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.
The neopagans and the New Age Christians, like the former Dominican priest, Matthew Fox, will have us believe that this creation-centered spirituality is “optimistic.” If anything May Day festivities present themselves with all the optimism of Spring: new life, new love, youth and future. Free love and the culture of Sodom attempt to do the same thing. One can reference John-Imagine No Religion-Lennon’s attempt to usher in the reign of peace and brotherhood by his and Yoko Ono’s “Bed-ins.” All we need is luv.
Jesuit Father Gerry Blaszczak analyzes Pope Francis’ frequent references to the devil in terms of the doctrine of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which emphasizes the grim work of the enemy to discourage and spread despondency among those who are attempting to live a spiritual life. We are all familiar with the dynamic of temptation, which often has a very optimistic dimension. The forbidden fruit promises a happiness which we are led to believe God cannot give, or refuses to give. But everything changes once we consent, unless we have managed to deaden our consciences. The Liar becomes the Accuser and our entanglement with sin becomes a more and more morbid preoccupation with our own negative spiritual experience. This is hardly optimistic. It is also why Satan appears as an angel of light, and why in a particular way, he uses the image of woman, depersonalized and debased, to falsify the way of beauty. We need to be convinced that something that feels so good cannot possible be wrong, and so pornography becomes art, sex becomes mysticism and sodomy becomes marriage. This is Satan’s “optimism.”
Between the extremes of pessimism and optimism there is loyalty. The ordinary mysticism of Catholic life is located somewhere within transformation in Christ and the miraculous conviction and that leads the hero to die for the beloved. Our Lady, symbolically and effectively embodies and personifies this new life, this new springtime. She is Queen of all creation, the Masterpiece of God’s work, the Summit of perfection, and the Temple of the Son of God. Marian prayer, particularly the Holy Rosary, is a way of living in Her mysterious presence, which is active and exemplary.
St. Joseph, the Worker, whose feast replaces for Catholics the festivities of May Day, is the first of the May Queen’s knights, who stands in awe of Her beauty and is inspired to sacrifice all in the Her interests and of that of Her child. If, as the Church teaches us, Mary destroys all heresies, She puts that sword in the hands of all Her knights, above all, as Joseph Ratzinger once intimated, because She preserves the Church and Her teaching from being depersonalized and bastardized into something that is used as a tool for the achievement of something other than union with God. St. Joseph keeps it all real, because he is just, honest and pure.
Beyond every controversy and battle we wage in the modern era, there is the ongoing cosmic battle within our hearts that is ever exemplified in the promise of redemption to our first parents and in the victory of the Woman over the ancient dragon (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:1ff). Mary is the Woman, because She is the True Mother of All the Living and the Woman Clothed with Sun. She is the Head Crusher and the One who stands at the foot of the Cross and Altar, the Universal Mother, Mediatrix and Coredemptrix—The Answer to The Problem.
May is a wonderful month. Flowers are nice. Schmaltzy or not, the hymn is okay. But hearts are better.