Dear Brothers and Sisters,
If you grew up Catholic, you probably remember singing the refrain to a Marian hymn with these words: O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today! Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
For a very long time Catholics have paid particular honor to the Blessed Virgin Mary during the month of May, even giving her the title “Queen of the May.” Why May? In the Northern Hemisphere the peak of the spring season takes place in May, with flowers and trees in full bloom after a long and barren winter. May also falls during the Easter season, when the Church celebrates the Resurrection of Our Lord from the dead. Both of these associations bring to mind new life and fresh beginnings and reminds us of the pivotal role that Mary had in the birth and life of Jesus. Tradition has it that Our Lord first appeared to His Mother after He had risen. May, as the natural world around us is displaying new and abundant life, is thus an especially appropriate time of year to honor she from whom our Lord received His human nature, and who was the first to rejoice at His resurrection. May is also the time when the Church anticipates the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This recalls to mind Mary being with the disciples in the upper room as the Holy Spirit descended upon them, with she in their midst as the Mother of the Church.
In 1965, in an encyclical titled “Mense Maio,” Pope St. Paul VI wrote that “May is a month which the piety of the faithful has long dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. Our heart rejoices at the thought of the moving tribute of faith and love which (is) paid to the Queen of Heaven in every corner of the earth. For this is the month during which Christians, in their churches and their homes, offer the Virgin Mother more fervent and loving acts of homage and veneration; and it is the month in which a greater abundance of God’s merciful gifts comes down to us from our Mother’s throne.”
In many places the custom of crowning images of the Blessed Mother with flowers takes place at or near the beginning of May. This took place in our parish this year on April 30, and we enjoyed the beautiful image of Our Lady surrounded by flower offerings at all the Masses that weekend.
Many other Marian customs are associated with this month such as the blessing of, and decoration with, flowers and herbs. Healing herbs are especially meaningful since they remind us to imitate Mary’s healing presence in the world. Some flowers connected with the Blessed Virgin are: “marigolds (Mary’s gold), roses (Mary, the Mystical Rose), violets (Our Lady’s Modesty), columbine (Our Lady’s Shoes), mint (Our Lady’s Herb) and Lily of the Valley (Our Lady’s Tears).” Perhaps a special family activity that you could do sometime this month might include a trip to a garden store to see how many seed packets or plants associated with Mary you can find and purchase, to create a Mary Garden at your home. Consider giving special honor sometime this month to those members of your family who bear the name of Mary in some form, by making them “Queen for a Day” at your home, perhaps on the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church on May 24, or on the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 31. You could also make a family pilgrimage to nearby churches that are dedicated to Mary under one of her titles. Regardless of how you choose to celebrate this month, participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in prayer, especially the Holy Rosary and other devotions in honor of the Blessed Virgin, should take pride of place.
Fr. Richard Ballard