Crowning Mary as Queen of Heaven in May
By Aaron Lambert
There’s something about May that marks the magnificence of the changing seasons. The air is crisper, the grass greener and countless colorful spring blooms begin to breathe life back into God’s beautiful creation.
In the Church as well, May is a special month — it’s no mere coincidence that the Church dedicates the most colorful month of the year to honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary. A popular tradition within the Church that has endured through the centuries is the May crowning ceremony. And as with most Catholic traditions, the history of how it came to be helps us Catholics to better appreciate the richness of the ritual.
There are two facets to the May crowning tradition that began separately but merged over time and became what it’s known as today: Crowning ceremonies of Mary and Marian devotion in the month of May.
The earliest origins of crowning sacred images of Mary date back to the 700s. As Marianist Father Johann Roten, of the University of Dayton writes, Pope Gregory III (731-741) “donated a golden diadem to crown a holy image located at St. Peter’s, which represents not only Mary but also Christ and other saints.”
Father Roten notes that further examples of Marian crownings became more numerous and traditional in the 14th century in places such as Essen, Germany, and Boerglum, Sweden. The Servite order would customarily crown well-known Marian images on Holy Saturday beginning in the second half of the 14th century. The custom continued to spread during the Counter-Reformation at the beginning of 17th century thanks to the initiative of Girolamo Paulucci de’ Calboli da Forli (1552-1620), Capuchin, and Count Alessando Sforza Pallavicino, who established a foundation entrusted to the Vatican for the financing of the crowning of Marian images.
It was toward the end of the 18th century that the second part of what would morph into the May crowning tradition began to emerge. A Jesuit priest by the name of Father Latomia instituted the practice of dedicating the month of May to Mary to help foster more intentional devotion to Mary among students at Jesuit colleges.
From there, May devotions began to spread more widely in 1815, after Pope Pius VII granted a partial indulgence for participating in private or public Marian devotion in May. Pope Pius IX made it a plenary indulgence. Though this particular indulgence is no longer active, it still lives on in contemporary Marian practices such as praying the rosary or reciting the litany of Mary during the month of May.
Another reason why May was likely chosen to be devoted to Mary is that the month is home to several major Marian feast days: Our Lady, Queen of Apostles (the Saturday following the Ascension); Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament (May 13); Our Lady of Fatima (May 13); Mary, Help of Christians (May 24); Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces (May 31); and the Visitation (May 31).
Additionally, four authenticated apparitions helped to bolster spread of the May devotion: Our Lady of Graces and the Miraculous Medal, Our Lady of La Salette, Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Fatima, who first appeared in May 1917.
All of this led to what is now known as the May crowning. These ceremonies typically take place in parishes and at schools at the beginning of May. In May crowning ceremonies, a statue or image of Mary is traditionally crowned with wreaths of flowers, roses if possible, which not only symbolize the freshly blooming spring season, but also have roots in bridal wreaths. Moreover, wreaths of roses are considered early precursors to the rosary, and indeed, the crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth is one of the Glorious Mysteries to meditate upon while praying the rosary.
In more recent years, Pope Paul VI reinforced the May crowning tradition with his “Letter on the Occasion of the First of May,” promulgated April 30, 1965. In it, he writes: “It is precisely because the month of May is a powerful incentive to more fervent and trusting prayer, and because during it our petitions find their way more easily to the compassionate heart of Our Blessed Lady, that it has been a custom dear to our predecessors to choose this month, dedicated to Mary, for inviting the Christian people to offer up public prayers.”
While the crowning of Mary is an obvious allusion to her queenship and her assumption into heaven, the tradition also has roots in sacred Scripture. In Revelation 12, Mary is described in this way: “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head.”
Indeed, it’s only fitting that the Queen of Heaven be given due homage as springtime arrives in earnest. May our Blessed Mother intercede on our behalf this spring and grant that we too may share in the fullness of her resplendent grace.
What are the origins of the May Crowning? – Catholic Straight Answers
This heartwarming May tradition will help your children love Mary
Devotion: May Crowning – Catholic Telegraph
Crowning Mary, Origins of : University of Dayton, Ohio
Aaron Lambert is a writer from Denver.
Photo courtesy of St. Cecilia School.