On the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady in the year 1862, Father Frederick Faber a fellow Oratorian and contemporary of Saint John Henry Newman, wrote the following words in the preface to the first English edition of Saint Louis De Montfort’s Marian classic True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin:
Jesus is obscured, because Mary is kept in the background. Thousands of souls perish, because Mary is withheld from them… Yet, if we are to believe the revelations of the saints, God is pressing for a greater, wider, a stronger, quite another devotion to His Blessed Mother.
Each year the Church presents us with the great gift of setting aside the month of May in which to fine-tune, or maybe even kick-start, our relationship with and devotion to the Mother of God and our Mother.
It is a month in which we can seek to understand more deeply, the pivotal role that the Blessed Mother played and continues to have in the unravelling of Salvation History. It is a month, too, in which we can intentionally focus on loving Our Lady as our true Mother just as Jesus intends us too. While he hung upon the Cross, He spoke those oh so precious words which continue to reach out across the millennia to our own time and, in a very personal way, to our own hearts… “Behold your Mother”. (Jn. 19:27)
In the following points, I would like to highlight thirty-one ways, one for each day of May, by which we might come to know and love our Mother in a deeper manner. When we give ourselves to her and allow her to teach and guide us, we can more effectively be her hands and feet in bringing others to Jesus. We will be better able to make Jesus known to the world at large because that is what Our Lady does. As she did at the marriage at Cana, she points Jesus out to those who will listen to her and repeats as she will to the last day, “Do whatever He tells you!” (Jn.2:5)
- Pray the Rosary!
Pope Saint John Paul II explains that the Rosary “is at heart a Christocentric prayer… it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium.” The Rosary helps us to know Jesus better! No wonder Our Lady at each of the Fatima apparitions, continued to encourage Lucia, and Saints Francisco and Jacinta to “pray the Rosary”. It is the prayer for every need and we are constantly encouraged to recite it as a family as it promotes a certain atmosphere of peace which is, at heart, a genuine fruit of the Holy Spirit. “The rosary is my favourite prayer.” (Saint John Paul II)
- Pray a Marian Novena
Saint Teresa of Calcutta often prayed the Memorare prayer ten times in a row; nine in petition and then one in thanksgiving in anticipation of the favour that would be granted! It has come to be known as the Flying Novena and is used when one is in urgent need of Our Lady’s assistance. There are so many novenas to Our Lady from which to choose, but one that is constantly promoted by Pope Francis is that to Our Lady Undoer of Knots. In an age where family problems abound, it is sure to be close to our Mother’s maternal heart.
- Grow a Mary Garden
Did you know that Marigold plants were previously known as “Mary’s Gold” or that the herb Marjoran was also called the “Mother of God’s Flower”? Carry out a Google search on the term Mary Garden and one will find whole listings of flowers, herbs and plants that can be used in creating a special Marian garden space by which to honour and commemorate Our Lady in the domestic or parish setting. What a wonderful way to teach children about the titles, traditions, and virtues which are especially attributed to her!
- Develop a Marian presence in the family home
When we look around our home, do we see explicit signs of our love for Our Lady? Do we have pictures, icons, artworks, and statues of her which are kept in places of honour and which are in good condition? We know from St Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul, that it was by way of the Martin family’s statue of Our Lady that the Little Flower was miraculously healed of a life-threatening illness when she was just ten years of age. These representations remind us often of her true maternal presence and help us to turn to her often during our day.
- Gift Our Lady with flowers
We buy flowers and give them as gifts to those we love and do so particularly on special occasions. Jesus comes to us because of Our Lady’s great ‘Yes’! What a wonderful reason to be forever grateful! But there are so many other reasons too. To show our love for her, we could buy her flowers on her birthday the 8th of September or maybe lilies on the feast of the Immaculate Conception reminding us of her perfect purity.
- Read a book about Our Lady
The Irish Servant of God, Frank Duff, once wrote that it would be unheard of for budding engineers to shun the books of engineering if they wanted to be proficient in their chosen profession. The same could be said of those wanting to know Our Lady better. Yes, of course praying to her will be an essential practice, but reading about her will provide a natural springboard by which our prayers are spiritually enhanced; an action underscored in the axiom ‘grace builds upon nature’. A great contemporary read, readily available and highly recommended is The Marian Option. This recent book sets out wonderfully why the world needs Mary so very much at this particular moment in history.
- Make a personal Act of Consecration to Our Lady
St Louis De Montfort tells us in the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin that total consecration to Our Lady “is the surest, easiest, shortest, and the most perfect means to becoming a saint.” This is no idle statement as can be evidenced in the lives of those who sought to follow this teaching in their own lives. Among those we can mention here are Saints Maximillian Kolbe, John Paul II, and Teresa of Calcutta, in whose writings we find ample testament to the apostolic fruitfulness engendered by their respective acts of personal consecration to Our Lady. A beautiful contemporary way to make this consecration, and one which takes in the wisdom of the aforementioned saints, is found in the book 33 Days to Morning Glory by Father Michael Gaitley.
- Undertake a Marian Pilgrimage
For a day of pilgrimage to take place, one needs to set aside the precious commodity of time which is becoming increasingly rare in our fast paced life and society. It is this sacrifice that makes a time of pilgrimage a special gift for our beloved Mother. In doing so, we are following Our Lord’s invitation to “come away… and rest a while”, (Mk. 6:31) It is also an opportunity to spend precious time at Our Lady’s feet where we become especially open to the Christocentric formation she offers. We visit her in those places dedicated to her honour such as the Mount Schoenstatt Shrine in Mulgoa NSW. In this shrine, for example, it is well known that she grants the particular grace of knowing her as ‘Mother’ and imparts it at the Shrine in abundance. For those who cannot make a pilgrimage physically at this time, they can do so virtually as many do each day to the Marian shrines of Lourdes and Fatima via their webcam and live streaming facilities.
- Celebrate the Marian Feast days
The Marian Calendar provides us with a feast or commemoration of Our Lady for every day of the year. It is an absolute pleasure to read accounts from around the world which detail the multitude of times in which the Blessed Mother has come to the aid of her devoted servants or, at times, to provide warning to those whose way of life was far from that desired by God. The book Daily, Daily Sing to Mary ,or the harder to find Woman in Orbit, have done us a great favour in presenting us with a daily feast each day in this regard. For those who don’t have ready access to these books, the online Marian Calendar also provides excellent information in this same regard.
- The Heroic Minute – live the example of Mary’s Fiat each day
St Bernard of Clairvaux poetically describes Creation’s anticipation of Our Lady’s Fiat, her great ‘Yes’, in accepting the Will of the Father that the Eternal Word take flesh in her virginal womb;
This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for… the whole of your race.
We can imitate our Mother’s great Fiat and make it our own as we wake up to each new day and seek to discern and accept God’s will for our own lives. The grace of the first minute of each day accepted heroically and acted upon is given to Our Lady as a thanksgiving gift for her ‘Yes’ to the Incarnation and our salvation!
- Praying the Angelus and the Regina Caeli
Each day the Angelus prayer is recited throughout the world at 6.00am, 12.00pm and 6.00pm. It is an unending chorus of voices honouring that singular moment in history when the Word took flesh in Our Lady’s womb. The Angelus prayer and the Regina Caeli, which is recited during the Easter season, slow us down and invite us to remember that it is because of Our Lady’s ‘Yes,’ that we are given an opportunity to enter heaven and to do so for all eternity. We imitate Our Lady by saying ‘Yes’ to God’s Will in our own lives too.
- Wear the Miraculous Medal and share it with others
The Miraculous Medal honours the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady whilst symbolically acknowledging her indispensable role as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of all Graces. Our Lady promised Saint Catherine Labouré, to whom she had entrusted the medal, that “all who wear it will receive great graces” and encouraged those who would do so, to “wear it around their neck.” Today, this practice helps us to grow in trust for a Mother who asks us only to do what is good for us and also to grow in obedience by wearing it around our necks as she requested. When we obey this simple request, Our Lady gifts us with a share of God’s own grace in our lives, we grow stronger in our love for her, and we are encouraged with a desire to make her better known by sharing the gift of her medal with those around us.
- Ask for enrollment in the Brown Scapular
The Brown Scapular was given to Saint Simon Stock as a sign of consecration to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She offered those who wear it many privileges with the foremost of these being that one who dies wearing it will never experience the fires of hell. However, it is no lucky charm; it is through love for her that we must learn to wear it. As a sign of love for her, one might kiss the brown habit of the scapular each morning whilst offering to her one’s hands and feet, one’s words and actions, all in her service and all for the Glory of God. The Brown Scapular allows one to clothe themselves in Mary’s chosen garment and therefore associate themselves more closely with her in the ordinariness of each day.
- Pray the Little Office of the Immaculate Conception
Throughout Scripture, we find stunning Marian gems which reveal the beauty and nature of the Queen of Heaven and of our own beloved Mother. The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception collects many of these precious stones and, in praying this Marian Office daily, one comes to attribute these gems personally to Our Lady as one would present a crown which befits their Queen. In praying this Office, we join in with that multitude of saints who have prayed similarly down through the centuries, “You are all fair my beloved, and the original stain was never in you!” (Song of Solomon 4:7)
- Undertake a Marian Bible Study
Sacred Scripture opens and closes with imagery which vividly portrays the pivotal role which God Himself invited Our Lady to play in the drama of Salvation. “She shall crush your head…” (Gen.3:15) and again, “A great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Rev. 12.1) Bible study programs can assist us to delve deeper into the Word of God and to understand who our beloved Queen and Mother really is. Highly recommended is the Augustine Institute Bible Study program about Mary which features the teaching of Dr. Brant Pitre. By examining the connections between the Old and New Testaments, Dr. Pitre provides clear and easily understood explanations about the life and identity of Mary, the Mother of God.
- Study the history of the Marian Apparitions
Our Lady of Pillar, Our Lady of the Snows, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of La Salette, Our Lady of Akita, Our Lady of Las Lajas, and the list goes on! Authentic apparitions of Our Lady are always reminders of the timeless message in Scripture to repent and to believe the Good News of Jesus Christ. They are always consistent with the teachings of the Church and never reveal anything new in terms of what we believe as Catholics. How they do assist us, is in the recognition that it is our dear Mother’s overwhelming love for us, for our good and that of poor sinners, that impels her to visit humanity as often as she has to bring us back into the fold of Christ her Son.
- Set up a Home Shrine to Our Lady
A home shrine is a simple area of the home where honour is given specifically to the Mother of God. The focal point is an image or statue of Our Lady where the main criteria is beauty. Cheap or gaudy representations of Our Lady do not befit her position as the Queen of Heaven and Earth. We should be happy to invest in something of worth which carries the mark of artisanship and of effort. A vase of fresh flowers can be offered weekly as a sign of our love and a candle lit in her honour during the celebration of her feast days. As we pass by our Marian shrine, we offer Our Lady words of love and affection and turn our glance towards her who is our dear Mother.
- Join a Marian Organisation
At Pentecost, Mary was in the midst of the apostles encouraging them as they prepared for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Our Lady, then, is the preeminent and first disciple of Jesus Christ and leads her children by example. Marian organisations seek to extend this maternal influence of Our Lady throughout the world. Members of organisations such as the Legion of Mary, the Knights of the Immaculate, and the Blue Army of Our Lady, promote Marian practices and devotions and seek to present practical knowledge of Our Lady’s special role in these latter days wherein her Immaculate Heart will triumph over the persistent evil of our time. Members offer themselves to her service and seek to assist in bringing Jesus to her lost and forgotten children.
- Read the Mariological Papal Exhortations
The Popes have written numerous Papal Encyclicals and Apostolic Exhortations down through the centuries to honour the Blessed Mother in her titles, privileges, attributes, and powerful intercession all the while encouraging nations, families, and individuals to turn to her in confidence and hope in their time of need. Pope Leo XIII alone wrote twelve encyclicals and five apostolic letters on the rosary between the years 1883 and 1898 usually in preparation for the month of October. Closer to our own time, we have Marialis Cultus and Signum Magnum of Saint Pope Paul VI and Redemptoris Mater and Rosarium Virginis Mariae of Saint Pope John Paul II. These writings often highlight the special assistance that Our Lady offers her children when facing the pressures of each particular age.
- Consecrate your family to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
“Behold your Mother.” Just as we make concrete acts of love to show our earthly mothers how much we love and honour them, we please God immensely when we do the same for our heavenly Mother. By making a solemn Act of Consecration of the Family to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we are in fact entrusting the spiritual and material good of our family into the loving hands of our Mother. It is so important to believe that Mary truly is our spiritual Mother who seeks to play an active role in our lives! We can take confidence that she will certainly do this as we remember the striking words and inherent promise of the Memorare prayer… “never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided.” She will not abandon her children.
- Undertake the First Saturday of the Month Devotion
During the July 1917 apparition in Fatima, Our Lady told Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta, that she would return at a later date and ask for a new devotion which we now know as the Communion of Reparation of the Five First Saturdays. On December 10, 1925 Sister Lucia received a vision where the Blessed Mother explained to her the essential elements of this Marian devotion: “See, my daughter, my Heart surrounded with thorns… console me and announce that all those who for five months, on the first Saturdays, go to confession, receive Communion, say five decades of the Rosary and keep me company for 15 minutes meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the purpose of making reparation to Me, I promise to assist them at the hour of death with all the graces necessary for the salvation of their souls.” This devotion invites us to accompany our Mother in her sorrow and in making reparation for the sins committed against her Immaculate Heart and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
- Learn and sing Marian hymns
Marian hymns were written to honour Our Lady in her titles and privileges. Each time we sing them, we too have an opportunity to honour her and to give her, so to speak, a fresh bouquet of roses as one gives to those who are the object of their love and devotion. Hymns such as the Salve Regina, O Purest of Creatures, the Hail Queen of Heaven, and even the Regina Caeli sung during the Easter season, lift our hearts and the hearts of those in our hearing because of the beauty and truth with which these hymns were composed. It is truly a great gift for a child to be taught these hymns so that they, in their turn, are able to hand them down to their own children and to their children’s children!
- Enrol in the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary
The Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary is an association of Catholics who are committed to growing in holiness through the recitation of the Most Holy Rosary. As a member of the Confraternity, one shares in many spiritual benefits including that of having Catholics from across the world praying for one’s intentions. Members commit to praying fifteen mysteries once a week, and to praying for the intentions of all the members of the Confraternity. If one already prays the rosary several times a week, they would quite easily meet this obligation. To pray for other members, one can simply offer the mysteries of the rosary for that intention, or by praying a special Confraternity prayer.
- Know the history of Mary Help of Christians Patroness of Australia
Mary Help of Christians is the Patroness of Australia and we should do all we can to invoke her assistance and promote her patronage under this title as a people especially entrusted to her maternal protection. Australia was the first nation to choose Mary Help of Christians as its principal patroness with St Mary’s Cathedral also dedicated to her honour by the Irish pioneer priest Fr John Therry who had arrived in Sydney in May 1820. The High Altar at St. Marys Cathedral, erected as a memorial to Fr. Therry, stands proudly with a statue of Mary Help of Christians crowning its highest point. A larger statue bearing the same title, stands in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart and is more accessible to the public who travel to the Cathedral daily in order to venerate their Queen and to seek her powerful intercession. The Church has traditionally focussed on two aspects of Our Lady’s help under this title. Firstly, the role of Our Lady’s intercession in the fight against sin in the life of the believer. Secondly, the assistance Our Lady grants the Christian Church in her fight against the forces of evil who are especially bent on abolishing Christian practice and its influence throughout the world.
- Know the Marian Dogmas
The four Marian dogmas each highlight a special and singular privilege given Our Blessed Mother from God Himself and revealed gratuitously by the Holy Spirit to the Church so that She may be edified and encouraged by what has been given to one of our own race! We say of Our Lady, “You are the highest honour of our race.” The first of these privileges is the Christocentric belief that Mary is the Mother of God by way of the fact that she is the mother of Jesus. In saying yes to receiving the Word into her womb, she also received the title and grace of being Ever Virgin – before, during, and after the birth of Christ. Again, because of this unique relationship with Christ and in preparation for it, Our Lady received the prevenient grace of the Immaculate Conception. Her perfect purity throughout her life and the fact that sin never tainted her perfect alignment with the Will of God, meant that death itself never held sway over her and allowed for the privilege of her Assumption into heaven body and soul.
- Try Fasting on Saturdays
One explanation of why the Church traditionally dedicates Saturday to Our Lady’s honour is that it may have been on a Saturday that Jesus first appeared to her after His crucifixion and death. He would have done so to reward her for her steadfast faith in His divinity which did not waiver even at the foot of the Cross. There is also a custom from the Church in Rome that, on the Saturday before Whitsunday, the newly baptised were led from the baptistery of the Lateran Basilica to the great shrine and Basilica of St Mary Major. Down through the years, the faithful have added their own special devotions to this day and one of these is the practice of fasting in her honour. This may be done as part of the Communion of Reparation devotion or just by way of giving Our Lady our acts of abstinence as gifts of grace which we leave willingly at her disposal.
- Know Our Lady’s Family – St Joseph, St Anne and St Joachim
To enter into authentic friendship with another is to be invited into relationship with their broader family and friends. This happens most especially when we unite our hearts with that of our sweet Mother. She introduces us to her spouse Saint Joseph and to her parents, Saints Joachim and Anne. Our love for her welcomes this great gift that she offers us and we remember that it is always to our eternal benefit that we do so. How powerful to have the intercession of those who knew Our Lady best. The Immaculate Conception took place in Saint Anne’s womb and Saint Joseph most likely lived alongside Our Lady for thirty or so years! More specifically, it was with St Joseph and Jesus that Our Lady formed the Holy Family and it is into this most privileged of relationships that our Blessed Mother invites us to enter.
- Know the Marian Champions
We can take it for granted that every saint had a loving relationship with Our Lady by the mere fact that if they loved Jesus, and we know with certainty that they did, they would necessarily love and want to know everything about Him including anything about His dear mother. However, the Church also shares with us the life stories of those saints, or Marian champions, who in a special way were particularly devoted in their expression of love and service towards the Blessed Mother. We can name here Saint John the Beloved, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, Saint Catherine Labouré, Saint Jacinta Marto, Saint Louis De Montfort, St Teresa of Calcutta, and Saint John Paul II, to list just a few. We do well to read their writings as they often reveal practices and prayers which will assist us greatly in coming to know and love our Mother in a deeper manner ourselves.
- Know the Seven Sorrows and the Seven Joys of Our Lady
This devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows finds its roots in the Presentation passage from Saint Luke’s Gospel where Simeon prophesied of Our Lady that “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (2:35) The devotion was officially promoted by the members of the Servite Order whose seven founders were particularly devoted to Our Lady under this title and designated her as their patroness. The Seven Sorrows are primarily found in Scripture, explicitly or implicitly, as is the case of Jesus meeting His Mother on the way to Calvary. The Rosary of the Seven Joys of the Blessed Virgin finds its origins in the Franciscan Order with its seven mysteries revealed by Our Lady to a young novice who had a personal custom of adorning her statue with a wreath of flowers as a sign of his love and devotion for her.
- Deepen your knowledge of the great Marian Artworks
It is hard to find any of the great masters of the Rennaisance, Baroque, or even the Neoclassical periods, who did not attempt a major work focused on the Blessed Virgin Mary. It would be truer to say that some of the greatest artworks in history are in fact of Our Lady and here we can mention the following: the Annunciation of Giotto, Fra Angelico and Da Vinci; the Madonna of Raphael, Michaelangelo, and Caravaggio; and the Sorrowful Mother of Duccio, Murillo, Grunewald, Isenbrant and Bouguereau. Whether sculpted from stone, painted on canvas or frescoe, or created as a woodpanel, these great works could never have been done without the artist’s giftedness, dexterity, and devotion. Surely, these amazing gifts of self will ring out through eternity due to the high honour they have given to the glorious Mother of God.
- Accompany Our Lady along the Via Dolorosa
The original Via Dolorosa, more commonly known as the Way of the Cross, is of course that path which Our Lord travelled through the city of Jerusalem on his way to his crucifixion on Calvary. Tradition holds that Our Lady was the first to walk this path whilst contemplating his sufferings and death. Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich in her private revelations, gives us detailed accounts of how the Blessed Virgin retraced the steps of her beloved Son by making the Way of the Cross firstly in Jerusalem and then again in Ephesus where she made her home with the Apostle John when the first persecution of Christians arose. Undertaking the Way of the Cross with Our Lady and meditating on the sufferings she underwent along with those of her Son, is a most fruitful manner of uniting our hearts with her own. If then, this be the case with the Stations of the Cross, how much more grace-filled will be our proper participation in the Mass which is, in truth, the culmination of the Way… Calvary itself. It is here, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where we will hear, as always, Our Lady repeating to us those words of Sacred Scripture… “Do whatever He tells you”. (Jn. 2:5)