Crown Her With Queenly Crowns
“Bring flow'rs of the fairest, bring flow'rs of the rarest /From garden and woodland, and hillside and vale / Our full hearts are swelling, our glad voices telling / The praise of the loveliest Rose of the vale.”
So begins “Bring Flowers of the Rarest,” a traditional hymn reserved for May crowning ceremonies, once popular with many Catholic families and communities, and making something of a comeback of late.
What's that you say? Never heard of a May crowning? Well, just look at what you've been missing.
One day of every May — long recognized, if only unofficially, as “Mary's month” — children dressed in their Sunday best lay flowers at the feet of a Marian statue. One child, usually the oldest boy, carried a crown of flowers on a cushion to the statue. Another child, usually the oldest girl, placed the crown upon the head of the Queen of Heaven. This is where the hymns came in. When the singing was done, prayers would be said and the flowers left where they lay for the remainder of May.
In St. John, Ind., Paul and Jackie Krilich decided to revive the May-crowning custom with their eight children after returning from a pilgrimage in 1991. It wasn't long before the whole parish of St. John the Evangelist Church got involved — and, indirectly, countless motorists.
Jackie Krilich tells how two families who own land on busy Route 41 put up a 20-foot statue of Our Lady of Grace they had brought back from Italy and how Paul built a special ladder for each year's crowning.
“We have prayers in the church, including the rosary,” Krilich explains. “Then we process 1.8 miles down Route 41 with a police escort. Everyone prays the rosary as we walk. Last year we did all four mysteries.”
All the first Communicants dress up for the occasion, as do the parish's confirmation and religious-education students. Altar boys and sometimes Knights of Columbus in full regalia join the procession.
“People come from all over,” Krilich says. “During the fifth glorious mystery, one of the first communicants places the crown on the Blessed Mother.” These might be roses or other flowers, but they're not fresh because “the big crown remains on Mary all year. It's something that's visible from the road from May to May.”
Results can be unexpected. Krilich tells of a friend who once watched some strangers on motorcycles pull over, park and approach the Blessed Mother to give her a new rosary.
And Mary's crowning has inspired the community to work together, from the woman who makes the crown to those readying food to the rental agency providing vans to shuttle people back to the church.
The Hoosier crowd might stand among the best organized of all May-crowning enthusiasts, but they're not alone in their zeal for old customs that can put a new spring in their steps of faith.
“Pope John Paul II has been stressing in the new millennium the new springtime of the Church,” says Father Matthew Mauriello, pastor of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Bridgeport, Conn. “As we enter the new springtime, it is beautiful to revive all these ancient customs that have been part of our Catholic tradition for centuries and to transmit them to a new generation.
“The motivation today to have a May crowning and honor Mary during her special month is the same as people had in the Middle Ages,” the priest adds. “And that is to bring the beautiful flowers of spring to the most beautiful Mother ever created, the Mother of Jesus, to honor her and to show our love and our fidelity to her.” Stated another way: If her son is a king, then Mary is of royal rank, too. She should not go crown-less.
All 403 students at Cathedral Parish School in St. Augustine, Fla., know this well. For them the May crowning is a major annual event. Donning their first Communion clothes — girls in white dresses and veils, boys in white shirts and ties — the second-graders “oversee” the carrying of the crown. (It's a second-grade girl who does the actual carrying.)
The eighth-grade girls elect a May queen to place the crown, supported by a court of six. “They pick someone based on the qualities this girl has that imitate Mary,” explains teacher Karen Fox, who's been in charge of the event for several years.
The assembly processes to the school's shrine, which has a statue of Our Lady of Grace, for prayer and song. Students bring flowers and form an honor guard for the May queen and her court.
In addition to honoring the Blessed Mother in such a magnificent way, the youngsters get to have a “very positive” experience on many levels, Fox says. From the preparation to the ceremonies to the wearing of formal clothes, an impression is made of something special unfolding. The sights, sounds and springtime smells likely won't soon be forgotten.
And a rightly ordered, deeply Christian conception of femininity gets promoted in a very powerful way, Fox adds. The May-queen voting, for example, “is surprisingly a big deal to them, bigger than you'd think,” she says. “It's not a beauty contest, not a popularity contest.”
The same happens, albeit on a smaller scale, when families crown Mary right in their own homes.
Michael and Kimberlee KadarKallen and their six children do just that in Harrisburg, Pa., where the family made a small brick grotto with a blue-and-white statue of Our Lady of Grace in their backyard.
“We have a miniature procession from the house, and we have a crown made of flowers,” Kimberlee Kadar-Kallen says. Sometimes they use fresh flowers, sometimes artificial ones since they don't wilt. One year each of the children made and carried Marian banners with different Marian symbols, such as the Immaculate Heart with roses.
“We sing a song like ‘Immaculate Mary,’” Kadar-Kallen continues. “Usually we let the littlest person put the crown on the Blessed Mother. Then we all sit around the statue and pray the rosary as a family.”
The Kadar-Kallens say it's important to honor Mary in May. “It's her month. She's Queen of Heaven,” says Kadar-Kallen, who also finds this crowning a good way to “impress upon the children how we need to honor her because she's our Blessed Mother.”
Already, 3-year-old Mary Rose, who is about the same size as the statue, is learning that lesson well. “She's fond of hugging and kissing the Blessed Mother,” Kadar-Kallen says. “The first thing she does when she goes outside is give her hugs and kisses.”
For pure Marian devotion, May-style, a better example could hardly be set.