dates given for the famous vision of Pope Leo XIII, which gave rise to this prayer, but it seems to me, after doing a very little bit of research, that the first date, October 13, 1884, was the actual date of the vision. After finishing the Holy Sacrifice that morning the Pope was struck by a mental vision that caused him to collapse at the foot of the altar, as if he were dead, in the presence of several cardinals. Pope Leo heard a guttural voice, that of the devil, challenging Jesus in the tabernacle and claiming that he could destroy the Church if he were given more power and time. Then he heard the manly voice of the Savior grant His adversary more power and the one hundred years that Satan requested. Upon feeling no pulse from the Pontiff, they called for his physician. Suddenly the Pope awoke from the trance-like state and related what he had heard and perhaps seen, for there is an account that says that he saw Saint Michael casting the arch-demon into hell. Whether or not the Pope saw Saint Michael or not is uncertain, what is certain is that the cardinals heard his account of the “dialogue.” On account of this vision the Pope composed a prayer to the Archangel for his protection of the Church.

By another account the vision is said to have occurred on September 25, 1888. What seems to be the case, and I am ready to be corrected with facts, is that on this other date a longer prayer to Saint Michael was published with the Pope’s approval, which was granted an indulgence of 300 days for its recitation. (Enchiridion Indulgentiarum [Vatican: 1950)], 446.) The prayer was listed in the Raccolta of indulgenced prayers. It is quite long and can be found here.

In 1902, the last year of Leo’s reign, an amended version of the Prayer was issued. The more provocative content of the 1888 version had been removed, including these two verses: These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the Immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions” and this one, “In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of the abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered.” Apparently there were good reasons for this deletion, based on the fact that the verses are given in the past tense and refer, most likely, to the anti-Catholic measures and impious ecclesiastical confiscations of the Masonic king, Victor Emmanuel. By 1902, when better relations ensued between the papacy and the new king, Humberto, who was willingly to restore stolen property and negotiate the question of whose city “Roma” was, there was no need to unnecessarily aggravate the political situation with the accusations contained in the original Prayer. I do not know why other verses were dropped which referred directly to the battle against the satanic power exercised against the Church by her earthly enemies. If you compare the original prayer (see link above) with the following abbreviated 1902 version you will see what I mean:

O GLORIOUS ARCHANGEL St Michael, Prince of the heavenly host, defend us in battle, and in the struggle which is ours against the principalities and Powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against spirits of evil in high places. (Eph 6.) Come to the aid of men, whom God created immortal, made in his own image and likeness, and redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of the devil, (Wis 2, 1 Cor 6.) The Church venerates thee as protector and patron; to thee has God entrusted the souls of men to be established in heavenly beatitude.

Oh, pray to the God of peace that He may put Satan under our feet, so far conquered that he may no longer be able to hold men in captivity and harm the Church. Offer our prayers in the sight of the Most High, so that they may quickly conciliate the mercies of the Lord; and beating down the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, do thou again make him captive in the abyss, that he may no longer seduce the nations.

In 1930, Pope Pius XI declared that the Leonine Prayers after Low Mass be offered for the tranquility and freedom of the Catholic Church in Russia, hence they began to be called Prayers for the Conversion of Russia. He also shortened the Saint Michael Prayer to the form that we now use. (Allocution Indictam ante of 30 June 1930.) Finally, Pius XII called upon the Church to pray for the conversion of Russia after he personally consecrated the people of Russia to the Immaculate Heart in 1952, but he did not offer this consecration in union with all the bishops. Nor did he specifically request that the Leonine Prayers recited after Mass be offered for the “conversion of Russia;” nevertheless, he did exhort the whole Church to offer prayers and Rosaries for the conversion of that poor country, which is so dear to the Mother of God. Pope Pius made this request, and the personal consecration of Russia (although not collegially with all the bishops as requested by Our Lady), out of his love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary and his fatherly concern for the suffering Church in Russia and for the Church in all those nations under the iron yoke of Communism. There is no evidence that Pius XII ever read the Third Secret of Fatima. He did, however, receive a letter from Sister Lucia in 1940 urging him to make the consecration of Russia in unison with all the bishops. Oddly enough, it was not until 1957 (the Pope died in October of 1958) that the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, whose Prefect then was Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, sent a request to the Bishop of Leiria, Portugal, for photocopies of all of Sister Lucia’s writings. The Bishop chose not to photocopy the Third Secret, which had been placed in an envelope within an envelope, but sent it unopened as the seer of Fatima had written it down in 1945.

During the Second Vatican Council, on September 26, Pope Paul VI’s birthday, 1964, the Concilium’s Instruction Inter Oecumenici, “On the Implementation of Liturgical Norms,” suppressed the Leonine Prayers. This Instruction received the approval of the Pope and the official suppression was effected six months later in March.

This was a sad day for the Church in the twentieth century. April 24, 1994, was a day that came close to erasing that sad day of thirty years past. I was not aware until doing some research for this post this morning that on that April day, sixteen years ago, Pope John Paul II made the following relevant appeal during his Sunday Angelus address to the crowd gathered in Saint Peter’s Square:

“May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: ‘Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power’ (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.”