Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May is Mary's month, but why?


The practice of dedicating the month of May to our Lady was popularized especially by the Rosary Encyclicals of Leo XIII – beginning in 1883 and concluding in 1889, the Pontiff wrote twelve encyclicals and five apostolic letters on the Rosary. The Catholic Encyclopedia discusses the rather recent origin of Mary Month:
“The May devotion [to our Lady] in its present form originated at Rome where Father Latomia of the Roman College of the Society of Jesus, to counteract infidelity and immorality among the students, made a vow at the end of the eighteenth century to devote the month of May to Mary. From Rome the practice spread to the other Jesuit colleges and thence to nearly every Catholic church of the Latin rite (Albers, "Bluethenkranze", IV, 531 sq.). This practice is the oldest instance of a devotion extending over an entire month.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Special Devotions for Months”)
Yet, although many Catholics know that May is dedicated to the Mother of God, it may be a bit of a puzzle as to why May was chosen for this special honor. What is it about May that makes it suited to be the Month of Mary?

Mary Month – Why May?
Some have pointed to the fact that, in classic western culture (both Greek and Roman), May was recognized as the season of the beginning of new life. In the Greek world, May was dedicated to the goddess Artemis and associated with fecundity. Roman culture linked the month of May to Flora, the goddess of bloom and blossoms – this led to the custom of ludi florales (or floral games) which took place at the very end of April as a preparation for entering into the month of May.
It seems that this ancient tradition of connecting May with new life and fecundity, led to a realization that May is very much the month of motherhood – this may be the reason why Mother’s Day is celebrated during May not only in the United States but in many countries and cultures of both the East and the West. In the month of May, the winter comes to an end and the spring season begins (this was the official beginning of spring in Roman culture). This new beginning and new birth is a testimony to the motherhood of Mother Earth.
The connection between motherhood and May led Christians eventually to adopt May as Mary Month. May is the Month of our Lady precisely as the Mother of God. So wrote the priest-poet Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj in his marian classic “May Magnificat.”
May Magnificat
MAY is Mary’s month, and I  
Muse at that and wonder why:          
    Her feasts follow reason,    
    Dated due to season—         

Candlemas, Lady Day;                                                  
But the Lady Month, May,     
    Why fasten that upon her,  
    With a feasting in her honour?     

Is it only its being brighter     
Than the most are must delight her?                                 
    Is it opportunest       
    And flowers finds soonest?

Ask of her, the mighty mother:         
Her reply puts this other        
    Question: What is Spring?—                                              
    Growth in every thing—     

Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,      
Grass and greenworld all together;  
    Star-eyed strawberry-breasted      
    Throstle above her nested                                       

Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin          
Forms and warms the life within;    
    And bird and blossom swell           
    In sod or sheath or shell.    

All things rising, all things sizing                              
Mary sees, sympathising         
    With that world of good,     
    Nature’s motherhood.         

Their magnifying of each its kind     
With delight calls to mind                                          
    How she did in her stored  
    Magnify the Lord.     

Well but there was more than this: 
Spring’s universal bliss           
    Much, had much to say                                            
    To offering Mary May.         

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple        
Bloom lights the orchard-apple         
    And thicket and thorp are merry  
    With silver-surfèd cherry                                        

And azuring-over greybell makes     
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes          
    And magic cuckoocall          
    Caps, clears, and clinches all—       

This ecstasy all through mothering earth                
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth       
    To remember and exultation         
    In God who was her salvation.


The poem was written at Stonyhurst in May, 1878. Fr. Hopkins was 33 at the time, and eight months a priest.

5 comments:

dmw said...

Do you have any explanation for the association of Saturdays with Our Lady?

Nârwen said...

Here's a verse written by the priest who received Hopkins into the Church:

The Queen of Seasons
(A Song for an inclement May.)

All is divine
which the Highest has made,
Through the days that He wrought,
till the day when He stay'd;

Above and below,
within and around,
From the centre of space,
to its uttermost bound.


In beauty surpassing
the Universe smiled,
On the morn of its birth,
like an innocent child

Or like the rich bloom
of some delicate flower;
And the Father rejoiced
in the work of His power.

Yet worlds brighter still,
and a brighter than those,
And a brighter again,
He had made, had He chose;

And you never could name
that conceivable best,
To exhaust the resources
the Maker possess'd.

But I know of one work
of his Infinite Hand,
Which special and singular
ever must stand;

So perfect, so pure,
and of gifts such a store,
That even Omnipotence
ne'er shall do more.

The freshness of May,
and the sweetness of June,
And the fire of July
in its passionate noon,

Munificent August,
September serene,
Are together no match
for my glorious Queen.

O Mary, all months
and all days are thine own,
In thee lasts their joyousness,
when they are gone;

And we give to thee May,
not because it is best,
But because it comes first,
and is pledge of the rest.

Blessed John Henry Newman, C.O.
The Oratory.
1850.

Reginaldus said...

[in a comment accidentally deleted on account of a problem in the blogger website] Narwen wrote:

"
The Queen of Seasons
(A Song for an inclement May.)

All is divine
which the Highest has made,
Through the days that He wrought,
till the day when He stay'd;

Above and below,
within and around,
From the centre of space,
to its uttermost bound.


In beauty surpassing
the Universe smiled,
On the morn of its birth,
like an innocent child

Or like the rich bloom
of some delicate flower;
And the Father rejoiced
in the work of His power.

Yet worlds brighter still,
and a brighter than those,
And a brighter again,
He had made, had He chose;

And you never could name
that conceivable best,
To exhaust the resources
the Maker possess'd.

But I know of one work
of his Infinite Hand,
Which special and singular
ever must stand;

So perfect, so pure,
and of gifts such a store,
That even Omnipotence
ne'er shall do more.

The freshness of May,
and the sweetness of June,
And the fire of July
in its passionate noon,

Munificent August,
September serene,
Are together no match
for my glorious Queen.

O Mary, all months
and all days are thine own,
In thee lasts their joyousness,
when they are gone;

And we give to thee May,
not because it is best,
But because it comes first,
and is pledge of the rest.

Blessed John Henry Newman, C.O.
The Oratory.
1850."

Kathleen(Australia) said...

isn't May Our Lady's month because it then is Springtime in the northern hemisphere? and Our Lady is the Queen of roses,happiness and our hearts, all blossoming with love for gentle Jesus her Son.
Kathleen(Australia)xx

Reginaldus said...

@Kathleen
I believe you have hit on a point made by Fr. Hopkins,
"Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
Much, had much to say
To offering Mary May."

The new life and joy of spring connects May with Mary, most certainly! +

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