May is often called “the Month of Mary.” Why? How did that custom originate?
Church historians tell us that during the Middle Ages, a tradition arose of a “Tricesimum,” or 30 days of devotion to Mary. The centerpiece of the devotion was the recitation of the rosary but the Tricesimum was celebrated at different times of the year in different places.
The Catholic Encyclopedia takes up the story from there:
“The May devotion in its present form originated at Rome where Father Latomia of the Roman College of the Society of Jesus, (in order 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. This practice is the oldest instance of a devotion extending over an entire month.”
Between 1883 and 1899, Pope Leo XIII published a dozen encyclicals and several apostolic letters on the rosary and encouraged Catholics to set aside May as Mary’s month. Thus it became firmly established in the Catholic imagination and remains in practice until today.
There are two traditional ways that Mary is honored during the month of May. First, individuals, small groups of people and parishes recite the rosary during this month. Second, there is a long standing tradition of what is called a “May Crowning,” when the statue of Mary is crowned with flowers. The flowers represent Mary’s beauty and virtue and the ceremony invites us to imitate Mary’s virtue in our lives. May Crownings usually occur in church but also may be done at home since our families are called to be “domestic Churches.”
We should pray to Mary because she is our mother, yours and mine. She cares for us as only a mother can and she intercedes for us with her son in heaven.
Throughout history, Mary has assumed many different names, such as Comforter of the Afflicted, Mother of Good Counsel, Mystical Rose, Seat of Wisdom and Undoer of Knots as well as Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Whatever the name, the same message is conveyed. Mary is a gift to us from God to help us on our journey of faith.
There is an old prayer that is attributed to the 12th century saint, Bernard of Clairvaux, called “The Memorare.” If, along the way, we need God’s assistance in a special way – not for a car or a boat – but for a deeper experience of faith or for the development of virtue, or for a special gift that will enable us to be of more service to others, we can pray this prayer and be assured that Mary will send us what we need – not always what we want, but always what we need.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who
fled to your protection,
implored your help, or sought your
intercession,was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence,
I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother.
To you do I come, before you I stand,
sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in your mercy, hear and answer me.
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