The Month of May, by Father B Rohner, OSB

detail of a stained glass window depicting the Coronation of the Immaculata, date and artist unknown; Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, Mount Vernon, Ohio; photographed on 2 April 2016 by Nheyob; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsHow beautiful is springtime! How beautiful, Christian reader, is springtime in nature, springtime in the holy Church, springtime in your own heart! Where is the soul so dead to all feeling that, at the sight of awakening nature, in springtime, with all its freshness and beauty and new life, does not itself wake up in joy of spirit to praise the great Creator of all this loveliness? Where is the man who, in the bright and cheering days of May, does not rejoice in the returning foliage, in the sweet, fresh flowers? Who is not glad to see the violet in its shrinking modesty and the rose in its fragrant brightness?

In God’s garden there is no sweeter violet, no fairer rose than that of which the poet sings,

O Virgin, brighter than the brightest,
‘Mid all the beauteous things that shine above;
O Maiden, whiter than the whitest
Of lily-flowers in Eden’s sacred grove.

If, Christian reader, you are so situated as to be able to be present in your parish church when the Month of Mary devotions are publicly and solemnly performed, you enjoy a great blessing and possess a priceless grace, for which you ought to be deeply thankful to the Queen of May, and for which you ought to show your gratitude by attending faithfully to these devotions. If you cannot attend church, then endeavor to utilize these fair days of early spring by following the devotions in private, before her image in the seclusion of your own home. Before showing how this may best be done, I shall endeavor to give you the origin and the meaning of this devotion of the Month of Mary.

Origin of the Month of Mary

It cannot be definitely ascertained at what precise date this devotion assumed the form of a general and public veneration for the Queen of heaven. It is generally conceded that Saint Philip Neri, a most devout servant of Mary, who died on the 26th of May, 1595, originated this beautiful and salutary practice. Truly we cannot deny that it must have been a providential arrangement for this devotion to be established at a time in which by means of the great religious movement and schism, miscalled the Reformation, great numbers of Christians were torn away from the true faith and consequently from the love of the Mother of God. It was by such beloved and grace-bringing devotion on the part of faithful Christians that some compensation was to be made to her for the loss of so many of her children. Saint Philip Neri, who was a true friend of the young,saw with a troubled heart that many fair young blossoms of innocence, some of the most cherished children of the Church, were withered and destroyed by the vicious practices occurring during the May festivities in Italy. Who but the Mother of all the children in God’s Church would be more likely, next to God, to defend and preserve these tender plants of growing young men and maidens? Hence he not only recommended, every day, to the Blessed Virgin, these beloved souls, but he also induced the young people, all of whom knew him well and loved him dearly, to Stay away from the riotous May festivities and to seek before the altars and the images of the Mother of God protection and happiness. At the mere suggestion of this fatherly friend, the young people who had thus far escaped from contamination hastened to the sanctuaries dedicated to Mary, there to pray, to sing holy canticles, to be instructed, to recite the Rosary. and thus to protect their souls from the poison of temptation. Tell me, Christian reader, whether the devotion of the Month of Mary does not owe its origin to a sublime and touching thought and sentiment?

Slowly and noiselessly, though continuously, this charming and blessed devotion, first taking its rise in Rome as its fountain head, overflowed the great heart of the universal Church, infusing new life into religion throughout all lands. Towards the end of the last century a special enthusiasm for the practice of this devotion seemed to animate all Catholic hearts. In a short space of time it produced in many localities a warmth of piety, which it also enkindled in many hearts that up to that time had been devoid of all love and of all regard for the sublime Queen of heaven. To-day the “Month of Mary” is firmly established all over the earth. In the great cities of Paris and London, as well as in the poorest and most obscure Indian missions of America, in the fisherman’s cottage by the wild seaside, as well as in the proud palaces of kings, Mary is honored as the Queen of May. The simple child who, toddling by its mother’s side, can hardly utter the “Hail, Mary,” the gray-haired sire tottering to his grave, holding in his feeble fingers his rosary as his last comfort and support, both honor Mary as the Queen of May.

The Observance of May Devotions

The manner of performing the devotion of the Month of Mary is different in different places, but the substance and the aim are the same. As this devotion took its rise in the capital of the Christian world, we will first cast a glance at the fervor and splendor of the Month of Mary exercises in that city. The early spring which prevails in that climate enables the faithful servants of Mary, even at the beginning of the month, to cover her altars with the choicest flowers, especially fragrant, full-blown roses. Rich and tasteful draperies surround the shrine of the Madonna, which, from the floor to the ceiling of the chapel, blazes with hundreds of wax tapers.

The exercises begin with the recitation of the Rosary, after which a discourse is delivered on some one of the many virtues or prerogatives of the Blessed Virgin, and is usually given by the same priest every day. After the sermon the preacher proposes to the crowded congregation of worshippers some virtue to be practised on the following day, usually some act of mortification. Then he reads the history of some example bearing on devotion to Mary, and gives out some aspiration to be repeated often during the ensuing twenty-four hours. Then some “Hail, Marys” are repeated for the conversion of obstinate sinners and of heretics. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is then given by some priest or perhaps a prelate. The children of the parish, or a singing society, if there is one or a few chosen persons, then sing the litany of Loretto, and the assembled worshippers respond “Pray for us,” to each ejaculation; the” Tantum Ergo” follows, and then the Blessed Sacrament is raised aloft in benediction. The service closes with the “Laudate Pueri,” or with some suitable hymn.

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898