May is the month when Catholics traditionally focus on Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The practice dates back at least 700 years and is still observed around the world today. May is seen as the beginning of new life and the start of summer, which makes this a logical time for the celebrations of Mary, who brought life into the world.
Marian devotions have sometimes been criticized by people who misunderstand Catholic devotion to Mary the Mother of God. Mary is not worshiped in the way that Catholics worship God. She is honored as the mother of Jesus and as a woman free from sin. Devotions to Mary are an integral part of Catholic life.
This month of devotions in the church calendar is characterized by special hymns and the use of flowers, which bring nature into the church. There are several Marian feast days in May, including Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The celebration of May as a holy month for Mary has been ratified by several popes through the ages. Pope Benedict XV ordered a prayer for peace in 1915 during World War I and Pope Pius XII called for May devotions in 1939, at the start of World War II.
The May Crowning
Perhaps the most well-known of the May Marian devotions is the crowning of a statue of Mary with flowers. This became particularly popular in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a procession of school-age boys and girls dressed in their finery, following the statue in a procession.
In this ceremony, the statue is decorated at its base with flowers and one of the girls would be chosen to crown Mary with flowers. The nineteenth century hymn ‘Bring Flowers of the Rarest’ is a traditional accompaniment to this ceremony. Its lyrics, ‘O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May,’ sum up what the celebrations are all about.
This practice is echoed on a smaller scale throughout the Catholic world with families decorating a statue or picture of the Virgin Mary in their own homes.
Marian shrines also receive particular attention during this special month and, again, are decorated with flowers. Pilgrims sometimes undertake a journey to reach a particular shrine, praying the rosary along the way. The lady chapel of a church or cathedral is often also decorated with flowers during May.