Liturgy LinesReturn to Liturgy Lines
The Month of Mary
THE MONTH OF MARY
Older readers will remember that May has traditionally been the month of Mary in the Catholic Church. Since none of the important Marian feasts fall in May, we may agree with the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins: May is Mary’s month, and I muse at that and wonder why.
Until the twelfth century, the Byzantine rite observed August as a Marian month centred on the solemnity of the Dormition of Our Lady (15 August). In the Coptic rite the Marian month is kiahk, corresponding approximately to January-February and focussing on Christmas.
The first indications of a Marian month in the West date from the sixteenth century. The tradition may have come from a fusion between popular devotion and the folk festivals of early summer. It was not until the nineteenth century that petal-strewing processions and crowning Mary with flowers became common in English and Irish parishes in May. The Filipino community celebrates Flores de Mayo, a flower festival in honour of the Virgin Mary, in May.
In the West, the practice of observing months dedicated to the Blessed Virgin emerged from a context in which the Liturgy was not always regarded as the normative form of Christian worship. This caused, and continues to cause, some liturgical and pastoral difficulties.
The Second Vatican Council stated that popular devotions need to be in harmony with the liturgy and should lead to the liturgy. This principle is fleshed out in the document “Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines” issued by the Congregation for divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2002.
The Directory stresses the importance of “orienting the minds of the faithful to the feasts of the Lord in which the mysteries of salvation are celebrated during the year and with which the Blessed Virgin Mary is associated”. In other words, Marian months must harmonise with the seasons of the Liturgical Year.
Since the month of May largely corresponds with the fifty days of Easter, Marian devotions at this time could emphasise Our Lady's participation in the Paschal mystery and the Pentecost event, as well as her special participation after her death in the resurrection of Christ.
Such a perspective is found in many of our Marian hymns, prayers and images, for example, Hail Queen of Heaven, or the Regina Caeli which replaces the Angelus in the Easter season. The glorious mysteries could always be used when the rosary is said.
Australia’s patronal feast honouring Mary Help of Christians on 24 May usually occurs in the Easter season. In the image of Mary Help of Christians, both Mary and the child Jesus wear crowns, a sign that they share the glory of the kingdom of God. This day should be the high point of St Mary’s month in Australia.
The only other feast of Mary in May is the Visitation on 31st. The Visitation calls us to ponder Mary as the woman who believed and obediently accepted the will of God, enabling her to play a most significant role in the saving work of Christ.
Devotion to Mary and the saints must never become superstition, or replace Christ as the centre of our Christian life, or supplant the Eucharist as the focus of our worship. In being cautious, however, there is danger of neglecting this important aspect of our tradition.