Tuesday, May 1, 2018


The "merry" month of May ("the lusty month of May," according to the musical Camelot), the 5th month of our current calendar, is commonly thought to have been named for the Greek goddess Maiaidentified with the Roman fertility goddess Bona Dea, whose festival was observed on May 1. 

In the U.S., Mother's Day occurs in May. It increasingly seems more like yet another commercial holiday of corporate capitalism than what Anna Jarvis probably had in mind when she founded the American version of Mother's Day early in the 20th century. Already in the 1920s Jarvid spoke out against Mother's Day cards (advocating hand-written letters instead).

In the Western Church, the month of May is especially associated with various devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary – such as the familiar May Crowning. As far back as the 13th century, King Alfonso X of Castile in his Cantigas de Santa Maria wrote about the special honoring of Mary during specific dates in May. In more recent centuries, the entire month has often been filled with special observances and devotions to Mary. In his 1954 encyclical Ad caeli reginam, Pope Pius XII created a feast of the Queenship of Mary to be celebrated on May 31 and marked the occasion by crowning the image of Maria Salus Populi Romani, the same image which Isaac Hecker visited while in Rome and which Pope Francis regularly venerates before and after his foreign trips. That feast is now celebrated on August 22 to highlight, as the Rosary does, the connection between Mary’s Assumption and her queenship. According to the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church, "Mary was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son" (Lumen gentium, 59).

Since the month of May mostly corresponds to some extent with the season of Easter, May would seem to be an especially appropriate time to highlight Mary’s role in the post-resurrection Christian community. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (Acts 1:14), which anticipates her present heavenly role as Mother of Church. 

This year the Monday after Pentecost (May 21) will be celebrated as the newly established festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. Blessed Pope Paul VI declared Mary "Mother of the Church" at the end of the 3rd session of the Second Vatican Council in 1964. A Votive Mass in her honor under that title has been in the Missal since 1975, and the title was added to the invocations of the Litany of Loretto in 1980. Now this celebration will be universal. According to the Decree establishing this observance: “This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored in the mystery of the Cross, to the Oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and of the Redeemed, the Virgin who makes her offering to God."

Here in the United States, the last Monday in May is Memorial Day. It was first observed in Waterloo, NY, in May 1866. Two years later, General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War veterans' organization, issued a proclamation that "Decoration Day" be observed nationwide on May 30. After the Civil War, many communities set aside a day as a memorial to those who had died. These observances coalesced around Decoration Day (to honor the Union dead) and various Confederate Memorial Days. The alternative name of "Memorial Day" was first used in 1882. It became common after World War II, and was declared the official name by Federal law in 1967. The Uniform Holidays Bill (which went into effect in 1971) moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to its present celebration on the last Monday in May. The traditional date had not specific significance. So moving the holiday to Monday does not damage it the way moving Washington's Birthday  did, but it does reinforce the contemporary diminishing of public, civic holidays in favor of private, commercial pursuits - a symptom rather than a cause of the decline of our public civic culture and of the public-spiritedness and civility that ought to characterize it.

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