Saturday, April 30, 2011

Mary, the Queen of May

In the Roman Catholic Church, May is observed as Mary's month, and Mary is honored as “the Queen of May.”. In celebration of Mary as “the Queen of Heaven” and “the Mother of God” the head of an image or likeness of Mary is crowned with flowers on May Day—May 1. The ceremony traditionally takes place with young girls wearing white dresses carrying flowers (traditionally hawthorn) to adorn the statue. One of the girls (often the youngest) carries a crown of flowers or an actual golden crown on a cushion for placement by the May Queen (often the oldest girl) on the statue. The flowers are replaced throughout the month to keep them fresh. May altars, dedicated to Mary, are decorated. Marian devotions are held throughout the month, usually in the evening, both indoors and outdoors. In the latter case they may be held in a wooded glade. The last devotion on May 31 is often followed by a solemn procession during which a statue or portrait of Mary may be carried through the community into the church.

Anglo-Catholics who have been strongly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church also maintain these practices.

Customs associated with May Day in the British Isles include crowning a May Queen and dancing around a May Pole. These customs have their origins in pre-Christian times, and are the survival of ancient spring fertility rites. In Ireland May Day has been celebrated since pagan times as Beltane and bonfires are light to mark the occasion.

In pre-Christian Europe May Day was the first day of summer. In ancient Greece May was devoted to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and young girls, one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities. The cult of Mary is the strongest in those parts of Europe that in pagan times were devoted to the cult of the Goddess in her various aspects, including Artemis. With the Christianization of Europe devotion to the Goddess may have been transferred to Mary.

May is a particularly appropriate time of the year to examine how the worship of Mary, condemned as a heresy in the first four centuries of Christianity, has grown into a major part of the Roman Catholic faith since then. The following articles are taken from A Protestant Dictionary, published in 1904.

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