May is the month of Mary. In May 2020, when the world was still suffering in the early stages of the pandemic, Pope Francis shared with the faithful his own devotion to the Blessed Mother and encouraged us to pray the rosary each day. “Contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.” The Holy Father attributes the example of his predecessor, St. John Paul II, with the intensification of his own devotion to Our Lady. After praying the rosary in the presence of John Paul, Pope Francis (then Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio) resolved to pray 15 decades of the rosary each day.
But why is May dedicated to Mary? I recently came across a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, the 19th century English poet and priest, entitled: “This May Magnificat.” I’m really not much of a poetry guy, but I found the poem helpful in understanding the reason a little better. The poem is filled with images of the natural beauty of the month of May. The life that bursts forth from “Nature’s motherhood” in this most beautiful of months is surpassed in vitality and loveliness, however, by the life that bursts forth from Mary’s Motherhood. Her Son is the Creator of all things. And when His creation fell under the spell of winter, the season of death, He recreated it through His Incarnation and work of redemption. Hopkins’ poem refers to Our Lady’s gazing upon the pulchritude of the month of May, contemplating what the Lord was accomplishing through her – making the world not just beautiful again, but more beautiful and wondrous than ever it was before.
Towards the end of the poem, Hopkins notes that there is more to Mary’s connection to the month of May than the beauty of new life. He refers to the life that’s appearing everywhere in May as: “This ecstasy all through mothering earth/ Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth/ To remember and exultation/ In God who was her salvation.” Part of the experience of motherhood is the suffering of childbirth. Hopkins points to the trees and the bramble bushes that would provide wood for Our Lord’s cross and thorns for His crown, and how in the month of May they are magnificent, awash in flowers and blossoms. This foreshadows the way the cross and the crown are made beautiful by the One who suffered them. Though we traditionally believe Our Lady was uniquely preserved from the pangs of labor, she was in no way preserved from the experience of suffering as the Mother of God. For Hopkins, it seems, May is Mary’s month because it reminds her of the glory that would come through the experience of her sorrows that would be united to the Passion of her Son.
Hopkins’ insight into the month of May provides much food for meditation, especially as we, please God, emerge from the pandemic. Rather than simply trying to go back to life as it was before, we might respond to the trial we have endured by turning to Our Lady this May with greater devotion, praying that it might “give birth” to renewal and a reawakening of faith in her Son, Our Savior and hers. Through devotion to the Blessed Mother, our faith in Him can come alive again, more beautiful and wonderous than ever it was before.