Last week while visiting a dear friend I had the occasion to attend a May crowning. It was a lovely service attended by quite a few people at my friend’s parish. It brought back many memories of that parish, but it was moving to see how many men and women were there with their children. There were people of all ages, boys and girls, men and women, who were leading prayers of the Rosary which we prayed as part of the service. It was moving and impressive to see so many people, young and old, praying together on a Monday night.
For those who do not know what this is, a May crowning is when we honor Mary as the Mother of God's own Son during the month of May. The prayer ceremony involves placing a crown, usually made of flowers or something handmade, upon the head of a statue of Mary that resides inside or outside a church. It can involve praying a Rosary, which is a prayer that asks Mary's intercession for whatever the needs of the world (or the individuals praying) may be.
To those who are not Catholic this practice may seem strange, or even archaic. I want to be clear about this: we do not worship Mary and we are not worshiping a statue! We worship God alone! To worship Mary would be heretical and to worship a statue would be idolatry. But we do venerate, or honor, Mary. We celebrate Mary for her faith and humility, and for her courage in saying yes to the difficult task of being the Mother of Jesus. The point of it is to remind us of her role as Mother of God and to remember that she intercedes for us, as she did when she was alive. Mary has always been a woman of prayer, as seen in the Gospels, so it should not surprise us to know that she continues in this role. She is also closer to Jesus than any other person, so we know that He listens to His mother, as any good son would do. It is not that she is able to get us everything we ask for, but she does intercede for our intentions, especially those that involve reparation for the sins of the world or for healing.
May 13 is the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. It is celebrated on this day because in 1917 Mary began to appear to three children in Fatima, Portugal and continued to appear to them on the 13th of every month until October, 1917. Her message to the three children as they were shepherding their family flocks was one of repentance and prayer for reparation for the sins of the world. Russia had become Communist and the world was in the midst of a horrible war, something these children knew nothing about, given that they lived in a sleepy little hamlet with little news of it. And even if the children knew, they did not understand anything of world politics. When Mary appeared to them, it was because she had concern for the world and its fate. Mary wanted the children to spread the word to pray the Rosary and for people to renew their relationship with God by repenting and changing their ways.
As any loving mother would do, Mary cares about her children, that is, the people of God. Throughout history she has appeared to others with a similar message. It is always because she loves us so much that she wants to make sure we are safely in the arms of her Son, Jesus. Mary was already a woman of prayer and of great faith when the angel came to her at the Annunciation. The Gospels tell us that after she said yes to God's request to be the mother of His Son, she was in prayer continually, pondering everything so as to know what God would have her do. That does not mean she understood everything. Had she understood it all, she would have had little reason to ponder. No, Mary was as much "in the dark" about the events of her life, and the meaning of Jesus life and ministry, as we are. She was without sin, yes, but was no more certain of events than we are.
This is what makes Mary so holy: she accepted everything because she trusted in God. Paradoxically she was not exempt from suffering in this life because she was related to the Son of God. Rather, that relationship was what brought so much pain! She had to endure giving birth in a cave; she was told after Jesus’ birth that it would be as if a sword would pierce her heart because of Him; she had to run for her life with Joseph and Jesus shortly after His birth; she "lost" Him during a return trip from Jerusalem when He was a boy and spent an agonizing few days trying to locate Him, then had to accept His comment about being about His Father's business as an explanation. She had to watch others mistreat Jesus: she watched Him get crucified as a common criminal, though innocent, and then had to take His body from the cross to the tomb. No, I daresay her life was filled with suffering, (though I am equally sure that she had the joy of being with Jesus for all the years of His life, too.) But she did suffer silently throughout all of it, knowing who He was and how the people around Him were so completely clueless. What she endured during His lifetime would have been hard for any parent of any son; but to know exactly who He was had to make it nearly unbearable. After all, He was also her God whom she loved completely and without reserve.
Many years ago while pondering the life of Mary I had an insight about her that has stayed with me. It was as if I heard these words within my mind: "The one who suffers in silence knows the most about love." I remember being a bit put off by the part about suffering in silence. It sounded as if we are to put up with "bad stuff" and learn to tolerate it. But in the years since then, with much thought about that, I have come to realize that Mary brought her suffering into the silence of listening. That is, she continually brought her experiences to God, not to question Him, but to find the strength to accept them. If one is silent, one turns outward to God. Mary had a history of turning outward to God and to others. Therefore this is clear to me now. If we want to persevere under the strain of our pains and sorrows and all the wounds that assail us big and small, we need to imitate Mary. In other words, we need to turn to God asking Him for comfort, for support, for insight, for the ability to forgive, for our own forgiveness and for the ability to go on. We need prayer because we need God. That is what it means to suffer in silence.
One last thing about suffering in silence: it leads to greater love and compassion. I have found that the more one's heart is broken the more one comes to have compassion for others who also are broken; that is, with the help of God. Without God, we cannot do this, but if we let the Spirit of God heal us and mold us, we learn to love more and more. This is what Jesus did in His ministry and this is what His mother did as she followed. This takes me right back to where we started: Mary as intercessor. It is because of love that she continues to intercede for us. Her broken, immaculate heart has filled with so much love that she continues to pour it out by helping us in our woundedness. She is so compassionate that she wants to go to her Son on our behalf. This is why we have May crowning and devotions to Mary. It is not because we have her on some sort of idolatrous pedestal. No, it is because she is the greatest role model for women as mothers (and even for men as fathers, I would venture to say). It is because she knows how to love unconditionally and cares about our well-being just as a loving parent cares about their own children. We are hers in a way, because Jesus entrusted us to her.
Let us try to imitate Mary as people of faith, hope, and love. May we learn to love with the compassion of her heart! May we learn to listen in silence and hence understand what it means to wait upon the Lord! Let us learn to turn to Mary asking her intercession for our world! And may we let Mary lead us to her Son, as is her role! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Son of God! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The icon at the top is Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations by Rev. William Hart McNichols and can be found at
The photos are mine. The photo midway through the entry was taken at Fatima, Portugal. The exact spot where Mary appeared is where the statue is located.
The last photo was taken inside the basilica in Fatima, above the main altar, and depicts Mary being crowned as Queen of Heaven.
Heart Speaks to Heart