May Day and May, the Month of Mary

Fr. Angleo Mary Gieger is a Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate who recently wrote a fine essay for Catholic World Report titled, “Pope Benedict XVI’s Legacy: Faith and Future”. He blogs regularly at Mary Victrix, and has just posted a piece, “Queen of the May,” that is a great reflection on the Virgin Mary compared to the “goddess” of pagan and neo-pagan construct. Fr. Gieger writes:

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May,
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

Bring Flowers of the Rarest” is an extra-liturgical May crowning hymn that seems to be a rather sentimental nod to the ambiguity of modern May “devotion,” and perhaps (or perhaps not) an assault upon it.  It is a preconciliar hymn that I have often heard characterized as “schmaltzy” and inappropriate for the liturgy, though I have heard it many times used in traditional circles for Holy Mass.

What interests me here is its relation to the pagan or neopagan celebrations associated with May Day, the spring festival.  The “Queen of the May” or “May Queen” is a personification of Spring which is ritualized in May Day celebrations by the selection of a young girl dressed in white and crowned with flowers who leads the May Day parade. British folklore has it that of old the ritual ended with the blood sacrifice of the May Queen.

It would seem that like the celebration of All Hallows Eve or Halloween (meaning the same thing), which Christianized another pagan festival, the May Crowning and the designation of May as Our Lady’s Month is an attempt to exorcize the spirits of paganism and take what might be assimilated from the pagan festivities and turn them to the worship of the True God and veneration of His Holy Mother.  (One must remember that neopaganism [modern paganism] is itself in many cases an attempt to artificially tear society away from its Christian roots to a mythological pre-Christian religion.)

What is at odds here is the pagan and Christian conceptions of femininity and virginity.  It is the ongoing conflict between light and darkness in Christian Chivalry, between the goddess and the Blessed Mother.  There is, of course, a very legitimate sense in which femininity symbolizes the immanent as opposed to the masculine transcendent.  God is both.  But if he is present to the world it is because he created it from nothing and sustains it in existence, and this means that He is totally other, that is, radically transcendent from that which He creates.  This is why God is a He and not a She. Pantheistic religions, on the other hand, give such high value to the feminine, that is, to the goddess, because for them, the divine is radically immanent.  It is to be identified with creation.  The reading of this immanence leads to the topsy-turviness of radical feminism and the masculine worship of sex.  Either way, women are the losers.

Continue reading on the Mary Victix blog.

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About Carl E. Olson 1230 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.

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