As members of the Catholic Church in Rhode Island know, I have dedicated this year as a time of special devotion to our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary. “A Year with Mary our Mother,” I’ve entitled it. I’ve asked that “In this year, the Diocese of Providence will renew its devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, and that we will strive anew to imitate her virtues, and to seek her grace and protection in our lives.”
I am delighted to know that already a number of our parishes and schools have taken up the theme and have arranged special programs in honor of Our Lady. I hope that for some individuals, too, the year has rekindled their devotion to Mary.
But the year is not even half over yet, and there will be many other opportunities for us to observe our Year with Mary our Mother. But it seems clear that this month of May is destined to stand out as the highpoint on our calendar for Marian devotion.
For starters, in this month, during Eastertide, the prayer Regina Caeli replaces the Angelus in our churches, schools and homes. The hymn Regina Caeli, overflows with joy: “Regina Caeli, laetare, alleluia. Quia, quem meruisti portare, alleluia. Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia. Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.” (“Queen of Heaven rejoice, alleluia. For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia. Has risen, as He said, alleluia. Pray for us to God, alleluia.”)
The Regina Caeli captures the joy Mary must have known in the Resurrection of her Son. Although it’s not reported in Scriptures, tradition has long held that the Risen Christ appeared to his mother before anyone else. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Father Romanus Cessario, O.P., explains that “Mary’s unspeakable joy at the Resurrection of her Son catches on contagiously, and like the Easter fire, spreads rapidly throughout the whole Church.”
The focus of our Marian Year, and the primary reason for its observance, is the 100th Anniversary of the Apparitions of our Blessed Mother at Fatima. This will be a major celebration for the Universal Church and it will include an apostolic visit by Pope Francis to Fatima, Portugal, on her feast day, May 13th.
The Fatima centenary invites us to hear and heed with renewed attention the message of our Blessed Mother at Fatima – the call to conversion and repentance for sins, the invitation to intense prayer, especially the Holy Rosary, and devotion to her Immaculate Heart. You don’t think that our world, our nation and our church needs to hear that message again today?
Here in the Diocese of Providence we are planning our own celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Fatima on Saturday, May 13th, at the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul. Our devotions will include an opportunity for sacramental Confession, a procession with the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, the recitation of the Rosary, and the Holy Mass of the Feast Day in the cathedral. This has the potential of being a very important, beautiful and inspiring event for our diocesan Church, and you are invited to join us.
Even the secular calendar lends support for our devotion to Mary for on May 14th our nation celebrates Mother’s Day, a special day when we honor our moms, and thank them for their love and care, and also to remember and pray for our moms who have passed away.
How appropriate, then, that as we honor our earthly mothers, we also honor Mary, our spiritual mother. She too gives us life as she channels to us the grace of her Son. She too holds us in her arms and responds to our every need. “Never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided,” we pray in the heartfelt Memorare.
One of the cherished Catholic customs of May is the placement of May altars in our churches, schools and even our homes. (As a child I had one in my home; maybe you did too.) And in a public setting this is frequently accompanied by the May Crowning, a public devotion often led by children, in which flowers are placed near or on a statue of our Blessed Mother recognizing her as Queen of Heaven and Earth.
The Marian month of May then culminates with the Feast of the Visitation when we recall that turning point in salvation history when the Blessed Virgin Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth shortly after the Annunciation. As they embraced, both women rejoiced in God’s special presence and intervention in their lives.
“The mystery of the Visitation is a mystery of joy,” St. John Paul said. “John the Baptist exulted for joy in St. Elizabeth’s womb. She, filled with joy at the gift of motherhood, broke forth in blessings upon the Lord, And Mary uttered the Magnificat, a hymn overflowing with Messianic joy.”
On a personal note, May 31st marks the 12th Anniversary of my Installation as Bishop of Providence, and as I celebrate Holy Mass at the Cathedral that day, I will thank God for his goodness that led me here, and I will pray fervently for all of the priests, deacons, religious and laity of our diocesan family, in gratitude for their kindness and for God’s richest blessings upon them all.
Yes, without a doubt, May is Mary’s Month. Let us celebrate well as we honor our Blessed Mother, seek her assistance in our daily lives, and learn from her timeless example of faith, trust and love.