May is Mary’s Month. Anne Pautler talks about her image of Mary.
It happened again, just three weeks ago. Our group was talking about Mary. We deconstructed the scriptural roots of the Hail Mary. We pondered the mystery of the incarnation, and the title ‘God-bearer.’ I felt the warmth and comfort that faith sharing can bring.
Then suddenly, I was all alone. My Zoom companions were caught up in nostalgia that I did not share. May as Mary’s Month. Flowers and processions. May Day crownings. Rosary bracelets. “O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today.” They were lamenting all that has been lost since Vatican II. I felt momentarily like an outsider.
I never sigh for the Marian devotions of my childhood. When I think of May Day, I wince at a vivid memory of senior year at my girls’ Catholic high school. I was concerned about walking in the procession in high heels. Pleased to be wearing my prom dress one more time. Worried about my hairdo. Trying to look appropriately solemn for the photographer and my watching family.
Perhaps it was a prayerful occasion for some of my classmates. But not for me. I had outgrown my own ideas of the “lovely lady, dressed in blue.” I felt no warmth for the white-painted statue in our school’s grotto, no joy in the rose I carried or the crown of roses someone placed on the statue’s head. The pageantry was simply pageantry.
For decades, I felt a void where others seemed to feel devotion to Mary. Perhaps it was the lingering effect of the death of my mother, May, only 46 years old. Perhaps it was coming of age in the 60s and 70s, when so many traditions were questioned or jettisoned.
It wasn’t until years later that a new vision of Mary took shape in my mind, imagination, and prayer life. I read Elizabeth Johnson’s “Truly Our Sister,” and thought about the strength and courage of Miriam of Nazareth. I pondered the “woman clothed with the sun” in Revelation. I literally found a new image: the Robert Graham statue outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Graham’s Mary is a young peasant girl, her hair in a simple braid, her feet grounded, her hands strong.
As my own idea of Mary grew stronger, I noticed something interesting: No longer did I feel threatened by the devotions of others, even if they were much different from my own. The rose I offered at the feast of our Lady of Guadalupe was a prayerful offering, much different than my high school May Day.
And three weeks ago? After a little pause, I ventured to share some of my ambivalent feelings. A song ran through my head. “Daily, daily sing to Mary, Sing, my soul, her praises due, All her feasts, her actions worship, With the heart’s devotion true.” The verses go on, a memorable example of devotion edging into cult practice. It’s a lyric no one sings any longer. We worship only God. We revere Mary, who points always to Jesus.
At the end of our meeting, the whole group prayed the Magnificat. As always on Zoom, we failed to speak in unison. But our hearts were joined in prayer.
(Anne Pautler discovered St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Community in Los Angeles as a UCLA graduate student. Over the years she has been nourished by the parish in many ways: liturgies, music, ministries, Bible study, outreach, and faith sharing. She has been a member of the RCIA team since 2010. The image of Mary is that of the Robert Graham statue at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, which Anne admires.)