Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Queen of the May

I refer to Mary, the mother of Jesus, in her capacity as Queen of the May, a title she holds in addition to multiple versions of "Our Lady", generally of something or someplace, in the religion of my joy and my youth--or, at least, my youth.

I can remember her crowning fairly well, in fact.  I even remember snatches of the song we sung:  "O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May."  For some reason, I keep remembering the lyric as "Queen of the Rosary" instead of "Queen of the May."  Long ago but not all that far away.  We lived in Michigan then, and I was very young and in a way impressed by the ceremony, and with Mary crowned with flowers and the beginning of spring in the upper Midwest of our Great Republic.  Spring was eagerly awaited and still is in those parts.

Marian devotion is an interesting aspect of the Catholic faith.  It has a long enough history, but in some respects it is also a very modern development.  Mary is mentioned in what we called the Apostles' Creed (the Nicene Creed) as semper virgini; the idea of the Immaculate Conception has been around a very long time.  The Assumption, though, is quite recent in the long history of the Church, pronounced by Pius XII.  Robert Lowell's poem Beyond the Alps addressed that proclamation of the Pontifex Maximus.  He envisioned Mary rising "gorgeous as a jungle bird."  It's a beautiful picture.  John Paul II had a particularly intense devotion to her.  Again, interesting.

Shameless popery as the bastard progeny of the Reformation would no doubt say, or have said in any case.  The worship of the mother of Christ is considered a kind of paganism to some, or a mutation of monotheism.  Alas, that is what I find attractive in it.  The vestiges of paganism in the Church render it far more interesting to me than the dreary, colorless faith and churches of Luther and Calvin and other Protestant denominations.  There is a human truth and need involved in the ancient devotion to the mother goddesses such as Isis and Magna Mater.  I'm frankly baffled by the fact that the Catholic Church has sought since Vatican II to become more and more Protestant, and to me more and more dull.  Perhaps my religious sense is too aesthetic.

I used to go to Novenas with my mother, there to call upon Mary in her capacity as Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  Definitely not "Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility" created by Garrison Keillor.  That's amusing of course, but Mary is traditionally a comforter and someone who intervenes with the sterner God, Father and/or Son, to forgive if not forget.  The hymns sung were lovely, particularly "Immaculate Mary" and "Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest."  It's unsurprising that Mother's Day is celebrated in May.

Springtime is necessarily welcome in the northern countries, and it's appropriate to celebrate it, regardless of the manner of celebration, I think.  The Queen of the May has other incarnations as well in northern Europe, where yearly some bewildered girl takes the place of the Queen in parades.  It's the season of rebirth of course, which has been considered a time of redemption and resurrection for millenia.

We can't wholly detach ourselves from what we are, and we are thinking organisms in a vast universe which is overwhelming.  That we take comfort in what we may of that universe is unsurprising.  We only flounder, I think, when we try to take comfort in something beyond it.

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