An image of the Blessed Virgin Mary was crowned during a special service at the Schoenstatt Retreat Center in Waukesha. The image of “Our Lady of Schoenstatt” was carried in procession on the grounds prior to the service of readings and songs. (John Kimpel photos)

A small, newly landscaped area of our parish turned out to be a perfect place for a statue to honor the Blessed Mother. Different features of various statues that might be appropriate for the space were studied. As we browsed through pictures, our pastor said, “This one is nice, but this statue of Mary has a crown. Let’s get one without a crown so we can crown her.” I smiled appreciatively at his forethought that May Crownings were in our future. I was very happy that we were intentional in planning to continue this tradition.

Devotion to Mary is in the heart of a Catholic. We do not worship Mary, but we hold her in highest regard for her willingness to embrace God’s plan for our salvation. She gave her unconditional “Yes” to be the mother of Jesus, thus, her title, Theotokos, which means “God bearer” in Greek. Mary is considered the perfect follower of Jesus, sometimes referred to as the first disciple, always devoted to her son, following him all his life, even to the foot of the cross. She fosters our prayer life, always leading us to Christ. In prayer, we ask for her intercession to her son on our behalf. For these, and so many reasons, the Church, through the centuries, holds a special devotion to Mary.

There are many devotional practices and prayers for Mary. One that has been present in the Church since the 16th century has been the ritual of “May Crowning.”

During this devotion, usually held in the month of May, a wreath of flowers is placed on the head of a statue of Mary. This is an appropriate month, as the liturgical calendar holds several feast days honoring the Blessed Mother.

May is also the month of several Marian apparitions, including that of Mary to three children in Fatima, 100 years ago this year.

Though the exact origin of the practice is not clear, crowning of sacred images with flowers is an ancient practice, a form of reverence. Early works of art often showed images of Mary wearing a gold crown. May Crowning’s are celebrated all over the world. While not as prevalent in our country today, the devotion does continue in parishes and Catholic schools.

There is no exact structure to the ritual of a May Crowning. It is a devotional, not a liturgical prayer. It is a celebration held outside of Mass. The minister leading this devotion can be a deacon, priest or lay person. In its simplest form, it centers on a statue of Mary, often placed on a pedestal. Scripture is read, hymns sung, prayers prayed. Marian prayers, such as the Hail Mary, the Memorare, Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the rosary may be part of the ritual. There may be a procession, sometimes led by First Communicants and including someone carrying a garland of flowers to place on the head of the image of Mary. Others in the procession can carry flowers to leave in a vase or laid at the base of the image. The shrine might be maintained with fresh flowers throughout May.

When I mentioned May Crowning to a few friends, some said, “They still do that?” I responded, yes, and asked about the memories they had of May Crownings in their own religious upbringing. We agreed that we all held positive memories. For that reason, many are interested in continuing and reviving this sweet devotion that brings generations together in a lovely way to express appreciation to our Blessed Mother for all she has done for us.