Suggestions for Observing the Marian Month in a Parish

Parish Movie Night, May Crowning, Rosary Recitation (13th Day Film, Ignatius Press; May Crowning at St. Raymond Church in the Bronx; Rosary Recitation in a Church in Iraq.)

Our Catholic Church recommends a particular devotion for every month!1 For example, the Church reveres May as a Marian month, dedicated to the Mother of God. As such, I believe it is the responsibility of the pastor, or pastoral team, to promote Marian devotion during this month. Every year, May comes and goes. Rather than just allowing it to pass by this year, we should reflect on the state of Marian devotion within the parish. Some parishes might have some form of Marian devotion already: daily rosary recitation before or after Daily Mass, Our Lady of Perpetual Help devotions on Tuesday or (insert some Marian devotion here). A characteristic Marian devotion in parishes might be the exception, and not the norm.

As pastoral leadership, the face time we have with our parishioners lies principally on the weekend. In our examination of a parish’s Marian devotion, an excellent guiding question would be: “Do my parishioners know that May is a month dedicated to Mary?” If not, then this May might be an excellent time to re-invigorate the Marian fervor of our parishes. In this short essay, I’d like to propose ten Marian devotions a parish could employ. By no means do I think a parish would institute all ten, but sometimes people restrict Marian devotion to the rosary. I hope to expand our horizons.

1. May Crowning
The nostalgic May Crowning, the event young girls in the 1950s vied for in order to crown the Madonna while they brought flowers of the fairest and rarest.2 In my work of renewing the May Crowning, many people share with me how meaningful such a devotion was to them in their youth. If your parish has not done a May Crowning in decades, perhaps now is the time! Some parishes crown Mary on the first Sunday of May, while others wait until Mother’s Day. One custom about May crownings a parish could utilize is the appeal to First Communion students. By May, many will have already received First Communion; the May Crowning, however, provides an opportunity to invite first communicants back to Mass, (maybe for their second communion, but hopefully not!). Involvement of the youth, the opportunity for photos, and the prestige of having the opportunity to crown Mary, are some reasons why families will want to participate. And for older congregants, they will re-live their childhood. The traditional May Crowning, gone by the wayside once, now returns in popularity. As they say, everything old is new again.

2. Rosary Recitation
The simplest way to promote Marian devotion in a parish is through the recitation of the rosary. While it is common to pray the rosary before or after daily Mass, it is less common to do so at weekend liturgies. During the month of May and October (the Month of the Rosary), it might be noble to introduce the rosary recitation before or after one Mass (rotates) or all the Masses each weekend during these Marian months. There are both advantages and disadvantages to either way (before or after). The disadvantage of before Mass includes preventing the faithful from praying in the way they might desire before Mass, or for those who wish to pray an entire rosary, might not want to participate if they arrive during the third mystery. One advantage, however, would be introducing the devotion to more people before Mass, and keeping a spirit of prayer, rather than conversation, in the church’s nave. The disadvantage for after Mass would be that many people might not stay due to other commitments, but the advantage would be respecting those who wish to pray privately in a different manner before Mass. The rosary is a powerful prayer, and the effect of praying one “Hail Mary” forever changes a person’s life. We ask Mary to pray for us, both now and at the hour of our death. Anyone who prays the “Hail Mary” becomes a recipient of this great promise. Introducing the rosary prayer to our parishioners allows them to reap all the spiritual fruits and benefits they can.

In addition to offering the rosary before or after a weekend Mass, another rosary offering could include the Living Rosary.3 This offering is especially popular among students as a means to teach the rosary. One person represents each bead of the rosary, and is assigned the “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” or “Glory Be.” The organization of a living rosary would require pre-planning, but would be a unique and memorable experience of praying the rosary.

3. A Marian Mission Night or Retreat Day
There are many popular, and not so popular, speakers on the Blessed Mother who are delighted to share their love of Mary with large groups of people. Such speakers include priests, consecrated religious, and lay faithful. One way to find a speaker would be to look at some recent Marian books, or recently published online articles. Marian devotion is greater than just the rosary and Marian apparitions, so a mission or retreat day would be a wonderful way to introduce people to the wealth of Marian tradition and piety.

4. Parish Movie Night
There exist many films about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Consider hosting a parish movie night on Friday or Saturday evening. The parish could provide dinner and popcorn, making it a good date night for couples. An added bonus—sponsor child care. Here are a few titles to consider:

  • “The Song of Bernadette”
  • “The Passion of St. Bernadette”
  • “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima”
  • “The Thirteenth Day”
  • “Guadalupe: A Living Image”
  • “Mary of Nazareth”
  • “Full of Grace”

5. Marian Pilgrimage
Generally speaking, most dioceses I’m familiar with have a designated Marian shrine, and in some cases, a diocese might have more than one! The month of May would be an appropriate time to plan a pilgrimage to one of those shrines. It could be local (within the diocese), domestic (within the United States), or international. The people we serve have heavy hearts from sickness to family problems, to economic woes, and a whole range of issues. They know many people in need of prayer. This is why people go on pilgrimage to Mary’s shrines: to ask her to intercede for their needs, and seek healing in their life. The parish can help to facilitate a person’s healing process, or prayer for miracles by organizing a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage also needs a spiritual director, so consider making the pilgrimage yourself.

6. Magnificat After Communion
Mary’s Magnificat, found in Lk 1:46-55, is a perfect prayer following the reception of Holy Communion. Our parishioner’s souls truly can proclaim the greatness of the Lord, and rejoice in God their Savior, for the favor extended to them, namely the opportunity to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. An opportune moment to sing the Magnificat would be during the purification of the vessels, or as a communion meditation. There are many versions of the Magnificat. To name just a few: “Holy is His Name,” and the version sung to the tune of “Amazing Grace.” During May, a different version could be used each week as a way to repeat the words of Mary from scripture.

7. Conclude Mass with a Marian Hymn
In addition to the aforementioned addition of the Magnificat to the Sunday Mass, another option could be concluding Mass with a Marian hymn. This could be done in two ways: first, following the blessing, the traditional antiphonal chant (Regina Caeli, Salve Regina) could be chanted. This could be the recessional hymn, or it could be the “warm up” for the closing hymn. The chant would provide a teaching moment for the parish, and would most definitely set the month of May apart from other months. As an alternative option, there are many beautiful Marian hymns like “Hail Holy Queen, Daily,” “Daily Sing to Mary,” and “Sing of Mary,” to name a few. Singing one of those hymns would be a fitting way to end Mass during the month of May, and if not every Sunday, most especially on Mother’s Day.

8. Bless Marian Sacramentals
Two of the most popular Marian sacramentals in our tradition are the brown scapular and the miraculous medal. Long ago, first communicants were enrolled in the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular on the occasion of their First Communion. Some parishes resurrected this tradition, but most have not. The month of May offers a fitting time to raise awareness of the Brown Scapular, its history, and teachings, and to conduct enrollments for the parish. Consider planning an enrollment after every Mass one weekend.

The Medal of the Immaculate Conception, more commonly known as the Miraculous Medal because of its efficacy in the life of devotees, is the second most common sacramental. Parishes could distribute Miraculous Medals to their parishioners one weekend. There are places online where they can be acquired inexpensively.

Another parish opportunity regarding sacramentals would be teaching people how to make cord rosaries. A class could be offered, rosaries made, then blessed at Sunday Masses, and handed out to parishioners.

9. Promote First Saturday Devotions
When Mary appeared to Sr. Lucia, one of the Fatima seers, she requested the observance of the five First Saturdays to make reparation to her Immaculate Heart. The faithful who observe five First Saturdays are asked to: confess their sins, receive the Eucharist, pray the rosary, meditate for fifteen minutes, and make an intention of reparation. Unfortunately, the custom of a Saturday daily Mass has gone by the wayside, perhaps in part to the priest shortage. An additional Mass on Saturday might not be practical if there is a funeral, wedding, or a Sunday vigil Mass. Given that the Mother of God requested this, while belief in such things is not a matter of salvation or obligatory, it would behoove us to honor the request of Mary, and make available opportunities for the First Saturday devotion. Yes, it will require more work on our part, to offer the Mass, and hear Confessions, but doing so will surely be an act pleasing to God and the Blessed Mother.

10. Marian Bible Studies
In Marialis Cultus, Pope Paul VI suggested four guidelines for Marian devotion: biblical, liturgical, anthropological, and ecumenical.4 It is important to root Marian devotion in the bible, because, after all, Mary first appeared on its pages. It is from the scriptures that we see Old Testament types and pre-figurements of Mary; and in the New Testament, we see the life of Mary, and hear her words. Attention to the biblical sources for Marian devotion would be essential in laying a foundation for Marian piety in the parish. Ascension Press offers a video series, Mary: A Biblical Walk with the Mother of God, featuring Dr. Edward Sri.5 Perhaps offering this bible study, or any bible study in general, during the month of May would foster a greater appreciation among the faithful for Mary of Nazareth.

Conclusion
There are many ways for a parish to observe the Marian month of May. While promoting the rosary is a common and noble practice for the month, I hope that the above mentioned possibilities can contribute to the growth and revitalization of Marian piety in our parishes. Jesus gave Mary to John at the foot of the cross, and in so doing, she became the mother of all believers. As sons and daughters of Mary, it is fitting for us to honor her, and promote devotion to her in a special way during the month of May. I have provided ten suggestions to expand the practices of Marian devotion in a parish. By no means is this list exhaustive, so if there is something you think would contribute to the advancement of Marian piety in a parish, please leave a comment.

  1. A comprehensive list can be found at the website for Aquinas and More: aquinasandmore.com/catholic-articles/monthly-dedications-of-the-church-year/article/184/
  2. Song available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ld4FNjK4IEQ
  3. A helpful guide to the Living Rosary: tcdsb.org/Board/NurturingOurCatholicCommunity/Documents/Praying%20the%20Living%20Rosary.pdf
  4. Marialis Cultus, 29.
  5. Available at: ascensionpress.com/t/category/study-programs/mary/mary-a-biblical-walk-with-the-blessed-mother
Rev. Edward Lee Looney, STB, MDiv About Rev. Edward Lee Looney, STB, MDiv

Fr. Edward Looney was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin on June 6, 2015. A member of the Mariological Society of America, Fr. Looney publishes regularly on Marian topics, including the approved 1859 Wisconsin apparition. His latest devotional book is A Rosary Litany. To learn more, visit arosarylitany.com or his personal website edwardlooney.com. You can also follow Fr. Edward on: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Soundcloud.

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