Many things can be said about Catholics, but it can never be said that we don’t honor our Mother! In addition to the myriad feast days honoring Our Lady in her many titles and virtues, the entire month of May is especially given to her praise.
May is traditionally dedicated in a special way to honoring and seeking the intercession of Mary as the Mother of God (Theotokos), and May as the month of Our Lady dates from around the 17th century. Observance of the month of May became more solidified as a Marian month in 1945 when Pope Pius XII proclaimed May 31 as the feast day of the Queenship of Mary. In later years, the day was moved to August 22.
The May 13, 1917 apparitions of Mary at Fatima in Portugal further affirmed the month of May as a Marian month. At Fatima, “the lady” is said to have asked Lucia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Morta to devote themselves to the Holy Trinity and to pray “the rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to war.” These three children said that “they saw a woman brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than the rays of the sun.”
The month of May is always part of the Easter season, the fifty days we celebrate in the liturgy the Resurrection of Our Lord, a time also of awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The celebration of May as a Marian month fits well with the liturgical celebrations of Easter and Pentecost as we see her at every step of the sufferings of her beloved son. We see her at the foot of her Son’s cross as she receives his dead body into her loving arms. We then recall Mary’s great joy in her Son’s victory over death as well as her presence with the apostles and other disciples in the upper room prayerfully awaiting the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
On May 17, 1846, the bishops of the United States proclaimed Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, the principal patroness of the whole country. On October 12, 1945, Pope Pius XII decreed Our Lady of Guadalupe to be “Patroness of all the Americas.” However, long before the modern developments in the devotion to Mary, the Council of Ephesus in 431 boldly affirmed the title of Mary as “Theotokos,” translated from Greek as “God-Bearer” or “Mother of God,” putting to rest heretical questioning of the co-existence of the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus. As the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary has a unique position among the saints, indeed, among all creatures. She is exalted, yet still one of us:
“Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace, she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth. At the same time, however, because she belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all those who are to be saved.” (Lumen Gentium, no. 53)
Mary is truly the first among all disciples. Mary embraces God’s will and freely chooses to cooperate with God’s grace, thereby fulfilling a crucial role in God’s plan of salvation. Throughout the centuries, the followers of Christ have turned to the Blessed Virgin in order to come closer to Christ. Many forms of piety toward the Mother of God developed that help bring us closer to her Son. In these devotions to Mary, “while the Mother is honored, the Son, through whom all things have their being and in whom it has pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, is rightly known, loved and glorified and . . . all His commands are observed.” The Church honors her as the Mother of God, looks to her as a model of perfect discipleship, and asks for her prayers to God on our behalf.
Pope Francis has a strong relationship with the Mother of God. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he encouraged devotion to “Our Lady, Undoer of Knots.” On the first day after his election to the papacy, he visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome to place flowers on the altar and pray for Mary’s help and protection. Since that day, he has continued to shine a light on the woman he calls “the first pilgrim” and “the perfect disciple.” For Pope Francis, Mary is an icon of wisdom, strength, courage, and joyful hope. Her unconditional “yes” to God. He encourages all of us to say “yes” to God’s call and live our faith fully.
“How did Mary live this faith? She lived it out in the simplicity of the thousand daily tasks and worries of every mother, such as providing food, clothing, caring for the house.… It was precisely Our Lady’s normal life which served as the basis for the unique relationship and profound dialogue which unfolded between her and God, between her and her Son. Mary’s “yes,” already perfect from the start, grew until the hour of the Cross. There her motherhood opened to embrace every one of us, our lives, so as to guide us to her Son.” (General Audience, St. Peter’s Square, October 23, 2013)
In dealing with Mary… we often envision a sweet tender teenager who meekly stands in the background and smiles in quiet repose, the young mother lovingly holding her child… and Mary was indeed all of this…But that was only one part of her life… the early part of her life. There was more, much more to come to this woman…The Mary I would offer for your meditation as you struggle with your own doubts your own difficulties… The Model in our lives of faith… is a Mary standing at a later time in her life…A strong woman who has already buried her husband and carried these sorrows, a woman who has suffered much in her lifetime…Who ponders deeply in the Lord what is happening to her… who constantly worries about her only Child, her Son, and the path he is walking, the company he is keeping… who “In her closeness to God” is able to endure… to remain faithful… even to the foot of the Cross. If Mary was 14 or 15 years old when the angel visited her… then she would be at least 47-50 years old when her son died. Her hair would be streaked with gray… her brow wrinkled with sorrow and worry…This is the Mary that can journey with you in the difficult times you face in your lives… This is the woman who understands your pains, your concerns, your worries about your children, your loved ones, your aging parents, your sick spouse… The “Yes” Mary gave at the Annunciation is wonderful indeed… But the “Yes” that Mary gave at the foot of the Cross… as she held the dead body of her only Child… is a yes for us to meditate on in our struggles. Mary’s first yes was a yes to the unknown… Her continuing yes was with the full knowledge and the experience of great suffering…This is the Mary that Jesus gave to the beloved Apostle and to all of us as he hung dying on the cross…“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved, he said to his mother, “woman, behold your son” then he said to the disciple “behold your Mother” and from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
In the same way, Jesus gives Mary to us today and everyday as our intercessor, yes, even our mother. This is the Mary that continues to journey with each and every one of us as we struggle to remain faithful to our “YES” This is our Model and our Guide every day of our lives… Let us follow the example of Mary and ponder these things in our hearts.
In closing, as we celebrate Mary who is the Mother of us all, let us also take time to celebrate our own Mothers and thank them for all that they have done and continue to do for us throughout our lives. Mother’s Day this year is on Sunday, the 14th of May.
By Sister Janet Marie Flemming, OSB