In Search of Mary, the Mother of God

To find out about events in the life of Our Blessed Lady in pictorial form, one could do no better than spend 15 minutes at the Lady Chapel in St. Mary’s, Ryde. The murals contain the Old Testament prophets forecasting the birth of Jesus; the ceiling panels depicting the Litany of Our Lady; and beautiful paintings of the first and last two decades of the Holy Rosary. Pugin’s beautifully carved altar (thankfully, still used weekly for Mass) contains the image of Our Lady of Walsingham; one of the earliest (post Reformation) churches where this ancient Marian image can be seen. This image of Our Lady is certainly appreciated by our friends and fellow Catholics in the Ordinariate, as Our Lady of Walsingham has been adopted as their patron.

The month of May has traditionally been acknowledged as Mary’s month. Schoolchildren looking for the reason often suggest that if you take the R out of Mary you are then left with her special month. Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit poet reminded us in the first line in one of the greatest poems of the English Language, that May is Mary’s month. He offers no idea how this arose, but Cardinal Newman suggests a more positive reason. “May is a time when the earth bursts forth into its fresh foliage after the frost and Winter snow. The blossoms are on the trees and the flowers in the garden. With the sun rising early and setting later, the days are longer. For such gladness and joyousness of external nature is a fit attendant on our devotion to her who is the Mystical Rose and the House of Gold”. Remembering that May is a time of frequent alleluias and with the great feasts of the Ascension, Pentecost and the Blessed Trinity, the Cardinal goes on to say, “Mary is the first of the creatures, the most acceptable child of God, the nearest and dearest to Him. It is fitting that this month should be hers, as we celebrate these feasts that enable us to glory and rejoice in His great providence to us, in our redemption and sanctification in Almighty God”. Since Saxon times people have used fresh flowers to adorn the statues and grottoes of Our Lady. Those of us who live in the northern hemisphere will more readily notice the harmony between nature and grace that accompanies the arrival of Spring and Easter, – new life in the earth and new life in our souls. In the month traditionally devoted to Our Blessed Lady, the Dowry of Mary literally springs to life again. In England in May we notice the change from the Winter months of cold, damp and darkness to the vitality and freshness of the various shades of green. There is inevitably new life and vigour all around. The natural life that we see in abundance should encourage us to reflect on whether we have life in our souls. To have that life is to be in a state of grace and in full union with Almighty God and His Holy Catholic Church. Many will remember with great affection the wonderful processions in Our Lady’s honour, which were once a memorable part of our English Catholic heritage. In Ryde these processions started in 1869. The town commissioners at the time insisted upon a silent outdoor procession. Later it was permitted to sing hymns and recite the rosary publicly. Today sadly such processions are a rarity and the Children of Mary and the Legion of Mary are no longer seen or mentioned in our parishes. In pre-Vatican II days however they proudly followed the statue of Our Lady, which was crowned by a child in May and in many instances it was solemnly carried around the streets of our towns and cities. Present day traffic congestion often prevents this but nevertheless processions (where convenient) are, thankfully, making a comeback. We are beginning to hear clergy reminding the faithful of the many graces and blessings which are bestowed upon us when we ask Our Lady to intercede for us once again with her Son Jesus.

Our Blessed Lady as our Mother, through the rosary, teaches us about her Son. She teaches us about each Hail Mary; the Incarnation; of her obedience to the Will of God; of her complete Faith and Trust in God. And she invites us when we say the rosary to have that same spirit because in the rosary she is saying to us, “do whatever He tells you”. We cannot do this unless we listen. So we have the rosary as a great tool to help us pray. As Pope Pius XII reminded us, “the more we honour Our Lady, the more we will honour her Son”.

May devotions with the rosary, litany and Benediction are held in St. Mary’s, Ryde on Tuesdays at 6-00pm. In addition, the rosary is recited on Mondays at 2-00pm both in St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s, Bembridge. It is also recited during Exposition before Mass in St. Mary’s on Thursday evening and Saturday morning. Check your church newsletter for May devotions in your own parish.