Mary's Month of May  

There is a popular spring-time hymn, often sung to the old English folk tune The Lincolnshire Poacher, which begins, “The happy birds ‘Te Deum’ sing, Tis Mary’s month of May.” It always puts me in mind of that verse at the end of psalm 65 about the valleys standing so thick with corn that they shall laugh and sing. The hymn also reminds us that is has, for centuries, been a pious custom of the Church to pay particular homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary in May. As flowers bloom and the new life we see all around us in God’s creation mirrors the new life in Christ which we continue to celebrate in this Easter Season, so the Church honours the one through whom our Saviour was brought into the world so that Love’s redeeming work might be carried out.  

Devotion to Mary during May takes many forms but one of the most common is that of an outdoor procession, as an act of witness to the love of God in Christ, which found expression in Mary’s faith and as a challenge to contemporary society to take notice of this astounding Gospel we proclaim. After all, it is an inherently missional act to carry an image of Our Lady through the streets of the parish, showing the Theotokos, the God-bearer, to a sceptical world and inviting it to join with her in saying “yes” to God.  

Those of us who attended the College pilgrimage to Walsingham this year did not quite manage a procession around the streets but we did take part in a procession of Our Lady around the Shrine Grounds, which ended with Benediction in Church. However, this was not merely an enjoyable piece of High Churchery, an opportunity for anglo-catholics to huddle together and gorge on some fantastic ritual like famished pigs around a well-stocked trough. No. Rather, such a procession was and is a potent symbol of our journey, our pilgrimage through life. As the Administrator, Bishop Lindsay Urwin, reminded us, Mary always – always – leads us towards Jesus. As we walk through life, which like the paths in the grounds at Walsingham is sometimes an uphill walk, sometimes downhill, and all too often feels as if we’re going round in circles; as we journey onwards, walking alongside our sisters and brothers in Christ, Mary is also there with us, our companion and friend, not for her own sake or glory but to lead us to Jesus, to the blessing which he gives, both in this life in the Blessed Sacrament and, in the life to come, at the eternal heavenly banquet of which the Eucharist is merely a foretaste.

As Edward Schillebeeckx, writing of a different place, observed, “the endless movement of the pilgrims round the shrine of Mary [is not] a lie. [It is] an evocative image of the restless, wandering human heart which cannot find repose until, tired of wandering, it finally comes to rest close to God who touched this earth in Mary.”1

So, dear friends, as we continue in this Easter season to feast on the Paschal celebration of Humanity, to rejoice in our triumphant Lord, risen, ascended, glorified; let us remember that it was Mary’s “yes” to God at the Annunciation which made it all possible. Let us remember, too, that in all walks of life Our Lady is with us and that by her example and her intercession she leads us forward to our Heavenly Home, where with all the angels and saints we may one day sing:

Rejoice and be exceeding glad O Virgin Mary, Alleluia!

For the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!  

Amen.

1 Schillebeeckx, Mary, Mother of the Redemption, p144