Sunday, May 22, 2011

Regina Coeli

The world did not end yesterday. So, this morning, at the end of the 10:00 Mass, it was time to carry out that wonderful annual traditon - the annual “May crowning” of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While children of the parish carried flowers in procession around the Church, the congregation sang the Litany of Loretto, followed by the traditional “May Crowning” hymn (all 3 verses), with its familiar refrain O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today

One of the largest collections of vernacular monophonic music from the Middle Ages, Cantigas de Santa Maria, associated with Alfonso X (1221-1284), King of Castile, Leon, and Galicia, supposedly reflects a medieval custom of honoring Mary on particular days in May. Formal “May devotions,” often accompanied by pilgrimages, have been attested to in 16th-century Italy, and from there they spread to other parts of Europe and eventually to America. Often the final devotion on May 31 was accompanied by a solemn procession. The popular custom of a “May Crowning” of statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary towards the end of May is, I suppose, a further development of this.

Luke’s Gospel identifies Jesus, even before his birth, with the messianic significance of David’s kingship over Israel (Luke 1:32-33). Christian tradition and liturgy have long honored Jesus as King - and by extension Mary as queen - with all the symbolic splendor and resonance that those royal titles convey. In his 1954 encyclical letter Ad Coeli Reginam, Pope Pius XII, established a feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, convinced, he claimed, “that great good will accrue to the Church if this solidly established truth shines forth more clearly to all, like a luminous lamp raised aloft.” The date Pius picked for his new feast was May 31, which certainly seemed to put a papal stamp-of-approval on the popular custom of May Crownings. In the current calendar, Pius XII’s feast (downgraded to a “memorial”) has been moved to August 22, the octave Day of the Assumption, thus fittingly connecting the concept of Mary’s queenship with her present post-Assumption position in heaven – and in the Church.

However “May Crowning” may have originally developed, it remains a very popular Catholic custom. By its nature, a coronation highlights the special significance of the person being crowned. At the same time, the traditional use of a floral crown in the customary “May Crowning” gives it a somewhat folksy character, which perhaps has even further endeared it to people and added to its persistent popularity from generation to generation.

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