It’s May, the month of Our Lady, the middle of spring, flowers are blooming everywhere, and the harsh chill of winter is a distant memory. Traditionally, on the first day of May, in France, people give their loved ones lily of the valley, a sublime fragrant flower that the French perfume house, Guerlain, honours in its annual May 1 limited edition perfume “Muguet” (the French word for lily of the valley). Lily of the Valley is sometimes called Mary’s Tears or Our Lady’s Tears because legend has it that her tears at the foot of the Cross turned into lily of the valley. Indeed, lily of the valley has long been a symbol of humility, chastity and purity.
Blessed John Henry Newman writes:
“Why is May called the month of Mary, and especially dedicated to her? Among other reasons there is this, that of the Church’s year, the ecclesiastical year, it is at once the most sacred and the most festive and joyous portion. Who would wish February, March, or April, to be the month of Mary, considering that it is the time of Lent and penance? Who again would choose December, the Advent season—a time of hope, indeed, because Christmas is coming, but a time of fasting too? Christmas itself does not last for a month; and January has indeed the joyful Epiphany, with its Sundays in succession; but these in most years are cut short by the urgent coming of Septuagesima.”
“May on the contrary belongs to the Easter season, which lasts fifty days, and in that season the whole of May commonly falls, and the first half always. The great Feast of the Ascension of our Lord into heaven is always in May, except once or twice in forty years. Pentecost, called also Whit-Sunday, the Feast of the Holy Ghost, is commonly in May, and the Feasts of the Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi are in May not unfrequently. May, therefore, is the time in which there are such frequent Alleluias, because Christ has risen from the grave, Christ has ascended on high, and God the Holy Ghost has come down to take His place.”
“Here then we have a reason why May is dedicated to the Blessed Mary. She is the first of creatures, the most acceptable child of God, the dearest and nearest to Him. It is fitting then that this month should be hers, in which we especially glory and rejoice in His great Providence to us, in our redemption and sanctification in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.”
“But Mary is not only the acceptable handmaid of the Lord. She is also Mother of His Son, and the Queen of all Saints, and in this month the Church has placed the feasts of some of the greatest of them, as if to bear her company. First, however, there is the Feast of the Holy Cross, on the 3d of May, when we venerate that Precious Blood in which the Cross was bedewed at the time of our Lord’s Passion. The Archangel St. Michael, and three Apostles, have feast-days in this month: St. John, the beloved disciple, St. Philip, and St. James. Seven Popes, two of them especially famous, St. Gregory VII. and St. Pius V.; also two of the greatest Doctors, St. Athanasius and St. Gregory Nazianzen; two holy Virgins especially favoured by God, St. Catherine of Sienna (as her feast is kept in England), and St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi; and one holy woman most memorable in the annals of the Church, St. Monica, the Mother of St. Augustine. And above all, and nearest to us in this Church, our own holy Patron and Father, St. Philip, occupies, with his Novena and Octave, fifteen out of the whole thirty-one days of the month. These are some of the choicest fruits of God’s manifold grace, and they form the court of their glorious Queen.
I leave you with a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins called “Spring” which captures the effervescence of joy in this season.
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.