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Upholding the Faith and Order of the Church
Wednesday June 28th 2017

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The Lusty Month of May

CoverMayThroughout the world, May is the month of Mary. And at least in this country, May is the month of Mothers. But it wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, May was… well, one song from the Broadway musical Camelot offered a window into early medieval Europe and what May was like on the Christian frontier. Julie Andrews played Queen Guinevere. In one scene she takes her court out to the meadows to pick flowers and sings:

 

Tra la! It’s May! The lusty month of May!

That lovely month when ev’ryone goes blissfully astray.

Tra la! It’s here! That shocking time of year

When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear!

It’s May! It’s May! That gorgeous holiday

When ev’ry maiden prays that her lad will be a cad!

It’s mad! It’s gay! A libelous display!

Those dreary vows that ev’ryone takes, ev’ryone breaks.

Ev’ryone makes divine mistakes

The lusty month of May!

 

At that time, May was a celebration of fertility. It would seem the natural time for such a celebration to occur. As the harsh winter comes to an end, everything becomes lush and green, the weather becomes warm and the flowers are in bloom. It is a time for getting outdoors, picking flowers, and finding mates. In fact, the month is named for Maia, a Roman goddess of fertility, as it is the beginning of nature’s mating season.

May festivals were commonplace, beginning with May Day. Parades were held. There was dancing and courting. Some see the decoration of the May Pole as an ancient fertility rite, decorating a representation of the reproductive power of the male. It was a suggestive, but just innocent for polite society. But it wasn’t always so. There is some suggestion in British folklore that a young girl chosen to be the May Queen was actually sacrificed at the end of the festival by pagan Druids.

In May, it was common for teens especially to slip off into the woods at night for late-night partying and more than a few romantic rendezvous. None of this was frowned upon. At best, people looked the other way. At worst, fornication and adultery were actively celebrated . . . at least, during the “lusty month of May.”

So, what to do? When the Christians arrived and the gospel began to spread and people were converted to the new faith with its biblical moral code, they brought renewed values of love and chastity with them. And yet, local customs and traditions (even pagan ones) die hard.

If the gospel was going to transform the culture, it had to “baptize” pagan customs. What did the Christians have in their arsenal of spiritual weaponry with which to combat this celebration of fertility detached from virtue? How does one Christianize the lusty month of May?

One merely had to pose the question in order to see the answer. May would be the month of blessed Mary, the ever-Virgin Mother of God. Here you have a model of chastity for both singles and married couples. She was a Virgin who remained so for the love of God and for the sake of the kingdom of his Son. Yet, she was also a faithful wife and Mother. Mary could be an example for all—a model for chastity in continence and chastity in fecundity.

The Queen Mother of ancient Israel had a unique role as an intercessor, an advocate, and an example. The Bible takes notice of the special way Bathsheba is treated when she appears before Solomon to advocate on behalf of Adonijah. “And the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right.” (1 Kings 2:19) As the Mother of the King of kings, Mary was crowned with heavenly glory at the end of her earthly life and took her place as Queen Mother in the Kingdom of God. She intercedes for us, advocates our cause, and gives us an example to follow.

May is a time to honor Mary as the true Queen of May and model of virtue. A virtuous woman, especially a mother, is always worth bowing before. Solomon wrote in his Proverbs (31:10), “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts in her, so that he shall have no lack of gain.”

We need to hold up examples of virtue whenever and wherever we find them. In some ways we have come full circle to the culture of pagan Europe that Christianity found when the gospel spread northward. We have a society that is sexually obsessed and detached from its grounding in a culture of virtue and tradition.

We need more than ever, like the church of their day, to use every opportunity to honor the Mother of God and all the saints as models of grace and virtue.  But more than that, we need to be shining examples in our own day. We cannot transform the lives of future generations if we are unwilling to let God transform our own with the values and virtues of the gospel.

Each May, we give thanks that the Lord has honored the blessed Mother with a crown of heavenly glory, and we pray that all mothers and their children may be so honored—in this life and in the next.

Fr. Timothy Matkin is Vicar of St. Matthew’s, Comanche, Trinity, Dublin, and St. Mary’s, Hamilton, in the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas.

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