Have you ever wondered why we crown Mary? And why do we crown her in May? You are not alone, many of us have often wondered the same thing. If you are like me, you have many memories of May Crowning and have probably participated in some over the years. But why?
In James 1:12 it says, “Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him.” Mary persevered throughout all her life and it is only right to assume she should be rewarded with the “crown of life”.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church testifies to the foundation of the tradition, which lies securely in the reverence due to the Mother of God. As the whole trajectory of the Church is Marian in nature. “Mary goes before us all in the holiness that is the Church’s mystery as “the bride without spot or wrinkle,” it says, “this is why the ‘Marian’ dimension of the Church precedes the ‘Petrine’” (CCC 773).
Devotions to the Blessed Mother originated in the earliest days of the Church. The practice of crowning sacred images with flowers is an ancient practice, a form of reverence. The image of Mary wearing gold crowns are found in the earliest forms of iconography, most often in the Eastern Churches. During the 19th century, crowning Mary became very popular in the West.
In Rome the Salus Populi Romani (Blessed Mother holding Child Jesus) is enshrined at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. It is believed that this is one of St. Luke’s paintings. Pope Clement VIII added 2 crowns but they were lost. It was Pope Gregory XVI that added the crowns on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1838 and after that the practice of crowning the Blessed Mother became very popular.
In 1987, the Marian year as declared by Pope St. John Paul II, the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship prepared the Order of Crowning and Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope St. John Paul II approved it and ordered its issuance. This captured the significance of this pious practice: “The queen symbol was attributed to Mary because she was a perfect follower of Christ, who is the absolute ‘crown’ of creation. She is the Mother of the Son of God, who is the messianic King. Mary is the Mother of Christ, the Word Incarnate…’He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; The Lord will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.’ Elizabeth greeted the Blessed Virgin, pregnant with Jesus, as ‘the mother of my Lord.’ Mary is the perfect follower of Christ. The maid of Nazareth consented to God’s plan; she journeyed on the pilgrimage of faith; she listened to God’s Word and kept it in her heart; she remained steadfastly in close union with her Son, all the way to the foot of the Cross; she persevered in prayer with the Church. Thus, in an eminent way, she won the ‘crown of righteousness,’ ‘the crown of life,’ ‘the crown of glory’ that is promised to those who follow Christ. And upon completion of her earthly sojourn, she was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory and was exalted by the Lord as Queen of all, in order that she might be more completely conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and the victor over death.”
May Crowning reflects the beauty of the mystery it evokes. Honoring Mary crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth as it is said in the fifth glorious mystery. By crowning Mary, we are presenting it physically. Mary is the Queen of Heaven and Earth and we associate queens with crowns. But why in May?
Many have said that we crown Mary in May because it is between Easter and Pentecost, which is a very sacred time in our liturgical year. There are several feast days that are celebrated in May. Others have said we crown in May because there are numerous apparitions that occurred in May. There are others that say it is springtime, a time of new life and new beginnings. So why is it in May? They are all right.
Crowning Mary has been a popular devotion since Medieval times, it was done in May because it fell between Easter and Pentecost, a sacred liturgical time of year. Around the end of the 18th century Fr. Latomia of the Roman College of Society of Jesus instituted the practice of dedicating the month of May to the Blessed Mother. He wanted to promote devotions to Mary among his students. This spread throughout Jesuit colleges and the whole Church. In 1815 Pope Pius VII granted partial indulgence for participating in a devotion honoring Mary in May. Pope Pius IX made the indulgence plenary in 1859. (These indulgences are no longer listed in the present Enchiridion of Indulgences). These indulgences and prayers that came out of these devotions helped solidify the tradition.
In his encyclical on April 30, 1965 Pope Paul VI urged the faithful to pray to Mary more than ever during the month of May (https://www.papalencyclicals.net/paul06/p6month.htm). “For this is the month during which Christians, both in Church and in the privacy of the home, offer up to Mary from their hearts an especially fervent and loving homage of prayer and veneration. In this month, too, the gifts of God’s mercy come down to us from her throne in greater abundance.”
May is a time when Mary appears to many saints and children. In 1830, she appeared to St. Catherine Laboure. After several apparitions, St. Catherine shared the apparitions with Fr. Aladel and after approaching the Bishop of Paris in May of 1832 the first miraculous medals were struck. At the time of St. Catherine’s death in 1876 over a billion medals had been struck. On May 13, 1917, Our Lady of Fatima appeared to three children with the message to pray the Rosary. The children described the lady as “the Lady more brilliant than the Sun” and were told that prayer would lead to an end of the Great War.
May is also an appropriate month because of all the liturgical calendar past and present. During May we have several feast days honoring Mary. We celebrate Our Lady Queen of Apostles the Saturday following Ascension. On May 13th we celebrate Our Lady the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of Fatima. On May 24th, we celebrate Mary, Help of Christians. May truly is the month of Mary.
Now we would like to invite you to learn how to crown Mary at your home this year. Please check out our links on our website and on Facebook to learn how you can participate in this beautiful devotion to Mary. We would also like to invite you to share your May Crowning photos with us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/saintscjm).