Meditations on the Litany of Loreto for the Month of May
In his poem, “May Magnificat,” British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), a convert to Catholicism under St. John Henry Newman’s discipleship, suggests that it is fitting that the Church offer “Mary May” because of the natural confluence of spring, motherhood, new life, and the Easter season:
All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising
With that world of good,
Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord.
This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.
It is unsurprising that St. John Henry Newman echoes these ideas in his “Meditations on the Litany of Loreto for the Month of May,” dedicated with a warm tone to the “boys of the Oratory school,” but meant for wider circulation. Indeed, the meditations, including one for each day of May, culminate in a lively defense of the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception to which the reader is commended.
Before beginning in a daily reflection on each of the Blessed Virgin’s titles in the Litany of Loreto, the meditations for May 1 and May 2 introduce why May is Mary’s month: it is a month of promise, and a month of joy.
Fresh foliage, green grass, wild winds and the rains of early spring suffuse May with blossoms of “gladness and joyousness,” the full experiences of “external nature” flooding our senses, a “fit attendant on our devotion to her who is the Mystical Rose and the House of Gold.”
But what if May includes storms, rains, allergies, disappointment, bad weather? Even so, Newman says, May “begins and heralds in the summer,” and is thus a month of “promise and of hope.” Whatever brief unpleasantness we may experience, fine weather is coming sooner or later. God’s promises are real through all the brief or long spells of trial and pain in this life; in the words of the Prophet Habakkuk, “Brightness and beautifulness shall appear at the end, and shall not lie: if it make delay, wait for it, for it shall surely come, and shall not be slack” (2:3).
Since the central promise of our faith is the Incarnation, and its glorious fulfillment our life in heaven, then what better way to celebrate May than with increased meditation on Our Blessed Mother? Christ, our “Blessed Lord” is the flower of the “rod, or beautiful stalk or stem or plant” of “Mary, Mother of our Lord, Mary, Mother of God.” The prophets foretold a day when “God should come upon earth,” and He has most gloriously fulfilled this promise: he came among us, and now remains with us by the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, whose coming at Pentecost is the fulfillment of the glorious promise of the Easter season.
Further, taking Mary as a focal point is entirely fitting to the Easter season, a time of “frequent Alleluias,” since Christ is risen and ascended, and “God the Holy Ghost has come down to take His place,” a reality in which the Blessed Virgin Mary has first place as the “first of creatures” in God’s New Creation, in whom the Holy Spirit initiated our salvation in Christ through her Divine motherhood.
The month of May, devoted to Mary, likewise initiates us into two central realities of the Gospel: our call to bear the Divine Presence, and the purification of our rational nature to fully reflect that Presence. Mary shows us how to bear God’s presence, how to be a New Israel, our very bodies and souls temples of the Holy Spirit. This makes life a humbling and exciting adventure. Along this journey, we should beg to be protected under Mary’s mantle, and with her guidance to root out all sin so as to reflect the Divine Attributes of God in our rational souls. To be close to God is to burn with and share His very life. The Blessed Virgin Mary, the perfect disciple of Christ, our mother in the economy of grace and our Queen, can teach us how to be holy, how to be completely overshadowed with the Holy Spirit.
In another poem on Mary, Hopkins compares the full life of heaven that Mary lived in to the air we breathe, a “world-mothering air” that mantles and provides a setting, an atmosphere, for life—in Mary’s case, the Divine Life of Christ among us:
Not flesh but spirit now
… makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve…
Like the new life about us in the month of May, keeping Mary’s life about us can make us, our very souls and lives, new Nazareths, new Bethlehems, new Incarnations of Christ’s presence and charity in the world.
To kindle this, one need look no farther than keeping up with Newman’s daily Marian meditations on the Litany of Loreto titles for the remaining days in May.