May Delights!

May, a time of great beauty and spiritual devotion

There is something very special about the month of May.  The freshness in nature, the exuberant burst of growth, the extravagant length of the day and all the promise that leads us into the Summer season.  It’s one of the busiest times in schools, exam preparation, activities indoors and outside, school tours, graduations winding down and harvesting the benefits of a busy academic year.  May is also the Sacramental Season, the last few Confirmations are celebrated and First Holy Communions galore.  What a beautiful and energetic time the month of May is.

Traditionally, for Catholics May is a special month of devotion to Mary.

Devotion to Mary, Mother of God has been central to the faith of Christians since the early centuries. Battles were fought in hallowed halls and literally and actually on the battlefield to come to an agreed belief in what the Church believes about Mary.  Was she just a good, kind, well-meaning person?  Did she have some special powers by way of special graces to set her apart.  Was she just the mother of the human aspect of Jesus or was the divine part included in that?  The formulation of answers to these simple questions led to our Catholic belief that Mary is special or unique and deserves the title Mother of God.  During the month of May we honour that in so many ways.  May altars.  Visits to grottos.  Collective and individual rosaries and litanies are prayed.  Pilgrimages to Marian Shrines are embarked upon.

Various Marian hymns, anthems are sung during this special month, one of the most popular being the iconic “Bring flowers of the Rarest…” or sometimes more correctly entitled “Queen of the May”. I recall the late Gay Byrne, RIP, on his radio programme always played the original iconic recording of the Scottish Priest Sydney MacEwan every May day.  The tenor Frank Patterson, RIP continued its popularity in more recent times.  The lyrics were composed by Mary E. Walsh in 1853 and they were based on a traditional 13th century Catholic Hymn.   There is something so special and nostalgic in listening to that, memories of childhood flooding back for so many.

In the capital town of Ennis and surrounding area there is an impressive legacy of active May devotion and I am so heartened that it continues to this day.  The illustrious Clare Roots Society brought out an excellent publication entitle “The Grottos of Ennis and Surrounding Areas”.  It illustrates and provides a concise narrative of the multitude of Marian Shrines many of which were constructed as a result of the Marian Year in 1954.  During the Pandemic, I thoroughly enjoyed doing a cycling pilgrimage around the town following the guidance of the book; Ballybeg, Buttermarket, The Cathedral, Connolly Villas, Dalcassian Park, Davitt Terrace, Erinagh Fountain, The Franciscan Friary, Hempfield, Clarecastle, Hermitage, Lee’s Road, Loughville, Marian Avenue, Market Street, McHugh Villas, People’s Park, Lifford, The Poor Clare Convent, Our Lady’s Hospital and St. Michael’s Villas. In recent times the Marian Statue at the Holy Well of St. Joseph on the Gort Road in Doora-Barefield has become a popular location for rosaries and devotions.  It is impressive to see the great community spirit and how well these shrines are kept and that they continue to be a location of ongoing Marian devotion with designated times for people to assemble for prayer.

Marian devotion is a uniquely beautiful, popular, accessible and tangible aspect of our faith and Catholic Devotion.  It touches at the heart strings of something special, that we pray to the mother of Our Lord and Saviour.  In doing so we are confident and assured that she will listen to us and care for us in a motherly way.  We know and believe that she is our mother also.

Bring flowers of the fairest

Bring flowers of the rarest

From garden and woodland

And hillside and vale

Our full hearts are swelling

Our Glad voices telling

The praise of the loveliest

Rose of the vale

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today

Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today

Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May

✠ Fintan Monahan, Bishop of Killaloe

Clare Champion Article 18th of May