See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Monday, May 09, 2011

The May Altar



Our Lady's Month
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When I was little I used to set up a May altar in my room.  We did the same thing in Catholic school classroom, as well as in the church.  At school the practice consisted of decorating the area around Our Lady's statue in the classroom with cut spring flowers in nice vases placed on doilies, the area thus properly prepared, the crowning of the Blessed Virgin's statue with a wreath of flowers - usually plastic - took place.  Kids do not care if the flowers are plastic.  Even the boys thought it was pretty and it not only inspired but instilled devotion.
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Likewise, in the church Our Lady's altar was decorated to the hilt, candles, flowers, linens, garland, and the Blessed Virgin was solemnly crowned.  In some parishes another statue of the Blessed Virgin was placed in front of the sanctuary, and similarly decorated and crowned.  Many parishes with schools continue this practice, while devout parents continue to erect May altars of some form in their homes.  The purpose is of course to honor Our Lady, Mother of God and our Mother, to recognize her queenship and exalted relationship to the most Holy Trinity, as well as to foster and deepen devotion to the Blessed Virgin - to thank her and to implore her protection and assistance.
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I personally do not do anything like this any more since I have a nice image and space dedicated to Our Lady already - and I'm not a flowery type of guy anyway - and I hate doilies and stuff like that.  Nevertheless, I think it is wonderful when people do such tributes to Our Lady, and I guarantee you - it makes a deep and lasting impression upon children.  I think a family should consider gathering to make a solemn consecration to the Blessed Virgin, accompanied by the May crowning in their home.  I think it would do wonders for the family - no matter how unconventional your family might be.  And don't forget to pray the rosary every day - the shrine to Our Lady functions as our reminder to do so.
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Origins of the May Altar.
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To the specific characteristics of the May devotion is to be counted the specially set up May altar - be it as an addition to or specially decorated altar in the church or as a "house altar" in the family circle. Like the May devotions themselves, the custom to highlight this type of May altar stems from southern European countries. A report from France in 1842 speaks of Our Lady's altar in May showing off in rich splendor, while the families also erected and decorated small home altars.
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All of nature awakened to new life in springtime is presented to honor Mary, who is herself "a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys" (Song of Songs 2,1). This form of devotion was influence and furthered, for example, in Treatise on True Devotion to Mary by Louis de Montfort, who, among other things, counted the decoration of Marian altars a chief exercise of Marian devotion. - Finish reading.
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Pagan origins?
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Not to worry.  Many like to claim the May celebrations are actually rooted in ancient pagan festivals such as the cult of the May Queen and Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, commemorated with the Maypole decorated with flowers and garlands, originally the instrument used in ritual celebrations. 
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Be that as it may, these things have nothing in common with the veneration Catholics give to Our Lady during the month of May, as the author of the forward to Cardinal Newman's Extracts from "Meditations and Devotions" explains: "In ancient times, the month of May was dedicated to sexual love with its rites in honour of Pan. The Church has done an astonishing sublime deed in transforming these pagan and sensual rites into the cult of the Most Pure Virgin ! The month of May is the Spring of the year, and Mary is the Spring of Grace; the month of May is the month of flowers, and Mary is "The Flower," the Mystical Rose."
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Example of a home May Altar. (source)

7 comments:

  1. Good ideas, Terry.

    I know you already know that, but I thought I'd chime in because the only comments anyone seems to get are when the post is about gays, sex, or liturgy.

    That doesn't speak highly of us as a Christian people, imo.

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  2. The example is very womanly, and something I grew up seeing in the other Catholic homes, when women were feminine.

    Very nice, I will try and copy it for this month.

    I need to get my hands on a Our Lady of Mount Carmel statue.

    *

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  3. When I was little there wasn't a girl who did not want to be May Queen, ub the May Procession, myself included. I remember bringing flowers to school in May and lots of them. We no longer venerate Our Lady in the way that we did when I was a child and it makes me very sad. I was born in the Marian year, 1954, and was named after Our Lady. I have special devotion to her. The nuns nurtured devotion to Mary. When the nuns left the parochial schools we lost so much...

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  4. my school did the may crowning every may throughout the 70's & 80's. i presume they still do as the same nuns are running the show. we have a statue of Our Lady of Fatima in the kitchen about 2-1/2-feet tall and we keep a pillar burning in front of her 24/7. we also have a life-size statue of the Immaculate Conception set in a brick wall in the backyard. we love Our Lady.

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  5. my school did the may crowning every may throughout the 70's & 80's. i presume they still do as the same nuns are running the show. we have a statue of Our Lady of Fatima in the kitchen about 2-1/2-feet tall and we keep a pillar burning in front of her 24/7. we also have a life-size statue of the Immaculate Conception set in a brick wall in the backyard. we love Our Lady.

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  6. I have good memories of May procession when I was in grade school in the 50's and 60's. We sang "Bring Flowers of the Fairest" and "Tis the Month of Our Mother". We wore wreaths of flowers on our heads (not the boys, of course!) The best part was we got out of class for practice.
    They still do May Crowning in the parish where we live now.

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  7. Love it.

    I crown the Blessed Virgin at home every year. Several parishes around me are now starting it up again. We're back in the saddle baby!

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