Given that May is the month of Mary, Fr. Peter Galadza, Director of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies in the University of St. Michael's College, shares insights on our Blessed Mother.1. Why do Catholics place such a strong reverence on Mother Mary?
Luke 1:48 recounts how Mary herself said, "All generations will call me blessed." This is because her connection to the living God is so intimate. You can't bear in your womb for nine months the very Word of God and not be special. Paradoxically, we moderns have sometimes lost sight of this. For Christians, the biological is of immense importance. God works concretely in the here and now of human bodies. But what ultimately makes this special is Mary's life-long response to this honour – her humility. In that same verse from Luke, she specifically says that the Lord has regarded – taken notice of – her "lowliness." This characterizes her whole life. In this she is like her Saviour, who raises us up by lowering Himself to the depths of Hell. And so, Mary is revered because she constantly points to salvation. In my own Ukrainian-Byzantine tradition, Mary is almost never depicted without her Son. A very common Byzantine icon that most Roman Catholics know is the "Hodigitria," – "the one who shows the way." Mary's hand points to Jesus – the Way. "It's not about you," she is saying. "It's not even about me, even though I have been blessed in such a miraculous way."
2. Why do we honour Mary in the month of May?
In the Latin West, May's connection with the renewal of nature was baptized, as it were. Springtime associations with the divine go back to pagan times. Latin Christians took this fecundity (fertility) theme and transformed it to celebrate the one who brings forth everlasting life. This happened during the mediaeval period and the entire month of May began to take on prominence in the 17th century. But Catholics of the Byzantine Tradition – and not even all of them – adopted this custom only in the 19th century. In the Eastern Catholic Tradition, the period of focus on Mary is in the run-up to the feast of the Dormition (Assumption) on August 15.
3. What can Catholics do to celebrate the Month of Mary?
Allow me to suggest something different – coming from my own Eastern Catholic tradition. In addition to everything else you might customarily do to focus on Mary this month, go to the website https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=249, where you will find "The Akathist Hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary." The theology is amazing, and the poetry is exquisite. On several occasions St. John Paul II – not to mention other popes – had the Akathist chanted at special events in Rome.
4. How can Mary help us in our daily lives?
So often even the best Christian loses sight of God's tenderness. Mary, who has fully become a "partaker of the divine nature" (II Peter 1:14), envelops us in this maternal "facet" of the Divine. When I experience such tenderness and mercy on a daily basis, I can't help it but share with those around me.