Today begins May, a time dedicated by the Catholic Church to the Virgin Mary. But when exactly did the tradition of this Marian month begin?
Sister Vittorina Marini, professor of Mariology in Rome and member of the Congregation Sisters of the Blessed Mother of Sorrows, explained to ACI Prensa that “during this time the work of Mary in the history of salvation is recognized from her Divine Maternity.”
He also pointed out that in the Latin Catholic Church this month is the time traditionally dedicated to Mary, although “it does not coincide for all churches and the chosen month may be different.”
“During this period, the piety of the Christian people expresses its authentic love for the Virgin through various prayer initiatives, such as the rosary, processions, pilgrimages to Marian shrines, or special pious practices that seek to recognize and honor the place of the Blessed Virgin in the history of salvation and highlight her maternal bond with Christ and with the faithful.
the queen of heaven
Sister Vittorina explained that in ancient Greece the month of May was consecrated to the feminine deities of fertility or spring.
“During the centuries these pagan cults were combined with other popular rituals and traditions present in the West, which were expressed in courtly tributes by lovers to the woman they loved; turning May into a period of parties and entertainment, dedicated to life and motherhood”, she explained to ACI Prensa.
In an effort to Christianize these holidays, the Church linked to this month the tradition of paying homage from the heart to the Virgin Mary, “celebrated as the highest and most beautiful creature among women.”
“In the primitive Church it seems that there was already a solemn feast in honor of the Mother of the Lord that was celebrated on May 15 of each year; however, the entire month was not associated with the Virgin Mary until the 18th century”, pointed out the professor of Mariology.
The first devotional practices linked to the month of May date back to the 16th century in Rome with Saint Philip Neri, who taught his young people to adorn the image of the Mother of God with flowers, to sing her praises and offer acts in her honor. .
In addition, “at the end of the 17th century, in the Dominican novitiate of Fiesole (Florence), Fr. Angelo Domenico Guinigi founded in 1677 a kind of brotherhood called Comunella, which began to dedicate the month of May to the Virgin with exercises of devotion ”.
As Vittorina pointed out, “it was not yet the month of May as we know it today, but it had in common some elements that we still find sometimes: the singing of the Lauretan litanies or the coronation of Mary with a crown of roses”
In fact, the chronicle of the Santo Domingo archive reads: “When the May festival arrived and hearing the day before that many lay people began to sing the litanies and celebrate the creatures they love, we decided that we also wanted to sing them to the Blessed Virgin Mary….”.
“Thus, the lay queen of spring is opposed to the queen of heaven“, he pointed.
Popes and missionaries
The Marian month of May as we know it came in 1725 from the hand of Fr. Annibale Dionisi SJ, with his book entitled Mes de María, and in the year 1800 devotional practice was further enriched with the rosary, “linked to prior to the month of October and which was later extended to the month of May”.
In the first half of the 19th century, the month of May was widespread in Europe and America, and little by little it was implanted in various parts of the world thanks to the work of missionaries.
According to Vittorina, “the dogma of the Immaculate Conception consolidated this tradition in 1854, due to the desire of the Pontiffs and the Christian people to give the greatest honor to the Mother of the Lord. Popes Pius VII, Gregory XVI and Pius XIX devoted themselves to it and May became the Marian month par excellence and came to compete with the high points of the liturgical year”.
“From Leo XIII to Pius XII, the Magisterium was interested in the month of May and pointed it out to the faithful in encyclicals, and the pastoral letters of many bishops were added to these recommendations.”
The importance of Marian devotion
“All the Popes, even Pope Francis, have reaffirmed the importance of Marian devotion, encouraging its spread among the Christian people, especially in this month dedicated to it. In fact, it will be the Pontiffs themselves, in times of grave difficulty and need in the Church and in history, who will recommend the practice of the month of May, invoking the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Along these lines, we can recall two important and significant gestures by Pope Francis: in May 2021, the recitation of the Holy Rosary to ask for the end of the pandemic and support for the sick injured by the coronavirus, and the act of consecration of Ukraine and Russia to Maria to ask for the end of the war in Ukraine.
“In this moment of special suffering in the world, Christians are called once again to live this Marian time: to grow in listening to the Word of God, oriented to a true evangelical witness according to the beatitudes and to invoke the intercession of Mary for that protects and liberates humanity from the destruction of war”, concluded the Mariologist.