Answered by Legionary of
Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at
the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: In the back of "The Rites of the Catholic Church" there is an Order of Crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary. My concern is regarding organizing a May crowning of the Blessed Mother. In the introduction to this rite (No. 8) it lists the bishop, or a priest entrusted by him, as the minister. Can this rite be used for crownings that are repeated yearly? Can this rite be used by a group of laypeople wishing to honor the Blessed Mother with a crown for May? Is there a separate rite (even a semiofficial one) for May crownings? — M.S., Cleveland Ohio
A: Actually, we are speaking of two different things. The order of crowning found in the rites is that of placing a precious bejeweled gold or silver crown upon a particularly venerated image of Our Lady. This is obviously done only once or at least rarely.
If the image is found in a diocesan sanctuary, then it is performed by the bishop or his delegate, either another bishop or a priest such as the rector of the Marian sanctuary.
Some images of national or international renown are occasionally crowned in the name of the pope as a sign of special veneration. In this case the Holy Father issues a special decree giving directives regarding the mode of crowning.
The May crowning is an act of popular devotion in honor of our Blessed Mother that is repeated every year. As the name indicates, it is usually done during the month of May, but in some countries, especially in the Southern Hemisphere, it is performed in other months especially in November.
The custom of the May crowning fell out of favor in many places during the 1970s and '80s. Recently it has made a comeback along with Eucharistic adoration, the rosary, and many other traditional Catholic practices that serve to nurture the faith and devotion of the faithful.
There is a lot of flexibility regarding the rite, and it can be adapted to many different circumstances and situations depending on whether the crowning is done in a parish, a school or classroom, or even in the family.
If the statue of Mary to be crowned is not already in a fixed place, an image may be set up on some suitable support.
The area may already be decorated with flowers, but those participating in the crowning may also process to the image carrying flowers and singing appropriate Marian hymns before placing their bouquets at Mary's feet.
The rite may consist of hymns, prayers, and maybe an act of consecration to Our Lady.
The climax of the celebration is the moment when the one of those present places a crown of flowers on Mary's head accompanied by a traditional hymn to the Blessed Mother.
After the crowning, the person leading the event concludes with a suitable prayer. If he is a priest or deacon, he may impart a blessing.
Regarding the harmony that should reign between the demands of the liturgy and the celebration of May, the Holy See's Directory of Popular Piety says the following in No. 191:
"In many cases, the solution for such problems would seem to lie in harmonizing the content of the 'Marian months' with the concomitant season of the Liturgical Year. For example, since the month of May largely corresponds with the fifty days of Easter, the pious exercises practiced at this time could emphasize Our Lady's participation in the Paschal mystery (cf. John 19, 25-27), and the Pentecost event (cf. Acts 1, 14) with which the Church begins: Our Lady journeys with the Church having shared in the novum of the Resurrection, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The fifty days are also a time for the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation and of the mystagogy. The pious exercises connected with the month of May could easily highlight the earthly role played by the glorified Queen of Heaven, here and now, in the celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist."
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Follow-up: May Crownings of Mary
Related to our comments on May crownings (see May 6), a reader from the state of Washington asked:
“Regarding the crowning of Mary during the month of May, is this something that is normally included during holy Mass? I ask this because the time-honored tradition here in our cathedral is that the Blessed Mother is crowned inside the church either during or after holy Mass and on a special day other than Mother's Day. Last year the new priest moved it all outside on Mother's Day, a secular holiday.
"Normally this would not seem so important, yet all of the Church's holidays or seasons are being changed to celebrate the seasons, which I am told is a pagan tradition. Advent is now become 'Harvest Festival.' Lent is now become 'the Miracle of Spring.' Easter is now 'Happy Resurrection Day,' and so on. And it appears that now our Blessed Mother is gradually being moved out of the Church.”
As mentioned in our previous column, there is no official rite for a May crowning.
Unlike the solemn crowning of an image by the bishop, it would not be liturgically correct to perform the popular devotion of May crowning within Mass. It may be done, however, immediately before or after.
There is nothing that would impede the May crowning of a statue of Our Lady that is within a church if this is the custom. It is sometimes more practical, however, to crown an outside statue.
From what our reader commented, I surmise that the new priest has acted in good faith out of practical and pastoral concerns. After all, he has transferred, not abolished, the practice of a May crowning.
It is quite possible that the new setting allows for a more spontaneous and festive tribute to Our Lady than within the church.
While we all lament the secularization of Christian feasts, I think that the choice of Mother’s Day is not incongruent. After all, Mary is our Blessed Mother and this action is a way of filially honoring her as both our mother and our queen.
Perhaps the priest has been influenced by the practice in some Latin American countries which celebrate Mother’s Day on May 10. It is not infrequent in these countries to have special devotions to Mary on this day.
Certainly a new pastor should always move with prudence and consultation before changing legitimate and long-established parish customs. In the end, however, he must decide on what he believes is in the best interest for the good of the souls entrusted to him.