There are special prayers and devotions seeking the intercession of the Blessed Mother during the month of May. These include the recitation of the rosary. For some people, many factors contributed to the association of May with Mary. Some of them point out that in ancient Greece and Rome the month of May was dedicated to pagan goddesses connected to fertility and springtime (Artemis and Flora, respectively). This, combined with other European rituals commemorating the new season of spring, led many Western cultures to view May as a month of life and motherhood.

This was long before “Mother’s Day” was ever conceived, though the modern celebration is closely related to this innate desire to honour maternity during the spring months. However, we cannot be too sure of the association of these ideas with Marian devotion, especially since Mary was never thought of a sun goddess. The month is indeed named after “Maia”, a Roman goddess, but there is no historical relationship between the goddess and the Blessed Mother.

The tradition of honouring Our Lady and invoking her mercy during May extends back to the sixteenth century. However, it was in the 18th century that May received a particular association with the Virgin Mary. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The May devotion in its present form originated at Rome where Father Latomia of the Roman College of the Society of Jesus, to counteract infidelity and immorality among the students, made a vow at the end of the eighteenth century to devote the month of May to Mary. From Rome the practice spread to the other Jesuit colleges and thence to nearly every Catholic church of the Latin rite”.

It was sanctioned and indulgenced by Pope Pius VII (1815), and subsequent popes—such as Leo XIII and Pius XII—issued prominent documents on the veneration of Mary which supported May devotions in the universal Church. The pious practice of honouring Mary during the month of May has been especially recommended by the Popes. The practice was granted a partial indulgence by Pius VII in 1815 and a plenary indulgence by Pius IX in 1859. Pius XII made frequent reference to it and in his great Encyclical On the Sacred Liturgy (Mediator Dei) characterized it as one of “other exercises of piety which although not strictly belonging to the Sacred Liturgy, are nevertheless of special import and dignity, and may be considered in a certain way to be an addition to the liturgical cult: they have been approved and praised over and over again by the Apostolic See and by the Bishops” (no. 182).

In 1945, Pope Pius XII solidified May as a Marian month after establishing the feast of the Queenship of Mary on 31 May. After the Second Vatican Council, this feast was moved to 22 August, while 31 May became the feast of the Visitation of Mary. Paul VI wrote a short encyclical in 1965 using the Month of Mary devotion as a means of obtaining prayers for peace. He urged the faithful to make use of this practice which is “gladdening and consoling” and by which the Blessed Virgin Mary is honoured and the Christian people are enriched with spiritual gifts” (no. 2).

As we have seen, the special prayers and devotions seeking the intercession of Mary included the praying of the rosary. The introduction of a feast of Our Lady of the Rosary into the Roman Calendar in 1573 helped to establish and standardize the use of the rosary. It was subsequently encouraged by a succession of popes. In Marialis cultus, a papal document issued in 1974 for the right ordering and development of Marian devotion, Pope Paul VI emphasizes the contemplative aspect of the rosary (cf. 47). He calls it the “soul of the devotion”, but also refers to the recitation of the vocal prayers as being helpful to meditation upon the mysteries when the rosary is recited with a “quiet rhythm and a lingering pace” (47). The Pope also reflects on the effectiveness of this private devotion both as a preparation for the celebration of the same mysteries of our redemption in the Eucharistic liturgy and as a continuation of its special graces in our lives (cf. 48).

In May of 2002 Pope John Paul II said, “Today we begin the month dedicated to Our Lady a favourite of popular devotion. In accord with a long-standing tradition of devotion, parishes and families continue to make the month of May a ‘Marian’ month, celebrating it with many devout liturgical, catechetical and pastoral initiatives!” In view of the popularity of the rosary throughout the centuries, it is not surprising that it gained a place of prominence among the devotions to Mary that take place in the month of May.


Question by Francis Tergu, Buoho Rectorate:

My Lord, why is the month of May observed as a Rosary Month?

For further explanations or enquiries, you may contact the author, Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu, Catholic Bishop of Konongo-Mampong, on this number: 0244488904, or on WhatsApp (with the same number).


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