May and Mary

– Sister M. Jean Frisk, S.S.M.

For May, often called Mary's month in popular devotion, we offer you an article for contemplation that is divided intothree sections:

Liturgical Celebrations for Mary in May

Mary's Month – Why May?

Ways to Celebrate Mary's Month


Liturgical Celebrations for Mary in May

Two Marian liturgical celebrations are commemorated in May. When Ascension falls in May, the Saturday after the Ascension of Our Lord is traditionally celebrated as the Feast of Our Lady, Queen of the Apostles. The liturgy commemorates the period of time after the Ascension when the apostles were gathered in prayer with Mary and the women in the Upper Room. On May 31, in the United States, we celebrate the Commemoration of the Visitation. When Mary heard that her elderly relative, Elizabeth, was expecting a child, she hurried to help her. Mary's service brought Christ to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

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Mary Month – Why May?

The month of May is traditionally dedicated to Mary in many cultures. May is considered the season of the beginning of new life. Already in Greek culture, May was dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of fecundity. In Roman culture, May was dedicated to Flora, the goddess of bloom, of blossoms. The Romans celebrated ludi florales (literally: floral games) at the end of April, asking the intercession of Flora for all that blooms. This is also related to the medieval practice of expelling winter. May 1 was considered the beginning of growth.

At one time, the custom of having a Mary-month was independent from the month of May as such:

A very old tradition known as Tricesimum (or: Thirty-Day Devotion to Mary; also called Lady Month) was originally held from August 15 - September 14. The exact dates or origin of this devotion are unknown, but the custom is still practiced here and there.

Mary Month, as yet unrelated to a specific period, has been known since baroque times (Sources: Johannes Nadasi; Theophilus Marianus, 1664; J. X. Jacolet, Mensis Marianus, 1724). This devotion was comprised of about thirty spiritual exercises in honor of Mary.

Since medieval times, we have had the combination between Mary and the month of May. Among the earliest witnesses are: Alphonsus X, "el sabio," King of Castille, Spain (1221-1284) with his "Cantigas de Santa Maria" ("Ben venna Mayo"). Here and elsewhere, both Mary and the month of May are greeted, welcomed and celebrated on specific days in May. Later, the whole month of May became the month of Mary. On each day of this month, special devotions to Mary were organized. This custom originated in Italy (for example: Ferrara, 1784). It was spread widely during the nineteenth century, a century well-known for its monthly devotions (Heart of Jesus in June; Rosary in October).

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Ways to Celebrate Mary's Month

There are many ways to celebrate this particular devotion. Most churches have a daily recitation of the rosary. Some include the crowning of Our Lady's statue. The important thing is that Mary be honored in a special way. At one time, the domestic celebrations of the month of May were widespread, especially by setting up a small May altar in the home.

May crowning became popular in the United States, especially prior to Vatican II. This practice continues in many parishes today. A statue of Mary is honored with a wreath of blossoms to indicate Mary's virtues, virtues that were to be imitated by the faithful. The ceremony usually takes place in the context of a public parish devotion outside of the liturgy.

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This material can be used in parishes and adapted according to the needs of the parish. It is not available for publication.
© M. Jean Frisk

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