May Editorial – Mother of Mercy
Learn from Mary that tenderness which allows us
to be witnesses of the maternity of the Church.’
– Pope Francis
Pope Francis’ long-awaited apostolic exhortation on the family Amoris Laetitia (‘The Joy of Love’), on love in the family, underlines the pivotal role of the family at the heart of society. And if the family is at the heart of society, then the mother, in most cases, is at the heart of the family. The mother who is at the heart of the family of the Church is honoured in a unique way during this month of May.
Last December, ‘National Geographic’ featured a front page image of the Virgin Mary and a leading article entitled ‘How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman.’ It went on to illustrate how Mary’s image and legacy are found and celebrated around the world, from art, architecture and liturgy to music and poetry. The author, Maureen Orth, wrote: ‘Mary is everywhere. As a universal symbol of maternal love, as well as of suffering and sacrifice, Mary is often the touchstone of our longing for meaning, a more accessible link to the supernatural than formal church teachings. Her mantle offers both security and protection … She is the spiritual confidante of billions of people, no matter how isolated or forgotten.’ Muslims as well as Christians consider her to be holy above all women, and her name ‘Maryam’ appears more often in the Koran than ‘Mary’ does in the Bible.
The practice of honoring Mary during the month of May with crowns of flowers began among monasteries and convents in medieval Europe. The Irish patron saint of gardeners, St Fiacre, was the first person recorded to dedicate a garden to Our Lady around his hospice for the poor and infirm in France in the 7th century. Irish devotion to ‘A Mhuire Mháthair’ has been constant. In May 1962, I can still vividly recall my grandmother bringing me on pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. It was my first pilgrimage and one which has lingered long in the memory both because of its music and colorful pageantry and also because of my grandmother’s death shortly afterwards.
May processions and altars or other devotions may have waned somewhat in Ireland during succeeding decades but there are signs of a healthy resurgence in recent years. The growth and dedication of Frank Duff’s ‘Legion of Mary’ boosted in recent times by new members from the immigrant community; the continuing popularity of Marian shrines, especially Knock, whose beautiful new ‘Mosaic of Hope’ graces the front page of this month’s Intercom, as well as the ongoing reflection and discussion of Mary’s part in salvation history and in the story of women, reflects the perpetual resilience of devotion to Mary as well as the spiritual energy that such devotion can often unleash.
At a General Audience on 29 November 1995, St Pope John Paul II said; ‘The figure of Mary shows that God has such esteem for woman that any form of discrimination lacks a theoretical basis.’ And at a time in history when the voice of women is increasingly being heard, when the absence of women from the history books and stories of the world are being recovered, when the plight of women in the face of war and prejudice is more clearly recognised if not fully addressed, the woman of whom the gospels only record a few sentences still looms large over the human imagination. She continues to inspire prayers and acts of peace, healing and mercy and to challenge her Son’s followers to, ‘Do whatever He tells you.’ (Jn 2:5)
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