Bring flow’rs of the rarest,
From garden and woodland
And hillside and vale……
……How truly we love thee,
How dark without Mary
Life’s journey would be.
(Bring Flowers of the Rarest, Mary E. Walsh)
Even on some of the more secular of radio stations the first day of May saw the playing of this beautiful old song, ‘Queen of the May’ or more accurately ‘Bring Flowers of the Rarest’. It is a well established annual ritual with one particular program playing various versions of this song throughout this month. As Ireland is rapidly becoming more secular I was watching out for this, a little fearful that it may be absent. Thankfully not. Perhaps people’s understanding of the actual meaning is not what was intended. I heard a man on the radio say that it was a song to welcome the arrival of spring and hope. I guess one might argue that he was half right. It is full of hope.
However that hope is rooted in Mary the Mother of Jesus. ‘How dark without Mary Life’s journey
would be’ places Mary at the centre of our lives and the source of our hope. I find myself once again as we begin the month of May, and against the backdrop of this beautiful song and indeed many other very moving Marian hymns such as O Mary of Graces, I’ll Sing a Hymn to Mary, and of course the very special Salve Regina, asking myself about the role of Mary in our lives.
Perhaps to begin with the most obvious type of relationship with Mary, in that it is the most common, and that is where we are engaged in Marian Devotion. It is important to be respectful of this as it is the mainstay for many of faith. This will often be rooted in praying the rosary. This was a great prayer of my grandmother. She never studied theology or sacred scripture but through her constant praying the rosary she knew both theology and scripture.
As is the case with any prayer, from the shortest of aspirations to the great prayer that is the Mass itself, we can pray them as rote, absentmindedly rhyming it off or of course we can pray with whole hearted engagement, or indeed with a myriad of degrees of involvement in between. In my grandmothers case I feel her dedication to the rosary resulted in her having a good sense of Mary in her life.
In my experience of Marian Devotion I think I would have a number of concerns. I would be worried that at times it can remain at a superficial level, concentrating on saying prayers such as rosaries or litanies, and not really internalising what is involved. The great danger with Marian Devotion is that it slides into the realm of fantasy. This is where there develops a fixation with the paranormal. The moving statues craze could be an example of this.
We as Catholics need to be very clear about this. We do not pray to statues. We do not worship statues. Actually it is more serious than that. We do not worship Mary. We worship God and God alone. Giving Mary profound respect and asking her to intercede for us is a different thing entirely. This is not only appropriate but desirable.
So what, for me, constitutes a healthy relationship with Mary?
I believe we will not go wrong if we open ourselves up to an encounter with Mary in the Gospels. Here we see Mary obedient. Mary fearful, but Mary courageous. We see Mary filled with joy and we see Mary heartbroken. Very importantly we see Mary given to us by Jesus and we see ourselves given to Mary. Whilst I respect the devotional, oral prayer aspect of having Mary in our lives, including the benefit of a nice statue, in my relationship with Mary I want something else.
I want to develop my relationship with Mary as I encounter her in the Gospels. When I do this I encounter her gentleness and Peace. I encounter her strength and her protection. I know she loves me. She loves me as a mother. She is my great weapon against darkness. My greatest refuge. What she wants of me is that I know her Son. Her joy is to lead me to him.