May is the month traditionally devoted to the Blessed Mother. It is also the last in our series exploring the monthly devotions in the Catholic church.
Devotion to the Blessed Mother dates back to the early Church, with Church Fathers such as St. Ignatius, St. Justin, and St. Irenaeus extolling her virtues in their writing. They also focused on the uniqueness of her role as the mother of Jesus. Then, at the Council of Ephesus in 431, the dogma of Mary as Theotokos – Mother of God – was proclaimed.
These devotions have continued year-round throughout the centuries, though particular emphasis in the month of May has ‘only’ been around since the 13th century. It grew even stronger under the influence of the Jesuits in the 18th century, especially in Rome.
On the modern church calendar, there are numerous Marian feast days this month. Our Lady of Fatima, Mary Help of Christians, and the Visitation all occur on set days of May (13th, 24th, and 31st, respectively). Mary, Queen of Apostles is celebrated on the Saturday before Pentecost, which also often falls in May.
St. Pope Paul VI even wrote an encyclical entitled Mense Maio (The Month of May) in 1965. In it, he encouraged the continued devotion to Mary in May, while recalling that drawing closer to her naturally draws one closer to Christ:
- 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. For what other reason do we continually turn to Mary except to seek the Christ in her arms, to seek our Savior in her, through her, and with her?
Though he was writing for a specific time and in a specific place, his reminder of the custom to “offer up public prayers whenever the needs of the Church demanded it or some grave crisis threatened the human race” is just as timely today. He instructed the faithful to turn to Mary and seek her intercession for an increase in world peace, for rational dialogue in international relations, for respect for human life out of a concern for all people, and for an increase in faith and the gift of peace from God.
These requests, put forth nearly 60 years ago, are perhaps even more so appropriate for us to seek today.
There are numerous prayers and devotions, both widely known and more obscure, that we can turn to during this month. In addition, Mary is known by many names and is the patroness of numerous causes. One or more are sure to speak to each of us, as she is the mother of all by virtue of our relationship with Jesus.
The Litany of Loreto is a powerful prayer invoking Mary’s intercession through her numerous titles and virtues. And as one of the few litanies approved for public recitation by the Holy See, it is a wonderful way to remain united with the Universal Church in Marian devotion this month.