It’s finally here! We who live in the Northern Hemisphere are delighted to welcome the flowers that April showers (and there were a lot of them!) bring to us now. May is the most delightful of months, because it feels like the earth itself is awakening from hibernation.
It’s also the Month of Mary. Many of us have childhood memories of May processions, of crowning statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the songs in her honor. But… do you know why May is especially Mary’s month?
It started with pre-Christian springtime celebrations that expelled winter and welcomed the beginning of new life. It's interesting to note that in ancient Greece, May was dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of fecundity, while in ancient Rome it belonged to Flora, the goddess of blossoms—in other words, women have long been associated with springtime. Similar customs can be seen elsewhere in Europe, all centering around the practice of expelling winter, May being the start of the season in which new growth blossoms on the earth.
During the Middle Ages, the Church began celebrating a thirty-day devotion to Mary that it called “Lady Month.” The celebration started mid-August and went to mid-September, and it included thirty daily spiritual exercises honoring Mary.
It wasn’t until the 18th century that this devotion was transferred to the springtime and May received a particular association with the Virgin Mary. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The May devotion in its present form originated at Rome where Father Latomia of the Roman College of the Society of Jesus, to counteract infidelity and immorality among the students, made a vow at the end of the eighteenth century to devote the month of May to Mary. From Rome the practice spread to the other Jesuit colleges and thence to nearly every Catholic church of the Latin rite.”
This custom became especially widespread during the nineteenth century as the month of May in the springtime combined with a month-long devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. And so the concept of May as Mary’s month was born!
How do we spend a month with Mary?
The first thing to know is that there’s no “right” way to honor our Mother during May. And in fact, there are many varied ways of celebrating in her honor. Some parishes erect a special May altar with a statue or picture of Mary. As you may remember from your childhood, many parishes and Catholic schools celebrate with a “May Crowning” (often accompanied by a procession) in which the statue of Mary is crowned with flowers—flowers because it’s springtime, of course, but also to remind us of Mary’s beauty and virtue.
Schools and churches all have their own particular May celebrations of Our Lady, but there’s no reason why those celebrations should be confined to public spaces. Aren’t our homes the most appropriate places to spend a month with our Mother?
One of the things that has struck me when I have visited the homes of Eastern Orthodox Christians is the icon corner. An icon corner is the family's place of worship, which is sometimes also called the “home altar.” The concept of the church of the home is an ancient tradition that began in the first century before there were separate churches and Christians gathered in private homes to worship. The corner holds various icons, a candle or oil lamp, and a copy of the Bible, and the householders use it daily for individual and family prayers. It makes sense: we have designated spaces for sleeping or eating; why not have one for prayer as well?
There’s no reason why we cannot borrow this custom and create our own prayer corners in our homes, and creating one this month that honors our Blessed Mother is a beautiful way of spending May with her. Place a statue or image of Mary in the center of your altar and surround it with beauty—perhaps those new flowers from your garden! And then offer her a crown—a real one, or a spiritual one, there’s no “right” way to do it—and make it a point to spend time with her in your prayer corner every day.
There are many ways to spend time with Mary; she is, after all, our Mother, and there is nothing that we cannot bring to her, share with her. If you’d like a place to start, you might consider the Angelus, traditionally prayed at noon but appropriate for any time:
V. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord,
R. Be it done unto me according to your word.
V. And the Word was made flesh,
R. And dwelt among us.
V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, your Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross be brought to the glory of his resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
And of course, as Catholics we are called to imitate Mary. St. Louis de Montfort gives us a list of the ten principal virtues of Mary: deep humility, lively faith, blind obedience, unceasing prayer, constant self-denial, surpassing purity, ardent love, heroic patience, angelic kindness, and heavenly wisdom. “The greatest saints, those richest in grace and virtue will be the most assiduous in praying to the most Blessed Virgin, looking up to her as the perfect model to imitate and as a powerful helper to assist them.”
So… go, and enjoy this beautiful month of May with your Mother!
by Jeannette de Beauvoir