May traditions celebrate Mary's gift of life - Catholic Courier
Second-grader climbs a ladder to place a wreath of flowers atop a statue of Mary and the Christ Child at the end of a 2017 Mass at Sts. Philip & James Church in St. James, N.Y. The month of May is dedicated to Mary and is traditionally marked by crowning ceremonies and praying the rosary. (CNS photo/CNS file by Gregory A. Shemitz/Long Island Catholic) Second-grader climbs a ladder to place a wreath of flowers atop a statue of Mary and the Christ Child at the end of a 2017 Mass at Sts. Philip & James Church in St. James, N.Y. The month of May is dedicated to Mary and is traditionally marked by crowning ceremonies and praying the rosary. (CNS photo/CNS file by Gregory A. Shemitz/Long Island Catholic)

May traditions celebrate Mary’s gift of life

(OSV News) — Each May, one special day is devoted to mothers everywhere for having given their children the gift of life. But for the mother who gave life to Jesus, the entire month is set aside in her honor.

For more than 300 years, Catholics have designated May to be the month of Mary, a special time to pay homage to the mother of Jesus for her gift to the world. The tradition developed out of customs dating back to medieval times, when May was a time of devotions honoring the cross and the new life it brings.

The May devotion dates back to 1784

German author Kurt Küppers traced the origins of the May devotion to Italy in 1784. Küppers wrote in “Marienlexikon” that, until then, May devotions to Mary “were more likely a private exercise of piety, even when also partly in a public framework.” By the early 19th century, they were practiced in as many as 20 churches in Italy and soon spread to France, Belgium and other parts of Europe.

These May celebrations grew into “the most significant form of Marian devotion” by the middle portion of the century, Küppers wrote, with local bishops and several popes, including Popes Pius XII and St. Paul VI, encouraging May devotions to the Blessed Mother.

Best-known Marian tradition is the crowning of Mary

One of the best-known and most widely celebrated Marian traditions is the crowning of a statue or painting of Mary. The church has composed several rites for recognizing Mary’s queenship by placing a crown on her image, including the “Order of Crowning an Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” published by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1987. The order sets forth three rites, allowing for the crowning of Mary during a Mass, an evening prayer service or a celebration of the Word of God.

The traditional custom of having one child place a crown of flowers on the head of Mary is practiced in many churches.

Throughout the ages, Mary has often been linked to flowers, many of which have been named in her honor or associated with aspects of her life.

Devotional gardens to Mary grow in popularity

With May a prime month for gardening, the concept of devotional gardens to Mary has grown in popularity over the last century. By utilizing a combination of flowers and plants related to Mary, such as marigolds, roses and ivy, as well as a statue or shrine, the garden can provide a place of prayer at a parish or home. Rosary gardens, with stepping stones corresponding to the prayers of the rosary placed among beds of flowers, are another popular means of practicing Marian devotions in May.

In the United States, the first known Mary Garden was established at St. Joseph Parish in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in 1932. The garden inspired John S. Stokes Jr. in 1951 to found Mary’s Gardens, an organization dedicated to researching and promoting the concept of the Marian devotional garden.

Marian gardens can today be found worldwide in such places as Ireland, Japan and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

“Care for a Mary Garden provides ready opportunities for expressing the tenderness, gentleness and delicacy of our devotion through the offering at Mary’s statue or shrine the flowers traditionally seen as representing her spiritual purity, holiness, sweetness and mercy,” wrote Stokes, who died in 2007. “These flower offerings in the garden in turn move us to raise our prayers to Mary in heaven.”

Altars to Mary

Another traditional means of venerating Mary in the month of May is through the creation of a specially decorated altar, either within the church or in a person’s home.

In a parish setting, the main altar may be decorated in devotion to Mary or a side altar may be installed for the month of May. Families may also choose to create a small altar devoted to Mary within their homes. The altar generally consists of a small table or a mantle with a portrait or statue of Mary as its centerpiece and can include flowers, candles, prayer cards or a rosary to help individuals offer their prayers to Mary throughout the month.

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Scott Alessi is a communications strategist in the greater Chicago area.

Tags: Mary
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