Bring Flowers of the Rarest

My parents wedding anniversary falls on the 10th of January but I always find myself thinking about it as the month of May approaches each year. It all has to do with my mother’s recollections of how they spent their honeymoon which she related to me on more than one occasion. After their wedding breakfast they hit for the metropolis that is Cork city and stayed for three whole days.

The highlight of my mother’s honeymoon – and this certainly speaks of a more innocent and simple era – was attending a recital in the Cork Opera House given by the renowned Scottish tenor and priest Fr., (later Canon), Sydney MacEwan. She fondly recalled his singing of the Scottish ballads like Loch Lomond, or The Road to the Isles. He sang a selection of Irish songs too including The Galway Shawl and More’s melody; The Meeting of the Waters but it was his rendition of the Queen of the May that she remembered best of all.

Our full hearts are swelling

Our glad voices telling

The praise of the loveliest

Flower of the vale

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today

Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May

It made no difference that it was January – the Queen of the May spoke to her heart and stayed in her memory. Perhaps the newly minted bride was making the prayer her own as he sang;

O Virgin most tender,
Our homage we render,
Thy love and protection,
Sweet Mother, to win.
In danger defend us,
In sorrow befriend us

And shield our hearts
From contagion and sin.

It was, I discovered subsequently, Fr. MacEwan’s first public recital since his ordination as a priest and was a fundraiser for the renovation of St. Mona’s Church on Sherkin Island. The Cork Examiner carried an account of the concert the following day in which it reported that “the Cork Opera House resounded to tumultuous rounds of enthusiastic applause as the capacity audience which crammed the theatre ‘to the roof’ expressed their appreciation and admiration of the singing.”  Canon MacEwan spent much of his priestly life and ministry in often remote parishes in the Scottish Highlands but he did once admit in an interview that he sometimes preferred a concert audience to a congregation. “People listen to me more attentively in a concert than in a church, “ he said. However it was quite clear his performances were secondary to his religious duties, and after ordination he decreed all concert earnings went to charities.

I would be confident that as we cross the threshold into the month of May, our churches will resound more than once with flowers of the rarest and blossoms the fairest as the month unfolds. I’m never quite sure if it’s nostalgia or devotion that has the upper hand as even those who never sing in Church find themselves carried away by the chorus. As far back as the 16th Century, Catholics have observed the custom of consecrating the month of May to the Blessed Virgin Mary by special observances. May devotions, the family Rosary, May Altars, May crownings and processions have long formed part of the devotional life of Irish people but are not so fashionable today. I sometimes worry that we have moved from an excess of Marian devotion to a dearth of it. It might be a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Sometimes people have a mistaken or exaggerated understanding of how Catholics regard Mary. This may even happen among Catholics themselves.

I recall once passing the O’Connell monument in Ennis where a group of Evangelical Christians were preaching. Admiring their conviction and witness to the Gospel, I stopped to listen for a few minutes. I was approached by a young man, brandishing his Bible like a Kalashnikov rifle and he asked if I were a Catholic priest. (It may have been the clerical collar that gave me away). When I answered in the affirmative he thrust the Bible into my hand and demanded that I show him where it said in the Bible that we should worship Mary. I gently tried to explain that our Church also teaches that worship belongs to God alone but that we give reverence or veneration to the Blessed Virgin and the Saints. He seemed a little surprised to hear that we do not worship Mary but someone, sometime told him that we do and he never thought it might be otherwise. I thought of Archbishop Fulton Sheen who once said,  “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”


A Mhuire na ngrás, a Mháthair Mhic Dé,                                                                                     

go gcuire tú ar mo leas mé.                                                                                                           

Go sabhála tú mé ar gach uile olc,                                                                                                

go sabhála tú mé idir anam is chorp.

Fr. Brendan Quinlivan – Clare Champion Article 29th of April 2022