The Month of May: Our Mother’s Month
Here in the United States, the celebration of Mother's Day has taken on a bit of a consumeristic character, as we rush out to buy flowers for our wives and mothers. However, even the secular showering of gifts on mothers points to our innate understanding that motherhood is a precious gift to be appreciated and honored. Although the Mother's Day holiday has passed, there's not need to stop the celebration.
Mary, Our Mother
In fact, in the church, May is also the month of motherhood. It is the month in which we celebrate the motherhood of Mary. Mary, who by becoming the Mother of God, assumed a special role in our lives and became a mother to us all. For those outside the Catholic Church this can seem a foreign concept. After all, how can a woman, a mere mortal, who lived 2000 years ago be a mother to us all.
However, through our relationship with Jesus we have become adopted sons and daughters of the Father (Ephesians 1:5) making us the brothers of Christ. Hence, His mother has also become our mother by this adoption. And this adoptive motherhood is true motherhood.
This was once demonstrated to me by a friend who is an adoptive mother herself. She struggled with how she would respond when her children found out they were adopted. Would they feel less loved or less connected? Then one day, someone shared this bit of wisdom with her. They told her to explain to her children that being adopted means you were conceived in your mother’s heart rather than your mother’s womb.
This then is the motherhood of Mary. It is a true motherhood in which we were conceived in her heart rather than her womb. We honor her as our mother because we are the recipients of her full motherly love.
The month of May is “a month which the piety of the faithful has long dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God,” explains Pope Paul VI, Menso Maio, April 29, 1965. “For this is the month during which Christians, in their churches and their homes, offer the Virgin Mother more fervent and loving acts of homage and veneration; and it is the month in which a greater abundance of God's merciful gifts comes down to us from our Mother's throne.”
Due to the springing of blooms, the month of May was adopted by the Church in the 18th century as a celebration of the flowering of Mary’s maidenly spirituality. “In the medieval period, the rose was adopted as the flower symbol of the Virgin Birth, as expressed in Dante's phrase, 'The Rose wherein the Divine Word was made flesh,' and depicted in the central rose windows of the great gothic cathedrals-from which came the Christmas carol, 'Lo, How a Rose 'ere Blooming.' Also, in the medieval period, when monasteries were the centers of horticultural and agricultural knowledge, and with the spread of the Franciscan love of nature, the actual flowers themselves, of the fields, waysides and gardens, came to be seen as symbols of Mary…” explains John S. Stokes (Mary’s Garden, copyright 1996).
It is fitting that we today celebrate Mother’s Day for our earthly mothers in the month of May as well. The fruitfulness of motherhood has so much in common with the blossoming of early spring. Just as the earth cradles and conceals a seed within, so does a mother cradle and conceal the miraculous gift of life in the womb. Both nurture life from the depths of their own resources through long periods of invisible growth that it might shoot forth with vibrant colors of life.
Motherhood: a Visible Sign of God’s Love
Motherhood itself is a sign of the fruitfulness of God’s love and expression of fruitful bounty. For each child is the product of a unique act of God’s blessing on a husband and a wife.
“Motherhood is the fruit of the marriage union of a man and woman, of that biblical ‘knowledge’ which corresponds to the ‘union of the two in one flesh’ (cf. Gen 2:24),” explains Pope John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem in which the woman plays a special role becoming the provider for that new life. “This brings about - on the woman's part - a special ‘gift of self,’ as an expression of that spousal love whereby the two are united to each other so closely that they become ‘one flesh.’”
The gift of the woman to her husband doesn’t end with her spousal love. It is magnified when a child is conceived for the child makes permanent that expression of unity (Three to Get Married, pg. 27, Fulton J. Sheen, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, copyright 1951). The child is the literally inseparable union of husband and wife. However, the child draws its physical building blocks from the mother as she gives of her own flesh to provide nutrients to the child in her womb. Therefore, the mother is uniquely connected to God’s fruitfulness.
In this way, “Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman's womb,” continues Pope John Paul II. “The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and ‘understands’ with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the ‘beginning,’ the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings - not only towards her own child, but every human being - which profoundly marks the woman's personality.”
Mary likewise experienced this unique contact as Jesus developed in her womb and it profoundly marked her personality expanding her heart to make room for our conception as adopted children. This is the mystery we celebrate each Mother’s Day and each month of May.
Everyone Needs a Mother
Everyone needs a mother. Not just because we draw our life from their flesh, but because mothers and fathers have distinctly different roles. One of the most amusing aspects of being a parent has been watching our oldest son grow. As early as he could communicate, he made it very clear he wanted his mother for comfort and his father for protection. He even played more gently with his mom than his father.
The Catholic Church teaches us that we should turn to Mary as a true mother. We should come to her for comfort and support.
Marian Prayers and Devotions
The following practices are approved by the Magisterium and offered as suggestions for honoring Mary during the month of May. (Excerpted from the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy)
The Angelus Domini is the traditional form used by the faithful to commemorate the holy annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary. It is used three times daily: at dawn, mid-day and at dusk. It is a recollection of the salvific event in which the Word became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, through the power of the Holy Spirit in accordance with the salvific plan of the Father.
The ecclesial community addresses this antiphon to Mary for the Resurrection of her Son. It adverts to, and depends on, the invitation to joy addressed by Gabriel to the Lord's humble servant who was called to become the Mother of the saving Messiah.
The Rosary, or Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is one of the most excellent prayers to the Mother of God. Thus, “the Roman Pontiffs have repeatedly exhorted the faithful to the frequent recitation of this biblically inspired prayer which is centred on contemplation of the salvific events of Christ's life, and their close association with the his Virgin Mother.”
These consist in a long series of invocations of Our Lady, which follow in a uniform rhythm, thereby creating a stream of prayer characterized by insistent praise and supplication.
The Roman Pontiffs have frequently expressed appreciation for the pious practice of “consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary” and the formulas publicly used by them are well known.
Louis Grignon the Montfort is one of the great masters of the spirituality underlying the act of “consecration to Mary”. He “proposed to the faithful consecration to Jesus through Mary, as an effective way of living out their baptismal commitment.”
The Scapular is an external sign of the filial relationship established between the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Mount Carmel, and the faithful who entrust themselves totally to her protection, who have recourse to her maternal intercession, who are mindful of the primacy of the spiritual life and the need for prayer.
The faithful like to wear medals bearing effigies of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These are a witness of faith and a sign of veneration of the Holy Mother of God, as well as of trust in her maternal protection.
The Church blesses such objects of Marian devotion in the belief that “they help to remind the faithful of the love of God, and to increase trust in the Blessed Virgin Mary”. The Church also points out that devotion to the Mother of Christ also requires “a coherent witness of life”.
Like all medals and objects of cult, the Miraculous Medal is never to be regarded as a talisman or lead to any form of blind credulity. The promise of Our Lady that “those who were the medal will receive great graces”, requires a humble and tenacious commitment to the Christian message, faithful and persevering prayer, and a good Christian life.
The “Akathistos” Hymn
In the Byzantine tradition, one of the oldest and most revered expressions of Marian devotion is the hymn “Akathistos” - meaning the hymn sung while standing. It is a literary and theological masterpiece, encapsulating in the form of a prayer, the universally held Marian belief of the primitive Church.
As you honor your earthly mothers and the sacrifices they have made this May, we pray you will also recall the love of our heavenly mother through the use of one of these devotions.