May is the month of Mary

Our Lady is the paradigm of a truly liberated woman

This Easter, I was in Seville for the Semana Santa celebrations. This is where thousands of people line the streets to watch processions of depictions of the Gospel called pasos. These pasos are large carved wooden sculptures atop a moveable float of wood.

Many of the pasos are dedicated to beautiful statues of our Lady surrounded by hundreds of candles and fresh flowers. These pasos are led by hundreds of ‘nazarenos’ dressed for the occasion and accompanied by music from a brass band. The pasos are carried underneath by a team of men who carry the paso on their shoulders and necks. This is no easy task, most weigh over a metric tonne and are carried by between 25 and 54 people.

The streets are lined with people in awe of this witness to our Faith. As I stood with many others watching the first Marian paso it suddenly stopped in front of me; I and many more blessed themselves. I became emotional thinking of what a great mother Mary is to us all and what a true role model she is for young women today.

I felt blessed to know her and to really appreciate what I was witnessing.

In Ireland the devotion to Mary is particularly strong. Many would credit the apparition at Knock to the great devotion the Irish people had to Mary prior to its occurrence, which began in Ireland in the 8th Century.

In Knock in 1879 Our Lady appeared in an apparition lasting for several hours, witnessed by 15 people. The Blessed Virgin, St Joseph, St John the Evangelist and an altar with a lamb surrounded by angels appeared and hundreds of cures and miracles were credited to Our Lady after the apparition.

Traditionally May is the month for many Marian devotions around the world. A flourishing of Marian devotions began around the time of the crusades when Christianity was threatened. It was in 1965 that Pope Paul VI identified May as a good time to incorporate special prayers for peace.

In many countries on May 31 a recitation of the rosary is often followed by a solemn public procession with a statue or a portrait of the Virgin Mary as it is carried back to the church. One lovely family tradition in some countries is to

create a May altar consisting of a table with a Marian picture or statue surrounded by flowers.

The purpose of the altar is a place where each day the family would say the rosary together. How beautiful it is for a family to pray together, in a union of their hearts, connecting them to one another and Our Lady.

Flowers feature in many May traditions. The practice of honouring Mary with flowers began in monasteries and convents in medieval Europe. People were reminded of Mary through the flowers.

The first reference to a garden dedicated to Mary is from the life of St Fiacre, the Irish Patron Saint of gardening. He planted and cared for a garden around the oratory to Our Lady. This is where he built his famous hospice for the poor and the sick in France during the 7th Century.

Ornaments

In Eastern churches additional ornaments are added to the statue of Mary during May including a crown to symbolise her importance to the Church. Processions take place in order to mark the occasion of Mary being crowned, where people reflect on Mary’s role in the history of salvation.

In the Philippines Mary is greeted with the Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May); coloured flowers are collected to decorate the parish church alters and aisles. In the afternoons communities congregate together to pray the rosary and share homemade snacks.

For me certainly one of the greatest Marian traditions is to pray the rosary each day.  When I began my reversion back to my faith, praying the rosary did so much to help my faith grow. These simple prayers looking at the life of Jesus through Mary have such incredible power. This May perhaps you can take up the rosary. Try praying just one decade at a time by splitting it up throughout the day.

As well as us having many devotions to Mary she can also be a great role model to women, and to us all. Many of us either consciously or subconsciously have role models that we look up to in our life. Many modern role models are built on envy or admiration of the life they have or represent. They appeal generally to superficial qualities like appearance or temporary popularity.  A true role model, like Our Lady has moral and spiritual value that brings a person to want to emulate those qualities that encourage us to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be. While many of the questionable female role models today will see their popularity fade, Mary is a timeless role model. The Blessed Virgin Mary transcends all time and cultures. She is the perfected human being. Women of all ages can see what it means to be a woman in communion with Christ. Mary is the paradigm of a truly liberated woman. By this I mean a woman who has freely embraced her own calling and knows herself to be beloved by God. Mary is a true example of self-giving. She said ‘yes’ to what God called her to do.

Mary I think, is one of the greatest role models that women can look up to. Mary exemplifies strength and devotion.

We can look to her for an example of a woman who had unfading trust in God and of course she is the Mother of all Mothers. She raised the perfect man, Jesus. Straight away Mary evangelised by sharing the Good News with her cousin Elizabeth. Mary teaches us not to keep the Gospel to ourselves.

Mary went through many trials in her life through which she persevered. She watched the men who swore they would never betray Jesus do just that. She watched her son’s horrific persecution, while he was scourged, whipped, ridiculed and tortured.

She had to see him carry his own cross until he lost all his own physical human strength, and finally she had to watch a slow and painful death upon the cross. Women today can gain immeasurable strength from Mary, especially through the trials and difficulties life can throw at us. I find comfort in knowing that Mary will be at my side helping me to endure life’s sorrows and joys as an intercessor to God.

Divine vocation

As Pope John Paul II explained Mary sheds light on the divine vocation of women. The feminist movements have confused the advancement of women’s rights to mean making women more like men. God’s plan is that women are men’s equal in dignity and worth but this does not mean copying a man. Mary reminds us that our unique feminine attributes are a good thing.

Think of this, God chose Mary, out of all the women in the world. She lived in the little town of Nazareth. She was not a woman of great wealth or stature. What can we take from this? We know that to achieve joy, happiness, and holiness in this world, we do not need celebrity or wealth. Instead we, like Mary need to seek God’s will and trust in it.

This is something all women can do. Whether it be through our devotions to Mary in our daily lives, seeking her help or protection, or looking to Mary as a role model – she has so much to offer us.

One of my strongest and earliest memories of my faith is singing in school May is the Month of Mary. This is just one of the many traditions during the month of May used to honour Our Lady.

My own father always told me to pray to Our Lady for protection and I have worn a Miraculous Medal that I have never taken off for almost 10 years. Coming back into my faith, so many people said to me that praying the rosary every day would help me to grow in faith.

These simple prayers looking at the life of Jesus through Mary had such an incredible impact on me. Today I pray the rosary each day with my husband. I hope this month you celebrate Mary in the month of May and that this tradition may continue throughout the rest of the year.

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