Last Sunday, at the 10:30a.m. Mass we had a “Crowning of Mary” ritual. After Mass I heard from some of the parishioners that they had not seen this before or that they remember this ritual from their childhood.
I personally think that it is a beautiful ritual that pays respects to our Blessed Mother Mary in the month of May that is HER month. Where does it come from and what is the history of what we celebrated last Sunday?
In order to answer that question, we need to look into the Catholic Church’s history.
For centuries, the Catholic Church has emphasized the month of May as a time of honor and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Parishes and families often celebrate with special pilgrimages, devotions, or placing a crown on a statue of Mary, traditionally called a “May Crowning”.
On April 29, 1965, Blessed Pope Paul VI promulgated his encyclical Mense Maio (“The Month of May”), which promoted May devotions to the Blessed Mother, knowing that, “the person who encounters Mary cannot help but encounter Christ likewise” (n. 2). Released on the eve of the last session of the Second Vatican Council and amid escalating violence and unrest of the Vietnam War and the 1960’s, the help of Mary was “a matter of top priority” considering “the present needs of the Church and the status of world peace” (n. 3). The words of Paul VI are just as relevant today. In our social and political climate, focusing on Mary is not a pious distraction from real issues, but a vital source for grace, truth, and mercy.
May devotions to Mary began in the 13th century, but there is little information to know how it was celebrated. In its present form, the practice of May devotions to Mary originated within the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits – would you believe that?) in the 18th century under Father Latomia of their Roman College. His desire was to promote devotion to Mary among the students as a way to counteract infidelity and immorality. From Rome, the May devotion spread throughout the Jesuit colleges, and eventually throughout the whole Church. Pope Francis, who is also a Jesuit, has a special devotion to Mary as did Pope John Paul II.
The image of Mary wearing a gold crown (our statue of Mary has one, if you have noticed) appears in early Eastern and Western iconography, drawing inspiration from the Coronation of Mary as understood in Catholic biblical tradition based on the passage from Revelation 12:1, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”. Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) first placed two crowns on the Marian icon called “Salus Populi Romani” in the Roman Basilica of St. Mary Major, but the crowns were later lost. On the Feast of the Assumption in 1838, Pope Gregory XVI once again added crowns in a special rite, officially starting the tradition as it is still performed today.
One reason the devotion has come to extend over the entire month is the abundance of Marian feast days in May: Our Lady of Fatima (May 13), Mary Help of Christians (May 24), and the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (May 31).
Mary receives an important role in Pope Francis’ recent Exhortation Amoris Leatitia - The Joy of Love: On Love in the Family. He states, “Every family should look to the icon of the Holy Family of Nazareth” (n. 30). Pope Francis goes on to say, “The treasury of Mary’s heart also contains the experiences of every family, which she cherishes. For this reason, she can help us understand the meaning of these experiences and to hear the message God wishes to communicate through the life of our families” (n. 30). Pope Francis reminds us that by honoring Mary, we honor Jesus and our families.
The month of May also celebrates our biological Mother’s Day (May 8). Let Mary’s month be a new reason to honor and celebrate your own mother. But also find ways to honor our Blessed Mother with your words and actions this month. The rosary is definitely a great helper with that, so let’s pray it!