*Fr Cedric Prakash sj
20th May 2018
The month of May has always been a special month dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, the mother of God. As children we looked forward to the ‘May Devotions’; during our vacations a never-failing ritual was the daily recitation of the rosary and the prayers at the little grotto of Our Lady that was in a prime place in the courtyard of my grandparents in Mangalore. Today one can only reminiscence about such devotions; it is certainly not easy to explain to a world which is caught up in crass materialism, of how these simple ordinary devotions deepened our spirituality and helped form us.
The big surprise however, is that there is still so much happening all over in this month of May and all centred on Mary. As one looks back at these past twenty days, one cannot help but acknowledge that Mary’s role in the life of the Church and the world will never ever diminish.
Mary, Queen of the Apostles: Today on the Feast of Pentecost, we need to appreciate Mary’s unique role in the lives of the apostles and the disciples. For fifty days after the suffering, death and Resurrection of her beloved Son, she accompanies the followers of Jesus in a way only she can. She was endowed with God’s spirit from the moment she said an unconditional “yes” to his will. In the Cenacle, she continued to motivate, inspire and help them to become true witnesses. When they receive the Holy Spirit, they courageously go out to the whole world to preach and live the ‘good news.’
Mary, Queen of Flowers: The ‘Flores de Mayo’ is a special festival in the Philippines in the month of May in honour of Mary. The festival climaxes with the ‘Santa Cruzan’, a religious-historical pageant to celebrate the finding of the Holy Cross in the year 326, by Queen Helena the mother of Emperor Constantine. It was truly a moving experience to witness today this pageant in our Jesuit church here in Beirut. More than forty women (mostly Filipinas but also some Sri Lankans and Africans) came beautifully dressed (tiara and all) as ‘Reinas’ (Queens). Each one of them represented various women of the faith from the Old and the New Testaments. The various titles and attributes given to Mary (like Queen of Peace, Queen of Justice) were also represented. In essence, it was a truly Marian devotion.
Mary, Our Lady of Lebanon: Situated high up on the hills of Harissa, since 1908, is this National Shrine of Lebanon overlooking the Jounieh Bay and the Mediterranean Sea. It is a great pilgrimage site visited annually by millions of people from every faith. In January 2007, Pope Benedict launched an appeal for peace in Lebanon and Gaza saying, “to Christians in Lebanon, I repeat the exhortation to be promoters of real dialogue between the various communities, and upon everyone I invoke the protection of Our Lady of Lebanon”. On the night of 12/13 May, together with about two hundred pilgrims we walked up the hill, praying the Rosary. It was a moving experience despite the inclement weather. Among the pilgrims were even some Buddhists. 13 May was also the one hundred and first anniversary of the apparitions Our Lady to the three shepherd children in Fatima.
Mary, Our Lady of the Way: the medieval mural of Santa Maria Della Strada was on an external wall of the small chapel of Our Lady of the Way in Rome. It was here that St Ignatius Loyola prayed and eventually set up the Society of Jesus. This chapel was later demolished and the Church of the Gesu was built (consecrated in 1584). The image of Our Lady was preserved and recently restored. St Ignatius had a particular devotion to this Mary, under whose patronage he placed the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits celebrate this feast on 24 May. Here in Lebanon, the Jesuits have a Shrine and Retreat house dedicated to ‘Madonna Della Strada’ in Tarchiche. Last Saturday about twenty Jesuits with more than one hundred collaborators and friends gathered together for a day of prayer and fellowship . The day included a three-hour meditative trek through the beautiful and rugged mountain paths and a very meaningful Eucharistic Celebration. The day is also celebrated as Mary, Help of Christians.
Mary, Mother of the Church: For the very time tomorrow (21 May), the Church will be celebrating this feast of Mary. The Marian title of ‘Mother of the Church” was first given to Mary during the Second Vatican Council by Pope Paul VI. In March this year, Pope Francis decreed that the Feast of Mary the Mother of the Church would be celebrated annually on the Monday after the Feast of Pentecost, with the intention of encouraging growth in ‘the maternal sense of the Church” and in “genuine Marian piety”.
Mary, the Magnificat: As we move towards the end of yet another month of May, the Church invites us to celebrate the Feast of the Visitation on 31 May. The powerful image of Mary ‘going in haste’ to serve her kinswoman Elisabeth. At the heart of this visitation is the ‘Magnificat’, the Song of Mary. We need to internalize it, make it our very own as we sing:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favour on his humble servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed,
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear Him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
There is so much more happening centered around Mary: little acts, little devotions, little symbols – which draw us closer to her. Some close friends of mine are currently on a pilgrimage (with several others) visiting among other places, Marian shrines in Lourdes and Fatima. Just last week, in a newly released book, ‘Mary, Mother of All’ (‘Maria. Mamma di tutti’), Pope Francis explains the ‘Hail Mary’ phrase by phrase. Millions continue to pray the Rosary, not only in May but every single day of their lives.
The month of May indeed belongs to Mary! As we continue this journey of life, let us celebrate Mary our Mother, in every possible way and fervently pray, asking her to continue to accompany us, “Be with us Mary along the way, guide every step we take….Lead us to Jesus your son!”
*(Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights activist. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org