May devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary (via Wikipedia)
May Devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary refers to special Marian devotions held in the Catholic Church during the month of May honoring the Virgin Mary as “the Queen of May”. These services may take place inside or outside. A “May Crowning” is a traditional Roman Catholic ritual that occurs in the month of May.
Origins A number of traditions link the month of May to Mary. Alfonso X, king of Castile wrote in his “Cantigas de Santa Maria” about the special honoring of Mary during specific dates in May. Eventually, the entire month was filled with special observances and devotions to Mary.
The origin of the conventional May devotion is still relatively unknown. Herbert Thurston identifies the seventeenth century as the earliest instance of the adoption of the custom of consecrating the month of May to the Blessed Virgin by special observances. It is certain that this form of Marian devotion began in Italy. Around 1739, witnesses speak of a particular form of Marian devotion in May in Grezzano near Verona. In 1747 the Archbishop of Genoa recommended the May devotion as a devotion for the home. Specific prayers for them were promulgated in Rome in 1838.
According to Frederick Holweck, 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. In Rome by 1813, May devotions were held in as many as twenty churches. From Italy, May devotions soon spread to France. In Belgium, the May devotions, at least as a private devotion, were already known by 1803. The tradition of honoring Mary in a month-long May devotion spread eventually around the Roman Catholic world in the 19th century together with a month-long devotion to Jesus in June and the Rosary in October.
May devotions In his 1965 encyclical, Mense Maio, Pope Paul VI identified the month of May as an opportune time to incorporate special prayers for peace into traditional May devotions.
Catholics offer Mary special honor in May: pilgrimages, visits to churches dedicated to her, little sacrifices in her honor, periods of study and well-finished work offered up to her, and a more attentive recitation of the rosary. The last devotion on May 31 is often followed by a solemn procession, during which a statue of the Virgin Mary or a portrait is carried back into the church. Some May devotions may take place outside in a forest or a dedicated special place.
There is no firm structure as to the content of a May devotion. It usually includes the singing of Marian anthems, readings from scriptures, and a sermon. Although prayers likely include the recitation of the Hail Mary, the rosary itself is not usually a part of this particular devotion.
Family devotions One particular practice characteristic of May devotions is the May altar, whether in a church or as a “house altar” in the home. The custom of the May altar stems from southern European countries. With the development of May altars in churches, the custom spread to set up this type of “altar” also in the home.
Marian devotions may take place within the family, around a “May Altar” consisting of a table with a Marian picture decorated with many May flowers. The family would pray together the rosary. This specific devotion has been supported be several popes including Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Ingruentium Malorum:
The custom of the family recitation of the Holy Rosary is a most efficacious means. What a sweet sight - most pleasing to God - when, at eventide, the Christian home resounds with the frequent repetition of praises in honor of the High Queen of Heaven! Then the Rosary, recited in the family, assembled before the image of the Virgin, in an admirable union of hearts, the parents and their children, who come back from their daily work. It unites them piously with those absent and those dead. It links all more tightly in a sweet bond of love, with the most Holy Virgin, who, like a loving mother, in the circle of her children, will be there bestowing upon them an abundance of the gifts of concord and family peace.
Mary, Queen of May By his encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam, Pope Pius XII, recognizing traditional precedents, proclaimed the “Queenship of Mary”.
While May devotions may differ in various countries, the Marian title “Queen of May” exists in several countries as manifested in Marian songs. In English speaking countries such as England, Ireland and the USA, a Marian hymn uses the following text: Hail Virgin, dearest Mary! Our lovely Queen of May! O spotless, blessed Lady, Our lovely Queen of May. Your children, humbly bending, Surround your shrine … Another well-known Marian “Queen of May” song ends with the words:
* O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
* Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
* O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
* Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
In German-speaking countries, the equivalent word is Maienkönigin: Mary, Queen of May, we come to greet you.You see us at your feet. (Maria Maienkönigin,. wir kommen dich zu grüßen. O holde Freudenspenderin,. sieh uns zu deinen Füßen.) Another similar song greets Mary, the queen of May, who is greeted by the month of May.
May crownings In Eastern churches, crowning Mary was associated with adding ornamentation to an icon of Mary, sometimes as simple as adding additional gold trim. Perhaps in homage to this, Pope Clement VIII added two crowns to the icon of Mary with the Infant Jesus in the Saint Mary Major Basilica in Rome. The crowns were eventually lost, but were replaced by Gregory XVI in 1837 in a rite that was to become the standard practice for crowning.
“Images are venerated ‘not because of a belief that these images themselves possess anything of divinity or power, but because the honor shown them is directed to the prototypes they represent’ (Council of Trent, session 25)” [BB, no. 1258].
Parishes and private groups often process and crown an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary with flowers. This often is referred to as a “May Crowning.” This rite may be done on solemnities and feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or other festive days, and offers the Church a chance to reflect on Mary’s role in the history of salvation. In some countries, it takes place on or about May 1, however, in many United States Catholic parishes, it takes place on Mother’s Day.
The custom fell out of practice in many places during the 1970s and ‘80s, but has since made a comeback along with many other traditional Catholic practices. An image or likeness of the Blessed Virgin Mary is ceremonially crowned to signify her as Queen of Heaven and the Mother of God.
Today, May crownings occur in many Roman Catholic parishes and homes with the crowning of a statue of Mary. There is considerable flexibility regarding the rite, and it can be adapted to many different circumstances and situations depending on whether the crowning is done in a parish, a school or classroom, or even in the family. The rite may consist of hymns, prayers, and perhaps an act of consecration to Our Lady. The climax of the celebration is the moment when the one of those present places a crown of flowers on Mary’s head accompanied by a traditional hymn to the Blessed Mother. The ceremony usually takes place with young girls dressed in dresses carrying flowers (traditionally hawthorn) to adorn the statue. One of the girls (often the youngest) carries a crown of flowers or an actual golden crown on a cushion for placement by the May Queen (often the oldest girl) on the statue. The flowers are replaced throughout the month to keep them fresh.
Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major) is the station for the Wednesday of the First Week of Lent. It is the largest Marian church in Rome, and one of the four papal basilicas of the city. Its most famous relic is five boards of the crib or manger of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, kept beneath the high altar.
From the sacristy treasures of Saint Mary Major, the tintinnabulum (bell) that is a mark of its status as a basilica. In the center is a version of the icon Salus Populi Romani which is venerated in the basilica.
Today is the feast of Our Lady of Snows, which commemorates the dedication of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, or Saint Mary Major, in Rome.
The basilica is the most important church dedicated to Mary in Rome and houses the icon of the Salus Populi Romano, the palladium of the Eternal City. According to an ancient legend it was Mary herself who chose the spot for the church to be built by making it snow on top of the hill where the basilica now stands.