For centuries, Catholics throughout the world have honored the Blessed Virgin Mary with special devotion during the month of May. At the same time, the month of May largely corresponds with the Church’s liturgical season of Easter, the 50 days between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. The popular Marian piety encouraged by the Church in the month of May is not at odds with the liturgical season of Easter. There is a wonderful connection that I would like to reflect on in this column.
First of all, it is good to reflect on Mary in the Easter season and her joy at the Resurrection of her Son. In fact, the Church highlights this joy in the Easter prayer that is called the “Regina caeli.” We sing or say: “Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia. For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia. Has risen as He said, alleluia. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia. Because our Lord is truly risen, alleluia.”
Mary had stood at the foot of the cross as the sorrowful Mother, joined with the suffering of her Son. She stood by Jesus in His agony on the cross. We can only imagine her great pain as she witnessed the suffering and death of her beloved Son. It was during this agony that Our Lord gave us Mary as our Mother. In His great love for us, through St. John, Jesus entrusted His mother to us and entrusted us to His mother.
As Mary shared in the Passion and Death of her Son, it is reasonable to believe that she had a particular share in the mystery of His resurrection. Pope St. John Paul II taught that “the Blessed Virgin was probably a privileged witness of Christ’s resurrection.” Though we don’t have any mention in the Gospels of the Risen Jesus appearing to His Mother, St. John Paul II asks: “How could the Blessed Virgin, present in the first community of disciples (cf. Acts 1:14), be excluded from those who met her divine Son after He had risen from the dead? It is legitimate to think that the Mother was probably the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared. Could not Mary’s absence from the group of women who went to the tomb at dawn indicate that she had already met Jesus?”
In the Easter season and during this month of May, we celebrate with Mary the resurrection of the Lord. Truly, Mary’s heart was filled “with joy beyond all telling” at the Resurrection of her Son. We share in her joy and we ask for her prayers, that we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. We think of this lowly handmaid who was raised up by God the Father to reign as queen in glory in the presence of her Son, and we pray: “Queen of heaven, rejoice, for He whom you did merit to bear, has risen as He said!”
It is also good in the Easter season and in this month of May, to reflect on Mary’s presence in the community of the first disciples waiting for Pentecost. We will celebrate Pentecost this year on June 4th. As we approach the feast of Pentecost, especially in the latter part of May, we can reflect on that first community of disciples praying together in the upper room after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. Mary was with them in prayer, awaiting the descent of the Holy Spirit. Mary had already been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation, when she conceived the Son of God in her womb and became the Mother of Christ. At Pentecost, she would again be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, filled with His grace to fulfill her new role as Mother of Christ’s Body, the Church.
I encourage devotion to Our Lady of the Cenacle, to our Mother who sustained the disciples in the upper room with her love and the example of her prayer. She is our model of prayer as she prayed with the apostles in the cenacle and was united with them in prayer when they were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. She helped the community to be well disposed for the coming of the Holy Spirit. She helps us to be open to the Holy Spirit and intercedes for us that we may receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in greater abundance. In the cenacle in Jerusalem, Mary was the spiritual mother of the first disciples. She is our spiritual mother who teaches us to follow her Son and to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
In light of our Blessed Mother’s joy at her Son’s Resurrection and of her loving and prayerful presence with the disciples in the upper room at Pentecost, we can celebrate this Marian month of May with deeper meaning. I especially recommend praying the holy rosary during this month. In the beautiful prayer of the rosary, we meditate on the mysteries of Jesus, the key moments of His life. As Pope Francis reminds us, when we pray the rosary, Mary helps us to put Jesus at the center of our attention, our thoughts, and our actions. The Holy Father invites us to pray the rosary together in the family or with friends or in the parish. Praying the rosary together strengthens family life, friendships, and parish life.
On May 13th, we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of Mary to the children of Fatima. On that day, Pope Francis will be canonizing Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francisco. Here in our diocese, I will be celebrating Mass on Saturday, May 13th, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, at 8:00 AM at St. John the Baptist Church in Fort Wayne. I invite you to attend this Mass in which we will begin our diocesan celebrations of this centennial year of the Fatima apparitions. Providentially, May 13th will also be the day of the New Evangelization Summit that all are invited to attend at St. John the Baptist Parish, Fort Wayne, and St. Monica Parish, Mishawaka.
In her first appearance at Fatima, on May 13, 1917, the Blessed Mother said to the children: “Pray the rosary every day to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war.” She repeated this request that they daily pray the rosary for peace in all six of her apparitions to the children. Given the situation in the world today, it is good for us to put into practice Our Lady’s request to pray the rosary daily for peace in the world today.
Finally, I wish to mention the pious custom of crowning an image of Our Lady during the month of May. This act of love and devotion can take place in our churches and schools and also in our homes. What does it mean? It is an action that expresses our devotion to Mary our Mother as also our Queen. We believe that she reigns in glory with her Son, interceding for us and all God’s children. In this Easter season, it is a reminder that Mary, the humble handmaid of the Lord when she was on earth, now shares in the glory of her Son’s resurrection and has been exalted by God as the Queen of all creation. The May crowning reminds us that the lowly shall be exalted, as Mary sang in the Magnificat. We honor Our Lady as our Mother and our Queen and we pray that she will help us to follow her Son and one day receive the crown of glory in heaven.
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