Whenever I read the notice
in my parish bulletin
about the upcoming date
for May Crowning, I recall the celebrations
of days gone by and start
humming those familiar Marian
hymns I learned as a child.
Although there have been some
changes in these celebrations since
my Catholic grade school days in the
1950s, the basics remain the same:
A statue that represents our “holy
queen enthroned above” is crowned
with blossoms while parishioners
sing Marian hymns and recite
prayers associated with Mary.
An Exciting Month
When I was a child, May was an exciting
month, in part because the school
year was almost over, but also because of
special Marian devotions. We created
May altars in our classrooms and were
encouraged to set them up in our
homes, too. These altars consisted of a
special location where we placed a statue
of a European-looking Mary, always
dressed in blue, and vases that we
replenished with fresh flowers. We
prayed many rosaries before those altars.
May altars continued throughout the
month, but May Crowning was a once-a-year special event. Everyone wore
his or her best clothes: Second-graders
donned their First Communion outfits
again and eighth-graders proudly initiated
their graduation attire.
Eighth-grade girls anxiously awaited
the announcement of the female classmate
who had been selected by the
teachers, mostly nuns in those days, to
crown the Blessed Virgin. The lucky girl
was a virtuous student who was encouraged
to pursue a religious vocation.
When the big day arrived, we processed
into church carrying flowers we
brought from home as we sang, “’Tis
the Month of Our Mother,” and other
Marian songs we had practiced. We presented
our flowers before the large statue
that represented the Queen of the May.
The perfume of lilacs and other seasonal
flowers permeated the air.
The climax of the celebration was
the moment when the lucky but nervous
student reached up and placed
the crown of flowers on Mary’s head.
Our cherubic voices soared as we
belted out, “O Mary, we crown thee
with blossoms today,” from “Bring
Flowers of the Rarest.”
Sometimes traditions need to be
adapted. For example, students who
live in apartments don’t have access
to homegrown flowers. Thus, many
May Crowning blossoms today are
ordered from florists. And it’s not
just young girls who are being selected
to crown Mary: Last year in
Milwaukee, an eighth-grade boy was
given the honor.
Most of the religious art I was exposed
to as a child mirrored the environment
of white European artists from
the Renaissance. Today, we realize that
images of Mary should reflect various
cultures and artistic styles.
The Marian Library’s Web site (www.udayton.edu/mary/meditations/crownmed.html) explains that there
are many ways to celebrate Mary’s
month. One version of May Crowning
suggests participants bring whatever
flowers they can find (even dandelions),
which they insert in a chicken
wire crown. The congregation is reminded
that each flower is unique and
a gift from God.
May Crowning and other Marian
devotions remind us to honor our
heavenly Mother all year.