The popular hymn, ‘Bring Flowers of the Rarest’, dates from the late 19th century but it featured in most of our churches last Sunday. It heralds Mary as ‘Queen of the May’ and signalled the beginning of a month devoted to Our Lady.
Many of us will recall that the May procession was one of the most important events in our religious calendar. As a child I looked forward to it every year. The choir sang a selection of hymns and they were followed by the clergy and the altar servers, who between them carried a large statue of the Virgin Mary on a flower-covered platform. It was decorated with fresh flowers, bunting and Papal flags. As we walked, the fragrance of fresh flowers hung around us like incense. The sense of community of a church congregation walking and singing at the top of their voices, ‘Oh Mary we crown you with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May’ was huge.
May Altar at Newry Cathedral
Again this year, the parish is inviting the faithful to bring flowers to the Cathedral during the month of May, to decorate Our Lady’s altar. We hope that this little act of prayer and devotion will be a sign of the vibrant faith of our parish community.
Simply place your flowers at Our Lady’s altar and say a prayer. We will put them in vases for you and look after them
Set up a May Altar in your home
As we begin this month which is dedicated to Mary, we invite you to set up your own May altar at home. This tradition of honouring Our Lady in our homes during the month of May needs to be passed down through the generations. You can create a space for your altar on a small table, on a windowsill or on a shelf in your home. On the altar place a statue or image of Our Lady, placed on a small blue or white cloth. May altars are traditionally adorned with flowers, either wild flowers such as primroses and bluebells are plentiful in the hedgerows at this time of year. Many flowers are dedicated to Our Lady such as lilies, roses, irises and periwinkles.
Place a candle on your altar, this could be battery operated so that you can light it and take some time each day during the month of May, for quiet prayer, to pray the rosary and ask for Our Lady’s intercession. Involve your children, grandchildren or family in this. For inspiration, visit the May altar in the Cathedral and bring some flowers along with your prayers. Simply place your flowers at Our Lady’s altar and we will put them in vases for you and look after them. We know that there is great devotion to Our Lady in this parish beyond this month.
Pope Francis advises us never to ‘reduce Mary to a postmistress, who sends messages everyday’, but rather realise that she is a mother who is always with and ready to nurture us. Whatever trials we are experiencing in life, she isn’t far away. You will find this prayer comforting.
Like a woeful child,
I am in need
of your motherly care.
Wrap your arms around me for comfort,
dry my tears,
take me by the hand,
and lead me to your Son,
the source of
all that is good.
For only he
can cast out the shadows
of my troubled heart.
Please feel free to share photos of your May altar at home with us on the Cathedral Facebook page. Let us grow this faith tradition and keep it alive.