Among Catholics, May is most well-known as “Mary’s Month,” a specific month of the year when special devotions are performed in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But how did this come to be?
Origin of May Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
In ancient Greece and Rome, the month of May was dedicated to pagan goddesses connected to fertility and springtime (Artemis and Flora, respectively). This, combined with other European rituals commemorating the new season of spring, led many Western cultures to view May as a month of life and motherhood. In the early Church, there is evidence of a major feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary celebrated on the 15th of May each year, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that May received a particular association with the Virgin Mary. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The May devotion 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.” Dedicating an entire month to Mary wasn’t a new tradition, as there existed a prior tradition of devoting 30 days to Mary called Tricesimum, which was also known as “Lady Month.” In 1945, Pope Pius XII solidified May as a Marian month after establishing the feast of the Queenship of Mary on May 31st . After the Second Vatican Council, this feast was moved to August 22, while May 31st became the feast of the Visitation of Mary. May devotions also were energised by the four authenticated apparitions of our Blessed Mother.
What to do during May Devotion
There is no firm structure as to the content of a May Devotion, as it usually includes the daily recitation of the Rosary, singing of Marian anthems, readings from scriptures, and a sermon. Catholics offer Mary in May: pilgrimages, visits to Churches dedicated to her, little sacrifices in her honour, periods of study and well-finished work offered up to her, and a more attentive recitation of the rosary. That is to say we are all encouraged during this period to do the following: Daily recitation of the Rosary, Getting invested with the scapular or getting consecrated, Decoration of Our Lady’s image, Learning a new Marian Hymn, Reading about Our Lady, Making a Pilgrimage to any shrine of our Lady etc. The last day of the Devotion on May 31 is often followed by a solemn procession, during which a statue or portrait of the Virgin Mary is carried back into the Church. Again, one particular practice characteristic of May devotions is the May Altar, whether in a Church or as a “house altar” in the home. Marian devotions such as the rosary may take place within the family around this altar consisting of a table with a Marian picture, candles, and decorated with many May flowers.
Significance of May Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
• To foster tender devotion to so good a mother
• To be reminded of Mary’s role as Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix (CCC #969)
• To gain graces for the salvation of our souls and that of others.
• To imitate her virtues of humility, lively faith, ardent charity, blind Obedience, heroic patience, etc.
• To draw closer to Our Lord through the hands of the blessed virgin.
St. John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, insisted, pleaded, that the whole world pray the Holy Rosary for the salvation of the family and for world peace and invariably we are called to pray the Rosary more fervently now, so that the Blessed Virgin would continue to intercede for us all. Finally, let us note that devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is not limited to the Months of May and October, we are encouraged to always pray the Rosary daily