When God sent Archangel Gabriel with a message to Mary saying she would have a son, Mary asked how this could be possible as she was a virgin. Gabriel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest on you”. Mary had only one reply, “I am the Lord’s servant”.
Although she is not worshipped as a goddess, we Catholics honor Saint Mary as Jesus’s mother, His first devotee, and helper of life. It is then a blessing that the entire month of May is devoted to honoring the devotion and sacrifice of Mother Mary. A true Christian should learn the significance and observe the month of Mary with the utmost respect.
The Significance of May
Throughout time, May was considered by many as the beginning of the new season with new leaves coming to the trees after a dark and cold winter. The spring brings back life from the gloomy winter and allows us to reflect on the past and present. It inevitably got associated with birth and creators. Going back to the ancient time of Greece, May was dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of fecundity. The ancient Romans dedicated the month of May to Flora, the goddess of blooms. They celebrated it at the end of April as Ludi Florals or Floral Games.
In medieval times, a celebration of May expelling the winter came to a widespread practice and the month of Mary was born. Though it was observed from August 15-September 14, which is still practiced in some places. It is in this era, during the 13th century to be exact, that a whole month, a thirty-day daily spiritual devotion towards Virgin Mary came into celebration. But surprisingly, it was not until the 18th century that it became a worldwide celebration originating from Rome itself.
May the Month of Mary
If you grew up in a church school, you would be more familiar with this practice of celebrating Mary. There would be a celebration of joy and happiness revolving around the Virgin Mary this month. A figure or a picture of the Virgin Mary would be on display on the altar with a blooming crown on her head at the beginning of May. In some places there is a separate ceremony for the crowning, some do it even at the end of the month. But crowning her is a way to commemorate Mary individually. Most of the time it is a flower-based crown that signifies blossoms, but metal or other materials such as wood, ceramic are also used. The crowning is taken as far as having a special Mass for the crowning itself in some places. Nevertheless, it is one of the most important parts of the celebration.
Why should we remember Mother Mary?
Pope Paul VI wrote in 1965 that May is an occasion for a “moving tribute of faith and love which Catholics in every part of the world pay to the Queen of Heaven.” The most Catholic reason to honor Mary is that she is the mother of Our Savior, Jesus Christ. Without her, our King, Jesus Christ himself, would not be able to walk among us. She is the most perfect disciple of them all. She is free of any kind of worldly sin. Her whole life and mission were to devote herself to Jesus and to assist him in his way possible. As she is the mother of Christ, and Christ is the body of us whole, she is also our mother. It is not a physical connection, but much higher than that, a spiritual one. We can pray to her for guidance and strength during tough times and difficult moments in our lives.
She loves us more than we can imagine. While Jesus was crucified, tortured, and crowned with thorns, she endured that only because of us. So that we can have our salvation. No mother can endure such pain without having a higher cause as she did. She was by his side as an advocate, helper, and benefactress, which can never be forgotten. Without her assistance, it would have been hard for anyone to continue the journey. And for all these reasons, she deserves an entire month devoted to her and all she has done for humanity.
How to best observe the month?
There are several ways people honor her depending on the region and locality. The most common practice is the daily recitation of the Rosary in May and erecting a special May altar with a statue or a picture of Mary. There is also a long tradition of crowning the statue during May which is called the May Crowning. It is to signify Mary’s virtue. Often it is made of blossoms remembering our Mother’s virtue and beauty and the effect that she has on our lives. It is a huge celebration in some places around the world which is done outside the Mass or even the Mass is celebrated before or after the crowning.
Making a crown can also be a practice you can start with your family and children. The Queen of May deserves only the best and commonly the hawthorn flowers are used. However, if your budget does not allow you to continuously buy fresh flowers, you can also make a crown yourself. All you need is some: artificial flowers (sized for the statue you are crowning), cloth ribbon, the Mary statue, hot glue, and scissors. Simply measure the ribbon around the statue’s head and knot it in the back. Cut the extra ribbon, hot glue the flowers on the ribbon, and finish! However, note that you should place the ribbon back on the statue occasionally as you place the flowers so you can see how it fits and looks. The youngest child can carry the crown on a cushion and the oldest girl can place it on the statue. In different countries, different flowers are used but the custom is to use the most beautiful and freshest available. Remember to change them throughout the month to maintain freshness. The May Crowning is majorly practiced by Roman Catholics, Eastern churches have a simple tradition of placing gold trim or lace around an icon of Mary. Mary is also very beloved and respected by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Many people practice Marian devotions dedicating prayers, pious acts, visual arts, poetry, and music to the Virgin Mary. The pope encourages these practices in order to stay close to God and to remind us of everything Mary sacrificed, most importantly, her son. Other groups also venerate other Mary movements such as Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima, Akita etc. Some other important dates in May are May 13th- Our Lady of Fatima and May 31st- Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Marian hymns include O Mary, We Crown Thee with Blossoms Today, Hail Queen of Heaven, the Regina Caeli, and the Ave Maria. Some famous Marian prayers include the Magnificat and the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It is not just a church practice, but a worldwide practice itself. We can do the same thing in our home or office. We can devote a praying place such as our bedroom or living room and devote it only to her in May. We can put up a picture or a statue of her, crown her and remember her every day this month. It is a practice anyone can do with very little effort, but the long-lasting effect it has on our soul is unimaginable. Having a prayer corner in your home is a must-have for your spiritual benefits. Praying daily will enhance your mental and soulful strength with God and the connection you form is like no other. This is especially important now, as so many have suffered hardship and loss. Putting up a statue or a picture of Mother Mary will be a new celebration for this month. You can invite close family and loved ones to take part in this dedication and the holy spirit can fill all your hearts as we remember everything Mary has done for us. And if you are curious where to find these beautiful Virgin Mary items, Holyart.com can be a helpful resource.