May devotions to Our Lady are among the warm memories of my childhood and youth. Do you remember May altars? A beautiful statue of our Blessed Mother Mary was the centerpiece. We adorned it with colorful spring flowers placed in vases and set on lace doilies. There were small altars in our homes and larger, more elaborate ones in our Catholic school classrooms and parish churches.
We were so eager to bring flowers to school for the May altar that Sister Mary Ruth, the principal of my school, St. Edward, regularly issued a warning over the intercom: “Pick flowers for the May altars from your own garden, NOT from your neighbors’ gardens!”
Throughout the month of May, we prayed a decade of the rosary daily and sang Marian hymns, like “Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest” and “O Sanctissima.”
The above retro illustration, originally published in Extension Magazine, shows a typical nineteen-fifties style Marian Coronation scene. Often a girl from the First Communicants that year would do the crowning. It could also be a girl who would graduate that year. I don’t recall any boys doing the honors, but then boys had the privilege of being altar servers, a role denied to girls in those days.
Mary’s importance lies in her relationship to Christ, and our love for Mary is rooted in our love for her Son. Mary is the perfect model of faith, hope and love, so to develop intimate ties with Mary brings us close to her Son as well. Remember what she said at the wedding feast at Cana? “Do whatever He tells you.”
Faithfully praying the “Hail Mary” is one way to grow close to Mary. We tend to associate this prayer with the rosary, but it stands on its own as well. We can pray it any time any place. I like to pray the “Hail Mary” at the start of any journey and also after my night prayers. The words of Mary’s prayer express what we believe about her. She was conceived without original sin, and therefore “full of grace.” She is the “mother of God.” She lovingly prays for us “now and at the hour of our death.”