By Rev. Scott Donahue
The devotions to the Blessed Mother during the month of May have great meaning for us at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. When the Home incorporated in 1907, the official name given was “Mission of Our Lady of Mercy.” This is still our corporate entity name and mission, to bring mercy into the fractured lives of the children entrusted to our care. I do believe the Blessed Mother daily watches over the lives of our children.
But the question asked by many is, “Why is the month of May known as the Month of Mary?”
The early origin of this tradition is still relatively unknown, some believe it began in the 13th century when King Alfonso X of Castile wrote, or directed the composition, of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, in which there are 40 songs that all include lyrics honoring Mary during the month of May. But the most recognized origin of honoring Mary as the “Queen of May” began in the mid-18th century in Rome by a Jesuit priest who installed Marian prayers and devotions as a way to change the infidelity and immorality of the students. This May devotion spread quickly throughout Italy, France and Belgium, and by the mid-19th century it was practiced throughout the Roman Catholic world.
In 1945, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of the Queenship of Mary on May 31 as part of the Marian Year he proclaimed. However, the Queenship of Mary was eventually moved to Aug. 22, and the feast of The Visitation was placed on May 31.
In 1965, Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical, identified May as the time to include prayers for peace in our devotions. He wrote, “May is an occasion for a moving tribute of faith and love which Catholics in every part of the world pay to the Queen of Heaven.”
In 2002, Saint Pope John Paul II designated May 13 as the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, as this is the date of the first apparition in 1917. This year, we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Fatima apparitions in Portugal to the three children—Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco. Also on May 13, in 1981, Saint John Paul II survived the attempt on his life in St. Peter’s Square. He credits his survival to Our Lady of Fatima. (The bullet that pierced him has now been placed in the crown on the statue of Our Lady of Fatima at her shrine in Portugal.)
For centuries, May has been celebrated as the month of new life. Mother’s Day is celebrated in May, due to the life that our own mothers gave us. The spring blossoms surround us with new life and birth. The Blessed Mother gave birth to Christ our Savior, who through his suffering, death and Resurrection, gives us all eternal life.
For hundreds of years, children all over the world have celebrated the Blessed Mother’s “May Crowning,” which includes prayer and songs, and culminates with a procession to adorn the statue of Mary with a crown of flowers. The crown symbol is attributed to Mary because she is the Mother of the Son of God, who is our Heavenly King.
The devotions to our Blessed Mother during May are widespread throughout the world in many forms of prayer, penance and celebration. As we honor our Blessed Mother this beautiful month of May, and our earthly mothers as well, let us all ask Our Lady of Mercy to pray for us.