JULIA: What are some of your thoughts on the traditional Marian devotions, especially May crowning? I think it’s so gendered and Westernized. I don’t think it’s what the real Mary would have liked. I love Mary and as a convert was drawn to Catholicism because of some beliefs of Mary and ask her to pray for me often. My sponsor who I care for very much shares many views about the faith, but likes more traditional devotions. She has asked me to be the “May Queen”, the person who puts a flower crown on the statue of Mary before Mass on Mother’s Day. I accepted, but then my thoughts drifted at work and I realized how outdated and pointless I think this devotion is. I know it won’t deepen my faith, but I know it will bring comfort to others, so I’m doing it. I tend to over analyse. How would you feel about being “May Queen”?
LISA: Awkward but, like you, understand that it has a rich tradition for some. I see Mary as an independent woman with a willing and humble heart.
JULIA: My sponsor is so excited and I love her like an aunt. I’m just a humble, but strong feminist who loves Mary. I know she loves my prayers more than me putting a crown of flowers on a statue.
LISA: She is a mother. She has a mother’s love.
RUTH: It’s a really sweet ritual done by children. Isn’t there a ccd class that can do it?
JULIA: For some reason, not this year. They have in the past, I mean now that you mention it, the fact that I’m a young adult does make it more awkward in that sense.
MARIA: The resident ‘young person’.
IRIS: I personally LOVE this aspect of Catholicism! To me it connects us with ancient thoughts of us being part of the whole of creation! For me, an important part of Christianity is the closeness to vegetation religions. I think that we are celebrating the coming of the Spring in celebrating Mary at this time of year and that is something we have done for many centuries! Now I was brought up in a very Protestant atmosphere where the Catholic devotion to Mary was viewed critically as “Pagan”—but to me this is a wonderful thing not a problem. Having said that, I am not familiar with this particular custom but it sounds lovely.
LEAH: I have not seen this since primary school. Not sure how the nuns chose the little girl. Probably a little Irish girl most definitely not a Polish girl.
TABITHA: Ha! At my school, it was always a blond!
MARIA: I think of it as Irish with a connection to Celtic traditions and the pagan feast of Beltaine—the start of Summer—though that leaves out the UK, England in particular. Similar things for St Brigid on 1st February with Candlemas day on the 2nd. Mother’s Day here and in the UK is Laetare Sunday. Then again, other Europeans have similar traditions, so it could just be the whole idea of a ‘Catholic Ireland’ that has grown in the twentieth century.
IRIS: It is SO wonderful to think we are still connected to traditions like that! Love that thought so much!
MARIA: There’s something in August, too ( Celtic feast of Lunasa for the God Lú), then of course there’s Halloween and All Saints followed by All Souls ( Samhain, feast of the dead, end of old year, beginning of the new one).
HANNAH: I would feel ‘Stairway to Heaven’, subsequently I would feel ‘backmask’, and then I would want to flee from the devil.
ELSBETH: What’s ‘backmask’?
HANNAH: ‘Backmasking’ is playing a record backwards, so as to hear hidden messages of a satanic nature. Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is notorious for its backmasking. It gives me the shivers. And its lyrics feature the ‘May Queen’
MARIA: In terms of Mary’s crown, I saw a lot of floral and grain type crowns on European girls in photos from graduations— especially Italy and Scandinavia—when I was looking for au pairs.
ANNA: Wow. Just realised that perhaps that’s where the tradition of having flower crowns at graduation from my all-girls’ Catholic high school comes from …
MARIA: I found this link to Europe’s ancient traditions, I don’t know how accurate the research is, but it reflects the idea of taking what is good in the old ways—so much of Christian tradition, symbolism and ritual is tied up with the many expressions of the human search for meaning. They say St Patrick and his followers were successful because they knew, understood and valued the life-giving elements of Celtic culture—bonfires, holy wells, Celtic knots all are good, but change the focus.
ELSBETH: I wouldn’t take it seriously if I were you—it’s all mansplaining as far as I can see. Otherwise known as ‘all women are the same, so all festivals involving women are the same’. He is talking about a whole number of totally different cults there. May 1st is a specific Celtic festival called Beltane, and there are indeed some links with that, but all the spring goddess rituals are distinct, and Mary as Queen of the May is different again.
MARIA: Only read some of it, but, yes, a bit of throwing in every feast/festival that happens in May, the month when lots of things are in full bloom—oddly, Beltaine is marked less here than February 1st and Brigid, with the Saint/goddess cross-over. There is a tradition of bonfires on St John’s eve, though, which coincides with my birthday. Lunasa gets some attention with the climbing of Croagh Patrick during the month—on the 24th, I think.
PATRICIA: I was the May Queen … in 1st grade. I had no idea adults did this. Lol. May crowning doesn’t speak to me. But it doesn’t hurt anyone either. So, I say go for it.
JULIA: If you call me the person who happens to be the one to put flowers on her head, I’m fine with that. Queen seems a little pageant like. And because I’m short and have poor balance I’m actually handing it to someone who’s doing the literal crowning, while standing on a ladder. I’m processing up to the altar getting the crown and handing it to someone.
PATRICIA: Queen does sound a little pageant like. Tell them that’s what you want the program to call you, “the person who happens to be the one to put flowers on her head.”
ELSBETH: I sympathise on the shortness!
AMILLE: Sometimes participating in an unfamiliar ritual can give us a new perspective on its meaning and help us understand why others find it vital. Sometimes it confirms our own idea that ‘whoa, this is definitely NOT for me’—either way we gain insight. I would say do it because someone you care for asked you to and reflect on it after. That also gives you the ground to stand on later to say ‘you know I tried that once, and it really didn’t feel right’ or to offer feedback on how we portray Mary (often choosing meek and mild over young radical). Unless you feel really uncomfortable about it, then you can politely decline but perhaps attend with your friend to observe and learn/judge for yourself.
JULIA: I’m doing it, just venting, because it seems to place Mary in a meek and mild stance and seems to emphasize her femininity over other things.
ELSBETH: May I give you a feminist theological interpretation of what you are about to do, and see what you think? The coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven is a crucial doctrine of the Church, because as the first and greatest disciple she receives on behalf of the whole human race Jesus’s crown of victory over death and suffering. You are playing the role of Jesus in symbolically crowning her, and it represents God’s gift of salvation to all of humanity represented in her. I would be hugely honoured and glad, if I were you, and do it with reverence, love and dignity on behalf of your whole Church community.
JULIA: Oh wow, I thought of it as the opposite of feminist. That’s very interesting.
IRIS: That is such a wonderful thought! I think it’s so amazing how important women were in the Gospels, and then subsequently with the Doctors of the Church. Seems a great contrast to how we seem to be perceived now!
ELSBETH: The reason for that is that sisters no longer run all the institutions of the Church, and no other way of including women’s leadership institutionally has yet emerged. That’s why I am hoping so much forwomen deacons.
PATRICIA: Wow! This is great.
NADIA: Thanks for that Elsbeth … otherwise I might have really been disaffected by the idea of an adult being crowned …
SINEAD: A couple of visual back-ups to ELSBETH’s helpful feminist theological interpretation. Sometimes the artist portrays Jesus doing the crowning, sometimes it is God—so, what better than such precedents!
CORA: Celebrating Mary in Spring time reminds us that God entered the world through the fecundity of the female body.
BETTY: I love the May crowning and the attention given to Mary!
WENDY: I am a cradle Catholic, with a long road trailing from naive belief, to Vatican ll changes, to exploring Asian philosophy, and existentialism, to agnosticism, to atheism, to Evangelical Christianity, and finally back to my Roman Catholic roots. For many years, I felt a guilt concerning any Marian devotion. I found it difficult to place Mary in a spot I thought only Jesus could fill, and had no fear or trepidation of going to Christ Jesus for any or all things. Yet underneath all of that was a deep love for Mary, and a tenderness that I could not deny. I weep when I pray the Hail Holy Queen prayer, and am drawn to the Hail Mary whenever I am deeply distraught. I feel this is the Holy Spirit calling me. Perhaps She (Mary) is a physical representation of the female-ness of God’s heart, to my soul, at least. Stay open. See where the Spirit leads you. We know less of God, IMHO, than we think we do!
JULIA: I love the rosary, just have never warmed up to other Marian devotions like May crowning.
MARIA: The imagery of the May crowning along with the lyrics and music of some of its songs can seem too ‘sweet’ for some—I had a grumpy 13 year old boy at mass this morning with the Marian hymn, seemed too childish for his taste ( the music is quite reminiscent of childhood, it’s the one that starts with ‘all I have I give you….’). It can be difficult/awkward when certain cultural expressions of deeper truths don’t seem alien to us.
WENDY: I can see that, Maria, and have never liked the “Lourdes Hymn” because of that sickening sweet version of a Woman who was surely tough as nails. I love the Eastern Church’s version of “The Dormition”—falling asleep in the Lord. I’m sure that some of my sensibilities are formed from that cradle Catholic background. My divorced, annulled, and remarried Mother, says Mary carried her through that great trial.
MARIA: There has always been that strange contradiction, the Legion of Mary, people working for God, men and women in strength, repeating words like ‘who is she that comets forth, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array,’ stories of Marian apparitions as a strong, wise, lady, Mary the strong girl, yet still the awkward sweetness remains.
WENDY: We have the sweetness of Christ as well, despite the carrying of the cross, the courage to face Pilate, and His ability to completely cut to the chase in every situation—the woman at the well, the man waiting for the waters to stir, and Zacchaeus.
JULIA: Yes, I think she is definitely a sweet, meek, mild girly girl in those devotions. That’s why my first reaction to placing a crown of flowers on her head is how sickeningly sweet and stereotypically feminine it is.
WENDY: And yet the Scripture says Christ is a fragrance of life unto life to them that believe! So, when I smell flowers in Church, or during adoration, I think of Jesus as the Rose of Sharon, and of Mary leading us to His fragrance.
ADA: I was just thinking, if you love Mary how can it be outdated to give her a flower? I would give my mum flowers anytime even put on her grave. What more of a statue of her? I think Mary is trying to draw you closer to know her as your mother and you her little child. Think about it.
MARIA: In a world where we are told that to be a girl, you must like pink, you must like flowers, you must be delicate (whether secular or religious), it can make us squirm uncomfortably, but yes, you’re right, we’re simply giving Mary flowers, crowning her with sources of life and joy. It doesn’t mean we have to be ‘good girls’.
ADA: Maria–You’ve said it all! Yes! and … Good girls don’t make history.
JULIA: I guess it’s because flowers are very feminine and sweet, but I see what you are saying.
ALICE: I love gardening. Back in the Midwest this time of year was when it was finally warm enough, and here in Texas it’s still cool enough for my garden to bloom and visibly grow every day. Everyone in my family gardens, I didn’t know until late high school that it’s considered feminine, and we’re still strongly tied to our Scandinavian and Cornish roots. The tradition, ritual, and symbolism of crowning Mary as the May Queen have always just made sense to me as a junction of gardening, Catholicism, and mid-1800’s Swedish/Norwegian/Cornish immigrant culture. It’s never occurred to me to think of it in terms of gender, except how many people miss out on it by associating gardening/flowers with girliness.
MARIA: Alice – interesting Viking/Celtic mix with a dash of Anglo-Saxon.
JOY: I think these devotions keep alive the human recognition of Mary as the flower of our humanity; body, soul, and spirit. She was so integrated she was caught up in the Assumption … and a woman, at that. The rosary is the same. Mary makes available to us across all intersections the mysteries of the faith, digging deep and opening the reality of who we are as humans. Repetitive prayer is sometimes discounted, but in the age of brain studies, who knows what pathways remain sensitive to our true experience. As one body with repetitive prayer calling on Mary and remembering these mysteries which stand at the centre of time to enter our consciousness.
JULIA: I really like everyone’s input. Thanks.