By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY
May is the month traditionally dedicated to Our Lady, and of course, it is also distinguished by the fact that the first apparition at Fatima took place on May 13, 1917. The following month, she spoke of how Jesus wanted to use the young seers, and Lucia in particular, to make her known and loved, such that devotion to her Immaculate Heart would be spread throughout the world — and this was with a promise of salvation for whoever embraced this devotion.
During this month of May, then, one of the things we can do is to focus on how we can contribute to the spreading of this devotion, which given the state of the world, is more necessary than ever.
Dedicating May to Our Lady is a custom which has grown up since the eighteenth century, although obviously there was a great deal of devotion to her prior to this time, and specific dates in May had previously been honored with Marian devotion.
According to one authority, the origin of this devotion, in the sense of a whole month being dedicated to her, can be traced back to a Fr. Latomia, a Jesuit priest at the Roman College of the Society of Jesus, who was concerned with how to counteract the lack of faith and low moral standards amongst the college students. He made a vow to dedicate the month of May to the Blessed Virgin, and this practice spread from Rome to the other Jesuit colleges and by the nineteenth century had become widespread in the Church.
These devotions, when held in churches and chapels, usually involved the singing of Marian hymns, and a sermon, while people also visited churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, or went on pilgrimage to her shrines. There was also a focus on May altars, upon which a statue or picture of Our Lady was placed along with flowers and candles. These provided a suitable setting for the saying of the family rosary, but were also erected in churches.
Another traditional part of May devotions involved the crowning of statues of Our Lady with flowers. Such a crowning could also involve a procession, the Rosary and hymns, and finish with a communal act of consecration to the Blessed Virgin. These practices honored her Motherhood and her role as the Queen of Heaven.
Down through the centuries, the Popes have been keen to promote devotion to Our Lady, and Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical, Ad Caeli Reginam (“The Queen of Heaven”),which was issued in 1954, the Marian Year, proclaimed the Queenship of Mary, and at the time the feast day associated with this title was celebrated on May 31. Regarding devotion to Mary, this Pope said:
“Let all, therefore, try to approach with greater trust the throne of grace and mercy of our Queen and Mother, and beg for strength in adversity, light in darkness, consolation in sorrow; above all let them strive to free themselves from the slavery of sin and offer an unceasing homage, filled with filial loyalty, to their Queenly Mother.”
He went on to say, “Let her churches be thronged by the faithful, her feast days honored; may the beads of the rosary be in the hands of all; may Christians gather, in small numbers and large, to sing her praises in churches, in homes, in hospitals, in prisons. . . . All, according to their state, should strive to bring alive the wondrous virtues of our heavenly Queen and most loving Mother through constant effort of mind and manner.”
And before that, in 1951, the same Pope had issued an encyclical on the importance of praying the rosary, Ingruentium Malorum, in which he laid particular stress on family devotions:
“It is above all in the bosom of the family that We desire the custom of the Holy Rosary to be everywhere adopted, religiously preserved, and ever more intensely practiced. In vain is a remedy sought for the wavering fate of civil life, if the family, the principle and foundation of the human community, is not fashioned after the pattern of the Gospel. To undertake such a difficult duty, We affirm that the custom of the family recitation of the Holy Rosary is a most efficacious means.”
He also said: “We do not hesitate to affirm again publicly that We put great confidence in the Holy Rosary for the healing of evils which afflict our times.”
Those thoughts have not lost their cogency or power in the decades since they were issued.
And indeed, even before that, in the 1940s, this Pope, in his encyclical on the Liturgy, Mediator Dei, spoke of “exercises of piety which are . . . 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. Among these are the prayers usually said during the month of May in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God.”
Toward the end of the Second Vatican Council, in April 1965, Pope Paul VI issued an encyclical Mense Maio (“ The Month of May”), on prayers during May for the preservation of peace. He began by describing May as a month which, “the piety of the faithful has long dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God,” before saying:
“We are delighted and consoled by this pious custom associated with the month of May, which pays honor to the Blessed Virgin and brings such rich benefits to the Christian people. Since Mary is rightly to be regarded as the way by which we are led to Christ, the person who encounters Mary cannot help but encounter Christ likewise. For what other reason do we continually turn to Mary except to seek the Christ in her arms, to seek our Savior in her, through her, and with her?”
And in May 2002, Pope John Paul II also emphasized the importance of May as a month dedicated to Our Lady, saying, “Today we begin the month dedicated to Our Lady a favorite of popular devotion. In accord with a longstanding 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.”
If we have to focus on the most important devotion we can practice during May, then, it would seem that this should be the Rosary, and particularly the family Rosary, since this prayer draws down immense blessings on the family concerned and indeed society as a whole.
At every one of her six Fatima apparitions, our Lady specifically asked for the rosary to be said daily, to end war and bring about peace, and even gave herself the title of “The Lady of the Rosary.”
The month of May, then, is the perfect time to renew our devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and there is no better way of doing this than a renewed determination to pray the Rosary as well as we can, in the knowledge that this will help to bring about peace in our families, society, and the wider world.
- + + (Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and he maintains a related website at www.theotokos.org.uk. He has also written a series of three time-travel/adventure books for young people, The Glaston Chronicles, available at www.shopfatima.com/blue-army-press.)
Services Marketplace – Listings, Bookings & Reviews