The month of May is traditionally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. May is a month of growth, when nature is reborn. This month normally belongs to the Easter season, between Easter and Pentecost. Many Catholics may be aware that May is consecrated to Mary, but it may be unclear why this month was selected for this particular distinction. Other months have more important feasts dedicated to Our Lady, such as August (Feast of the Assumption) and December (Feast of the Immaculate Conception). What is it about this month that makes it a fitting time to reflect on the Virgin Mary’s role in salvation and to honor her as the Mother of God?
The tradition of dedicating the month of May to Our Lady is centuries old, dating back at least 700 years. Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote an encyclical on the month of May, focusing on the Virgin Mary. He wrote that the piety of the faithful has long dedicated the month of May to the Mother of God. He stated in his encyclical, Mense Maio:
We are delighted and consoled by this pious custom associated with the month of May, which pays honor to the Blessed Virgin and brings such rich benefits to the Christian people. Since Mary is rightly to be regarded as the way by which we are led to Christ, the person who encounters Mary cannot help but encounter Christ likewise.
The reason for dedicating May to Our Lady is associated with the particular season of the year. May is certainly known for its springtime beauty (at least in the Northern Hemisphere). It is associated with flowers and blossoms, with trees which spring back to life, and grass which sprouts. It brings to mind the idea of promise and hope, of new life. Blessed John Henry Newman offers various reasons why May in particular is dedicated to Our Lady in “Meditations and Devotions”. He states:
The first reason is because it is the time when the earth bursts forth into its fresh foliage and its green grass after the stern frost and snow of winter and the raw atmosphere and the wild wind and rain of the early spring. It is because the blossoms are upon the trees and the flowers are in the gardens. It is because the days have got long, and the sun rises early and sets late. For such gladness and joyousness of external Nature is a fit attendant on our devotion to her who is the Mystical Rose and the House of Gold.
Blessed Newman admits that sometimes May is a rainy, cool month. However, it always remains a month of promise and hope, the prelude to summer, the season of light. It is in this sense that it represents Mary. She reflects the light of Christ.
In classic western culture, both Greek and Roman, May was connected with the beginning of new life. This ancient belief led to May being associated with the motherhood of Mother Earth and thus to motherhood in general. It is for this reason that Mother’s Day is celebrated in May in many countries. This connection between May and motherhood led Christians to adopt May as the month of our Lady, the Mother of God and our heavenly Mother. She brought life into the world by giving birth to her Son, Jesus, who brought about a new spring.
May is normally part of the Easter season, the period of fifty days which lasts from Easter to Pentecost. During this time we celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection from the dead, a celebration which culminates with his Ascension to the Father and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the Church on Pentecost. It is a fitting time to dedicate to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to recall her intense joy over her Son’s Resurrection and the comfort and guidance she gave to the Apostles during this difficult period.
During the Easter season, Mary’s presence in the beginnings of the Church is emphasized. She was present in the first community of disciples. In Acts 1:14, she was present with the Apostles in the upper room as they prayerfully waited for the descent of the Holy Spirit with hopeful expectation. As Pope St. John Paul II stated in Redemptoris Mater, “Mary was in the Upper Room, where the Apostles were preparing to take up this mission with the coming of the Spirit of Truth: she was present with them. In their midst Mary was “devoted to prayer” as the “mother of Jesus” (cf. Acts 1:13-14), of the Crucified and Risen Christ.” Her maternal presence was humble and discreet but fundamental. Among them, she acted as a guide, an exceptional witness of the mystery of Christ, a role she had since His conception and birth, as well as a model of true faith.
Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI vividly described Mary’s maternal presence among the disciples after Jesus’ Resurrection. He stated:
In the days that followed the Lord’s resurrection, the Apostles stayed together, comforted by Mary’s presence, and after the ascension, they persevered with her in prayerful expectation of Pentecost. Our Lady was a mother and teacher to them, a role that she continues to play for Christians of all times…
The Easter season is a fitting time to recall Mary’s immense joy over her Son’s Resurrection and to rediscover her role as mother and teacher in our lives. Mary has a unique role in the God’s plan of salvation and in the Church. She consented to the coming of the Savior and cooperated in developing His mission. She brought Him into the world, raised Him and lovingly stood by His side during the years of His hidden life. She supported Him during His public ministry in a quiet way, beginning at Cana, where by her intercession Jesus performed His first miracle (John 2:1-12). She cooperated in His work, even uniting her own suffering with that of her Son, standing at the foot of His cross. Mary was Jesus’ first disciple, humbly following Him during every step of His journey and mission. She trusted in God completely and lived by His grace. She is our model of true discipleship and of complete faith.
During the Easter season we are more aware of Mary’s motherly presence and love. It is perhaps for this reason that popular tradition has dedicated the month of May, which falls during this liturgical season, to Our Blessed Mother.
Turning to Our Heavenly Mother
The Blessed Virgin Mary offered the disciples her prayers, motherly care, and witness. She continues to offer us her motherly love and intercession. During this month of May, let us rediscover her maternal role in each of our lives. Let us offer our spiritual mother our sincere prayers, that just as she aided the first Apostles with her prayers, she may also guide and intercede for us in our journey of faith. Let us learn from her how to love and trust God completely and how to be faithful witnesses of the risen Lord.