The cold weather months are behind us. The large mounds of snow have dissipated. The frozen ground has given way to new growth. Flowers spring up nurtured by the April showers that bring the May flowers. The glorious warm days of summer and their relaxing invitation beckon us.
As we begin May we acknowledge that it is the month of many happy events. First Communion is normally celebrated in May. Confirmations and graduations also abound in this month.
It is also a month of remembrances. On Mother’s Day we recall our mother, living or deceased, and recall their love in our lives. Tokens of appreciation are given to them to express our gratitude.
On Memorial Day we recall those who gave their lives for our county. Many civic events punctuate this day and weekend. On this weekend, now at times called Decoration Day, families take time to decorate the graves of their loved ones. Veterans and scouts usually decorate the graves of veterans with a flag.
These are some of the highlights of this beautiful month of May.
In May in particular, we remember Mary. It is the month when the Catholic Church traditionally honors Mary, the mother of God. Paul VI, in his encyclical on the month of May states, that May is the “month which the piety of the faithful has especially dedicated to Our Blessed Lady, and, it is the occasion for a moving tribute of faith and love which Catholics in every part of the world pay to the Queen of Heaven.”
This custom of dedicating the month of May to the Blessed Mother arose in the 13th century and it continues to this day.
In many churches, an altar is set up in the Sanctuary with a statue of Mary. Surrounded with candles and flowers, it is a daily reminder of this month dedicated to the Mother of God and our mother. In our parish a girl, who has made her First Communion, is chosen to place a crown on the statue of Mary.
We traditionally have a candlelight Rosary on the 13th of May to coincide with the anniversary of Our Lady’s first appearance at Fatima. It reminds us to pray the Rosary for peace as she asked us to do.
As Spiritual director of All Saints Catholic School, I encourage the tradition of crowning a statue of Mary outside the school and our Parish Pastoral Center. The students surround the statue of Mary, and an eighth-grade girl is selected for the honor of placing the floral crown on the statue of Mary. The second-graders, many of whom have made their First Communion, form a procession and bring flowers to be planted in front of the statue.
The Rosary is recited with each class taking turns in leading a decade of the Rosary.
It continues a tradition of the Church for many centuries and it helps us to recognize the special role of Mary in the life of Christ, of the Church and in our own lives.
Father Gerard Manley Hopkins was a British Jesuit priest and poet. One of the poems he wrote suggests the reason for May being the month of Mary. It is entitled, “The May Magnificat”:
May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season —
Candlemas, Lady Day’ But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her;
With a feasting in her honor?
It is only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?
It is opportunist
And flowers find soonest?
Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is spring? —
Growth in every thing-
Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and green world all together;
Throstle above her nested.
Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms life within;
And bird and blossom swell
In sod or sheath or shell.
All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathizing
With that world of good,
Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord.
Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
Much, had much to say
To offering Mary May
Bloom lights the orchard apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfed cherry.
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoo call
Caps, clears, and clinches all —
This ecstasy all trough mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God Who was her Salvation.
Happy May to each of you and may Mary bless you in a special way this month.
Anchor columnist Msgr. Oliveira is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford and director of the diocesan Propagation of the Faith and Permanent Diaconate offices.