Mary in the Month of May

Paul Skippen

20 Apr 2020

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The practice of dedicating the month of Mary to Mary is beloved by many. A problem arises when the practice takes precedence over the Easter season.

Something’s askew, for instance, when the school puts more energy into focusing on Mary than into the solemnities of Ascension and Pentecost. Something’s also askew when the devotion to Mary during May is stronger than devotion during more ancient and richer Marian times, such as the Advent season and the days between the festivals of the Assumption and the Nativity of Mary.

As schoolchildren we were taught (and now are teaching children) about devotion to Mary during May. Are we teaching the practices of Eastertime? Reorienting priorities take time. We’re involved here with human affections, and those take generations to form.

Devotion to Mary during May has an interesting pedigree. Naturally, the cultures of northern Europe observed springtime rites later than their southern neighbours. In the north the weather at Easter could be cold and wintry, and so springtime festivities were held a month or more later. (For example, some Scandinavian villagers customarily decorate eggs at Pentecost simply because birds are not laying eggs at Easter.)

Mary is called “the mother of the church”. The title has two echoes in scripture: When he was dying on the cross (John 19: 26 – 27), Jesus told his mother and the beloved disciple that they were now mother and child to each other. The last mention of Mary in the scriptures, Acts 1: 14, tells us that she was present with the other disciples praying together in the upper room. This mention is the reason artists have shown Mary at events that flank this passage: the ascension of Jesus, the election of the apostle Matthias and the descent of the Holy Spirit.

The spirit of liturgy suggests that we shape May devotions to Mary to coincide if possible with the Pentecost novena (the days between the Ascension and Pentecost) or with the feast of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. May Day every year (which always falls within the Easter season) might be a good opportunity for an annual occasion for a liturgy to honour Mary and celebrate her dual role in responding “yes” to giving birth to the Saviour and her resounding call to being the first disciple.