The old adage, ‘April showers bring May flowers’ is a truthful statement that many of us look forward to each year. From gardeners, to those waiting out their winter blues. May springs forth new life, warmth, and a sense of joy all around us, through these many new beginnings. But how did the month of May become the special time of devotion to Mary in the Church?
May has long been recognized as the season marking the beginning of new life. Mother earth brings forth flowers, fruits and vegetables. Many animals bear their young in the Spring. Traditional Greek and Roman cultures marked the official beginning of Spring, dedicating May to the goddess’ Artemis and Flora. As well, May Queen celebrations were popularized in England during the High Middle Ages, celebrating the coming of Spring.
These abundant signs of new life and motherhood are most likely the reason that so many cultures have adopted May as the month to celebrate their own mothers. As well, May is a special month for Christians to celebrate the Mother of Christ. Mary is truly the spiritual mother of all Christians, given to us by her son on the cross, and deserves special recognition among mothers. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Lk 1:42).
It’s funny how this concept seems so simple through the eyes of a child. As my family walked through the courtyard into Mass on Mother’s Day, my son looked up at the statue of Mary, adorned with flowers, and simply said, “Happy Mother’s Day Mama Mary.” Then he walked on. Of course! Why wouldn’t we be giving flowers to Jesus’ mother, if we hold Jesus in such high esteem as our Savior? Why wouldn’t we set aside time to recognize and appreciate her distinguished and unrepeatable motherhood? What better association with new life and new beginnings than the one who brought forth our salvation through her own motherhood?
The month of May, belonging to the Season of Easter, seemed fitting to elevate the secular feasts of the time, as early as the 13th century. However, the May devotion was vastly upheld and spread by the Jesuit Order in Rome, in the 18th century. The practice was even recognized by Popes, who granted partial and plenary indulgences in the early 19th century.
Pope Paul VI wrote an Encyclical in 1965, on prayers during May, for the preservation of peace. The Encyclical, Mense Maio, shared the Pope’s recognition of the month in dedication to the Mother of God. “For this is the month during which Christians, in their churches and their homes, offer the Virgin Mother more fervent and loving acts of homage and veneration; and it is the month in which a greater abundance of God’s merciful gifts comes down to us from our Mother’s throne.”
Pope Paul VI actually asked for the prayers of the faithful during that particular month of May in 1965, for the Second Vatican Council, the troubled and uncertain state of international affairs, and upholding the dignity of man and Christian civilization. “May she who experienced the cares and hardships of earthly life, the weariness of daily toil, the hardships and trials of poverty, and the sorrows of Calvary, come to aid the needs of the Church and the human race.”
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