FEATURED IMAGE: the_artful_life / flickr
– Fr Leonard E. Dollentas
The month of May is a special time for us Catholics to pay homage to Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother. It is the occasion for a “moving tribute of faith and love which Catholics in every part of the world [pay] to the Queen of Heaven. During this month Christians, both in church and in the privacy of their home, offer up to Mary from their hearts an especially fervent and loving homage of prayer and veneration. In this month, too, the benefits of God’s mercy come down to us from her throne in greater abundance” (Mense Maio, Encyclical of Pope Paul VI on prayers during May for preservation of peace, April 29, 1965, no 1) This custom of dedicating the month of May to the Blessed Virgin has its beginning at the end of the 13th century. With this, the Church was able to Christianize the secular feasts which were dominant at that time in the month of May. In the 16th century, many Catholic authors wrote books to instruct the faithful on the importance of the devotion to Mary, and hence fostered this devotion.
The Beginning of the Devotion to Mary in May
It is believed that the practice became especially popular among the Jesuits around 1700, “where Father Latomia of the Roman College of the Society of Jesus, 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” (Holweck, Frederick. “Special Devotions for Months,” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company).
In 1815, the practice was granted a partial indulgence by Pius VII, and a plenary indulgence by Pius IX in 1859. We may recall however that in 1967 there was a complete revision of indulgences (see: Indulgentiarum Doctrina – Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences, Pope Paul VI January 1, 1967). With the decrease on the emphasis on specific indulgences, it no longer carries an indulgence; however, it certainly falls within the category of the First General Grant of Indulgences. (A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who, in the performance of their duties and in bearing the trials of life, raise their mind with humble confidence to God, adding — even if only mentally — some pious invocation).
The Month of May and the Popes
The devotion of honoring Mary during the month of May has been especially extolled by the Popes. Pius XII made numerous reference to it and in his great Encyclical On the Sacred Liturgy (Mediator Dei). He characterized it as one of “other exercises of piety which, although not strictly belonging to the Sacred Liturgy, are nevertheless of special import and dignity, and may be considered in a certain way to be an addition to the liturgical cult: they have been approved and praised over and over again by the Apostolic See and by the Bishops” (no. 182).
In the 60s, a decade described as one of irresponsible excess, flamboyance, decay of social order and meaningless wars, Paul VI wrote a short encyclical emphasizing the pious devotion to Mary in the month May as a means of obtaining prayers for peace. He admonished the faithful to make use of this practice which is “gladdening and consoling” and by which “the Blessed Virgin Mary is honored and the Christian people are enriched with spiritual gifts” (Mense Maio, April 29, 1965 no 2).
The well-loved pope and now St Pope John Paul II said on May of 2002, “Today we begin the month dedicated to Our Lady, a favorite of popular devotion. In accord with a long-standing tradition of devotion, parishes and families continue to make the month of May a ‘Marian’ month, celebrating it with many devout liturgical, catechetical and pastoral initiatives!”
May Flower Devotion
Macau’s popular devotion to Our Lady of Fatima falls on the month of May. In some countries in Europe the festival is observed for only a day, and it is normally celebrated on May 1, or on any day during the first week of May. It is interesting to note how they celebrate it: Portugal has such a colorful and stunning celebration for the Month of May. On May 1 they go around singing Cantigas de Maio. In the olden times gone by, the singing and the ritual includes money or food offering to the dancers. This ceremony includes mostly children dressed in colorful clothes that goes around in the evenings singing traditional songs and dancing.
Spain celebrates it on May 3. They call it Los Mayos which they also call the day of the Holy Cross. During the celebration, people gather around a decorated tree or sculpture singing songs. The event is also a contest with winning prizes for the best singers and best decorated trees.
The Philippines has so many festivals honoring the saints in the month of May. May is called fiesta month for the Filipinos. It is the period within the year where people from Metro Manila and other urban areas visit the provinces to take their short break from work or vacation from schools. Besides the fiestas, May in the Philippines is most noted for the Flores de Maria or Flores de Mayo. This celebration is observed throughout the whole month of May and is hailed as “Queen of Philippine Festivals.” Flores de Maria or Flores de Mayo is a Catholic tradition celebrated as a tribute by the farmers, during Spanish era to the Blessed Virgin Mary the Mother of Jesus, for the valuable rain she brings that ushers them to start preparing rice seedlings for a new season of planting. This is shepherded by the agua de Mayo (the pouring of rains in May) and the blossoming of flowers of different colors and beauty. Today as the water is depleting and becoming scarce, this devotion is understood more as a thanksgiving of the Filipinos in the Metropolis to the Mother of God for the rains she brings in May that fill the city water reservoir for their supply of abundant water throughout the year.
Flores de Maria or Flores de Mayo involves children and young women dressed in white carrying flowers and basket of petals in hand. They march down the center aisle of the church or chapel, and offer the flowers to the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary enthroned at the side altar. The rosary and the daily novena to the Blessed Mother are played accompanied by hymns that are sung throughout the offering.
Paul VI in his Encyclical Mense Maio said: “This is the month in which, in the churches and individual homes, the most affectionate and fervent homage of prayers and devotions from the hearts of Christians are raised to Mary. It is also the month in which from his throne descend upon us the most generous and abundant gifts of the Divine Mercy.”