Last May, as my family sat in church, I noticed my then-five-year-old son, Alex,
carefully eyeing the statue of Mary in the front of church. It had been decorated
in honor of the month of May—the month of Mary. When Mass was over, I asked him
what about the statue had him so fascinated.
With a look of concern on his face, he pointed to the wreath of flowers on her head
and told me that seeing what they did to Jesus, he was trying to figure out what
she must have done wrong. It was one of those moments as a parent that is both endearing
and a wake-up call. Obviously, Mary wasn’t getting a whole lot of attention at our
The slight to Mary was certainly not intentional. I had grown up with statues of
Mary in our garden and throughout our house. The statue in our living room was constantly
surrounded by flowers and candles. Both of my sisters took part in our parish’s May
Crowning. (They had stopped having the ceremony by the time I was old enough.)
When I had my own children, Mary became a companion on the journey of motherhood
with all its joys and heartaches. In fact, to this day I can’t watch the scene from The
Passion of the Christ where Mary runs to Jesus when he falls, then flashes back
to him falling as a little boy, without getting choked up. No, Mary is no stranger
to me. But apparently she was to my kids.
Old Friend, Made New
Mary holds a special place among Catholics. After all, it was her “yes”
that brought Jesus into this world. Catholics have honored her role in our faith
for quite some time. But it wasn’t always during the month of May.
That practice began around medieval times. By the 19th century, the custom of linking
the month of May and Marian devotions had taken hold. Since then, the tradition of
honoring Mary has taken on a number of devotions from daily Rosary recitations to
crowning statues of Mary with wreaths of flowers.
Liturgically, we celebrate Mary up to three times during May. When Ascension falls
in May, the following Saturday is celebrated as the Feast of Our Lady, Queen of the
Apostles. This marks the time following the Ascension, when Mary was joined with
the apostles in the upper room. And we also celebrate the Visitation, when Mary visited
her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. On the Saturday after
Corpus Christi, we celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
To some, it may seem as though Catholics “worship” Mary, but that’s not the case.
We “venerate” her in a very special way, recognizing the important role she plays
in Catholic tradition as Jesus’ mother. By praying to her, we are simply seeking
her help to lead us to her son.
This month, pay some extra attention to Mary. Here are some ways:
Set up a May altar. Find a statue or picture of Mary and place it in a prominent
location in your house. Surround it with flowers and candles. Each evening, take
some time as a family to gather around the altar and recite the Rosary or say a few
Get out your rosary. One of the ways Mary is honored in May is often by recitations
of the Rosary, sometimes in the parish setting. Check to see if your parish will
be holding a Rosary night in which you and your family could take part. If not, then
gather your family to pray the Rosary together or find some quiet time to recite
it by yourself.
Bring Mary to the garden. Many flowers you can find in your garden are named
in honor of Mary. If you have an outdoor statue of Mary, plant flowers such as columbine
and lily of the valley in the area around the statue. To find many different varieties
of flowers associated with Mary, check out
“Honoring Mary in Your Garden,” from
the May 2000 issue of this magazine.
Pay a visit. Check to see if there are any Marian shrines or churches named
in her honor in your area. If so, plan a trip to go and visit
Introduce Mary. Talk to your kids about Mary and the role she has in our
faith. Ask them what they know about her, or what they have learned about her in