May: Month of Mary

“Oh, Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.”

That refrain from the lovely British hymn “Bring Flowers of the Rarest” has been sung by countless schoolchildren as they run round a maypole on the May Day. It echoes in my mind with Mary’s statement in the Bible that “all generations will call me Blessed.” (Lk 1:48), which is part of her wonderful song there, Magnificat. Because she speaks of God’s vindication of the poor, her day — the first of May –was the original Labor Day and it still is, except in our country. This month then being dedicated to Mary, it is an especially good time for Marian devotions. I have found in my own life that when tragedy and loss strike, I reach for my rosary; and pandemic is certainly a time of tragedy and loss for thousands. As Christians, that concerns us as we are part of the fabric of human existence, as John Donne once wrote, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee!” Mary is, for us, truly a model of discipleship, but also our number-one heavenly prayer partner. When my own mother was recognized from time to time for her Christian service, it never would have occurred to me to be offended. And, likewise, I believe that Jesus is pleased and blesses us when we honour the Lady who is his Mother, and ours in the Lord.

Of all Marian devotions, the Rosary is certainly the most ancient and best known, and the one most fully immersed in the Gospel. Let us take a look. Beginning in the thirteenth century, the Cistercian religious introduced it as an aid for illiterate people to learn and to reflect on Bible stories. The practice became more widespread in the fifteenth century. Repetition of prayers and psalms became a series of Hail Mary’s. Greeting Our Lady so many times was soon compared to giving her a wreath of roses, in which each petition was a rose. From that, the name rosarium, or “rosary” was coined.

When those of the Dominican Order began to introduce the rosary, it took the form of meditations on the life of Christ, while the Our Father and the Hail Mary prayers were recited. The next step in the long evolution of the devotion was to form the meditations into fifteen themes or “mysteries” –mostly Bible stories. The rosary reached its current, most developed state about eighteen years ago, when the mysteries were expanded to a total of twenty. These are the Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous, and Glorious Mysteries. When the rosary is said, one of these sets constitutes the whole meditation, while the mantra of other prayers then serve as a background, so to speak.

The rosary may be recited at any time, individually or in groups; and when time demands, it may be truncated to include a single round of the prayers called a decade. Long done as a personal devotion, in modern times we have come to realize that it can be appropriately prayed for the benefit of society at large. (After all, the plea “pray for us sinners” covers a whole lot of human beings round the world!) During the coronavirus pandemic, the clergy, religious, and staff at Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa come together daily (at safe distance) to pray the Rosary together for the victims of COVID-19. You might consider this devotion in your own private time. There are a lot of knock-off rosaries and prayer-bead sets around; please accept no substitutes. While some may imagine that the rosary is just a mechanical repetition of formulae, that is not how it is experienced by us faithful, for whom it is a form of truly intentional prayer, serious petition, and deep contemplation.

2 Comments

    1. Author

      Thank you very much for the kind words.

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