May – Mary’s Month

My grandmother could never be described as a sentimental woman in the strictest sense of the word. Indeed she was what could be regarded as more practical and utilitarian person, especially when it came to her role on the family farm. My recollection is that she preferred to work outside the house on the land rather than in the home. She was no domestic goddess, that’s for sure. Everything had a practical purpose and when it came to all those things that needed to be attended to in terms of use of land. Things were grown with the explicit purpose of providing food for eating or contributing to the feeding of cattle. All the outside jobs like caring for the hens or geese were hers.

Her one concession to sentimentality was what was known in our house as the Marian garden. Just across the road from the family home was a small plot of land surrounded by a block wall with a pedestrian gate. It was sectioned off with low box hedges and growing there was a wide variety of plants and flowers with no practical purpose whatsoever. It was an assault of colour and scents whose sole purpose was to remind us of the beauty and wonder of creation. As we stand on the threshold of the month of May, I find myself thinking again of the Marian Garden.

I’m not sure how the Marian Garden got its name. On reflection it may have been something as simple as being first planted in 1954 which was a Marian Year in the Church. When it comes to my practical grandmother it may also have been a nod to her spirituality and devotion to the Blessed Mother. The nightly rosary was prayed in the family home with great earnestness despite the messing and giggles of the younger generation.

While nowadays the month of May is often preoccupied with the celebrations of the sacrament of First Holy Communion and the sanctification of the bouncy castle, people of an older generation will be more inclined to remember it as the month of the Virgin Mary. May altars, processions and crownings were some of the ways in which devotion to the Blessed Mother was expressed in parishes. This coming month sees the celebration of St. Joseph the Worker on the 1st, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima on the 13th, the feast of Mary the Mother of the Church on the 20th and finally we round out the month of May with the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin on the 31st.

Devotion to the Blessed Mother is one of the hallmarks of our religious practice as Catholic Christians. Such devotion is also at the heart of our story of faith here in Ireland. I’m no historian but I imagine that in times of persecution with limited access to the sacramental life, prayer such as the rosary gave people a hold on faith in challenging times, opening for them access to scripture and the deeper mysteries of our religion. At the risk of committing heresy I would also suggest that Mary has a relatability for ordinary people that makes her a remarkable signpost to the divine.

We can’t forget that Mary spent nearly every day of her life just like millions of others who look after their families, bring up their children, and take care of their houses. Mary sanctifies the ordi­nary, everyday things, what some people wrongly regard as unimportant and insignificant: everyday work, looking after those closest to you, visits to friends and relatives. What a blessed or­dinariness, that can be so full of love of God. I sometimes like to go back in my imagination to the years Jesus spent close to his mother, years which span almost the whole of his life on earth. I like to picture him as a little child, cared for by Mary.

If our faith is weak, we should turn to Mary. St. John tells us that it was because of the miracle that Christ performed, at his mother ‘s request, at the marriage feast at Cana, that ‘his disciples learned to believe in him.’ Our Mother is always interceding with her Son, so that he may attend to our needs and show himself to us in such a way that we can cry out, ‘You are the Son of God!’

Perhaps as the month of May approaches we might consider renewing our devotion to Mary. There are many ways in which we could do this; try rediscovering the richness of the prayers that honour Mary such as the Rosary, the Angelus, the Memorare. Try to imitate Mary in her compassion and love. Try to visit a shrine devoted to Mary or even simply light a candle before her statue in your parish church.

Fr. Brendan Quinlivan, VF, Ceantar na Lochanna is Communications Officer for the Killaloe Diocese

Clare Champion Article 26th of April 2024