THE MONTH OF MARY
The month of Mary is set aside by the Church for special devotion and exercises in honour of the Mother of God. The Irish name for the month “Bealtaine” is associated with a pre-Christian festival celebrated at this time of year, while the English word “May” is derived from the name of the Roman goddess who was Mother of all gods.
The custom of special devotion in May, originated in Northern Italy in the early nineteenth century. There, May being the month of the Roses, the altars were always decked with these flowers. This brings to mind the title “Mystical Rose” and the devotion to the “Rosary”.
In Ireland, there has always been a strong devotion to Our Lady as Mother of God: Ar Mhathair Mhic De. Perhaps St. Patrick gave it to us in 432, just one year after the Council of Ephesus when the title “Mother of God” was approved. Our love for the Mother of God was expressed during the month of May, with May altars in homes and schoolrooms and with Sunday evening processions. Childhood memories of gathering wild flowers (bluebells, primroses, which are called Mayflowers in some places, violets etc.) to adorn these altars and of white dressed children singing, ‘Bring flowers of the fairest’ in the Processions, did much to preserve this love of Our Lady long after the youth had passed.
As Canon Sheehan has written: “Somehow the fragrance and beauty of these May evenings hang around us, as incense hangs around a dimly lighted Church and often cling around a soul where faith and holiness have been banished.”
Many country areas have special traditions such as hanging a bunch of ‘May flowers’ over the cowshed door.
There are many hymns associated with our May devotion to Mary. One such one recorded and sung by Irish Tenor Frank Patterson concludes with the words:
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today! Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
Saint Martin Magazine: May 2021