“O Mary, we crown Thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May”
– ‘Bring Flowers Of The Rarest’ (Catholic hymn)
Traditionally dedicated to the Mother of God, the month of May brings a number of particular practices with it – amongst these are the daily recitation of the prayer of the holy Rosary, and the creation of a ‘May altar’.
When I was at primary school, we made a May altar every year, with each of the children being invited by the teacher to bring something special to place upon it – invariably, we were asked to bring something blue, as this is the colour we most often associate with the Blessed Virgin. Even now, almost fifty years later, this is still a practice I love very much and I still look forward to seeing the May altars which others create. This year, I have paid special interest to this on social media – and I have not been disappointed.
There have been so very many images of May altars this year, and our own Diocese of Motherwell has encouraged the practice amongst the children of the schools across the Diocese, and with the loveliest results. Some have been very small and simple; others have been a little more elaborate; some have been absolutely beautiful; still others, very inspiring. I am sure the Mother of God must be looking upon all these special little places made in Her honour, and smiling.
Because the altar is set up in the home, it is very personal and intimate and each one is different from every other one. The simplicity of the altar makes no difference – indeed, simplicity is usually better. As long as there is an image of the Blessed Virgin, it makes no difference if this is a statue, a painting or even just a little prayer card. A little candle and some flowers are perfect, if available. But even just the image itself is enough.
Once the altar is there, it reminds us of the constant and loving presence of our heavenly Mother, and it beckons to us to place all our cares, concerns, joys and sorrows at Her feet, and to ask Her intercession for us and for those we pray for. Hopefully, if we do this throughout one month of the year, we might begin to develop that very close and trusting relationship which so often characterised the lives of the Saints and of the Popes; St John Paul II is a very good recent example of authentic Marian devotion – his early love for the Blessed Virgin blossomed like a rose in summer, becoming one of the strongest forces in his spiritual life as a man, a Priest and a Pope.
It may seem like nothing more than simple piety on behalf of a child, often encouraged by a parent or a teacher. And yet – as my own experience relates – it can leave a long lasting and very deep impression. These little acts of simple piety are often what keeps the Faith burning in our hearts in the darkest moments of life, and they give a beautiful expression to the Faith we profess. This would seem to be the case, too, for all of those parents and teachers across our Diocese – who are themselves encouraging the creation of the May altars.
I am grateful to see such exquisite examples of the May altar, and I thank all these parents and teachers – and especially the little children. May they come to know the Mother of God ever more fully and to love Her ever more deeply, throughout the entirety of their lives.