O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
In so many ways, Granny was a very practical woman. She loved to work outside on the farm, milking cows, feeding calves and all the work that goes with that. She wasn’t a great woman for the indoors and the kitchen. She was always purposeful in her work and there was a distinct whiff of utility about everything she did. Her one concession to frivolity was what was known in our family as the “Marian Garden.” I’m not sure how it got its name but I suspect that it may have been started in 1954 which was the Marian year. It was a small plot across the road from the house beside the haybarn. It was surrounded by a plastered block wall and admission was gained through a small wrought iron pedestrian gate suspended between two capped piers.
The Marian Garden was sectioned by low box hedges and nothing grown in this little garden was practical, useful or edible. But it did serve a higher purpose, namely to delight the eye, to gladden the heart and to nourish the soul. At different times of the year it was a riot of colour whether it was daffodils or lavender or fuchsia or the variety of colours of the few hydrangea bushes here and there. This time of year the lone cherry blossom tree was in full bloom and on a windy day there was a carpet of pink leaves on the pathways through the garden. Thanks to Granny’s Marian Garden and its produce I always managed to get extra credit from my primary school each year in the month of May.
In a few days we cross the threshold into the month of May. May is a special month in memory. It is the month of school tours and laughing children. It is the month of sports days and prizes. It is the month of long days and extra playtime. It is the month of Mary. Each year in May Mrs. McCormack’s classroom in Stonehall school got a new focus for our attention. The nature table with its pinecones and fossils paled into insignificance before the grandeur that was the May Altar.
The beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin in her deep blue mantle smiled on each of us who stood before it each day to recite the Angelus. The pristine white linen cloth with the blue handstitched capital M hung over the edge of the altar and we all had our turn to provide the flowers to lay at the feet of Mary. When my turn came Granny would carefully choose a variety of flowers from her Marian garden that would do honour to the Blessed Mother for whom she herself had a special devotion. But Granny always excelled herself on the last day of May when for the feast of Visitation we had the May Crowning and I would turn up laden with flowers for Mary.
Those old devotions that seem to have slipped into the mists of time served us well. The special devotion to Mary in the month of May reminds us of her example as the first and truest of the disciples of Jesus. God had a whole world of women to choose from and he chooses a poor, peasant, young teenage Jewish girl, named Mary. When we understand why he chose Mary, it gives all of us hope and understanding of why God could and would choose us to use for his glory if we will just let him.
This is Mary of Nazareth: a woman of honest faith who moves in faith as far and as fast as she can. It is not overnight, it is a lifetime. It is life lived in a real world, along with real people where the situations resemble those most of us face, daily. Mary helps us take a long look at ourselves, asking if we are growing in love, in understanding. We remember vividly those scenes when our devotional habits were strong, fresh, and clear – as though Gabriel were speaking to us, calling us to commitment. What has happened in intervening years? Have we ceased to grow? Has the world so caught up with us that spiritual reality has all but gone?
Mary reminds us that we must continue to move, to become. If we fall – and we do, almost daily – God will pick us up. If we misunderstand – and misunderstanding seems to be part of living – we are corrected and admonished. If we sin – and that we do, in spite of our good intentions God will forgive. We must move into greater truth, from youthful naivete to spiritual maturity. If a cross comes in life, may we not run from it, but at least may we stand that may be all we are able to do. In the end, may we know Easter as Mary experienced it, and may Pentecost find us on our knees.
Fr. Brendan Quinlivan lives is Tulla and is Vicar Forane of the Ceantar na Lochanna Parishes of East Clare
Clare Champion Article April 17th 2021