Q: Archbishop J, why is May so special?
May has three major celebrations. Each is vital to the lifeblood of the Church. The most obvious is the Resurrection of Jesus which is always during the month of May. The second is Good Shepherd Sunday when we pray for vocations and, thirdly, May is Mary’s month. Well, we know how special that is. This week we will explore May as the month of Mary.
The tradition of the month of May and Mary goes back to the 13th century. It is likely a counterpoint to the practices of the Greek and Roman fertility cults which took place during the European spring, in May.
By the 16th century, the Jesuits adopted the practice in their Roman College and from there it spread to the universal Church. May as the month of Mary is a relatively old tradition that has captivated the heart and mind of many saints, popes, bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful.
So central is this tradition that the 2001 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines devotes a section to this tradition. It says:
“…since the month of May largely corresponds with the 50 days of Easter, the pious exercises practised at this time could emphasize Our Lady’s participation in the Paschal mystery (cf. John 19: 25-27), and the Pentecost event (cf. Acts 1:14) with which the Church begins: Our Lady journeys with the Church having shared in the novum of the Resurrection, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The 50 days are also a time for the celebration of the sacraments of Christian Initiation and of the mystagogy. The pious exercises connected with the month of May could easily highlight the earthly role played by the glorified Queen of Heaven, here and now, in the celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist” (195).
Popular piety always flourishes where the Church is strong. The month of Mary is a reminder of what is vital to our faith and our filial connection with Jesus and His mother Mary.
In the Archdiocese of Port of Spain this is a very important month for us. In May, we honour Mary with two particular devotions—Our Lady of Fatima, in Laventille, and La Divina Pastora, in Siparia.
Laventille Devotions were a staple of my youth. As a scout, at least once per year, sometimes twice, May and October, we would walk up the hill to the shrine. As teens, we did it without question as one of the things scouts did.
As a young adult, I continued the practice most years, walking up to the shrine. As a priest, my visits were not as frequent.
There are two memories that are etched in my mind concerning Laventille devotions. The first is an old man who looked like a vagrant (Mr Grant). When the Host was elevated, he shouted at the top of his voice— “My Lord and My God!”. This was a sober reminder we were in presence of none other than Jesus Christ Himself. This was an acclamation of faith and a reminder to all pilgrims: He is here, “My Lord and My God”. St Thomas the confessing apostle would have been proud.
The second memorable moment in the devotions was in May when Archbishop Anthony Pantin sang:
M – is for the million things she gave me
O – means only that she’s growing old
T – is for the tears she shed to save me
H – is for her heart of purest gold
E – is for her eyes with love-light shining
R – means right and right she’ll always be
Put them all together they spell Mother, a word that means the world to me.
What was evident was his love and devotion to Mary as his mother. It was real and enviable.
The devotions have waned in recent years and, I believe, we are the poorer for it. The sacrifice of walking up the hill, the devotions, and going back down were part of the ritual.
La Divina Pastora was a recent find for me. Blame it on me being a town boy. But it is as profound in its ritual and devotion as my Laventille experience. People come from all over the Archdiocese to Siparia each year; many with a deep devotion to Mary and stories of the graces or favours they or their family have received.
The elegance of the event, the little brown statue of Mary with all the rituals around dressing it and who can and cannot be part of that, make it popular devotion at its best.
Popular devotion springs from the heart. It is a response of love and filial tenderness. It is a connection that we have to the divine that is not part of the official rite of the Church. This is what makes it so special.
Marian devotions in May
The Directory on Popular Piety outlines several pious devotions that are practised during May. All of them remind us that at the core of Catholicism is an unbridled love that God first gave us. Our response is of a love that has first been loved.
In our Chancery office at midday, every workday, we pause at noon, to pray the Regina Coeli, an ancient prayer that replaces the Angelus during Easter. It affirms the Resurrection and calls us to rejoice.
Many popes have asked us to pray the Rosary daily during this month. This too is a wonderful devotion for the domestic Church. Even one decade as a family, every day, in May, will go a long way in cultivating devotion and deeper love for God.
Another devotion highly recommended by saints and popes alike is the Consecration and Entrustment to Mary. St Pope John Paul II proposes the Consecration which requires 36 days of preparation before a major feast of Mary. Each day, a reading and reflection aids you on your journey to deeper conversion to Christ.
If God chose to entrust His only Son to Mary, we can trust Mary to be our mother. From the Cross is that not what Jesus proposed: When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother” (Jn 19:25–27).
May is the month of Mary, let us have devotions in our homes.
In your family decide that for the rest of May you will pause for the Regina Coeli or the rosary every day. If you have not done it before do a Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary and St Joseph.