Crowning Mary: A May Tradition

Most churches and schools try to hold the crowning on or near Mother’s Day because Our Lady is both Queen and Mother to all the faithful.

Clockwise from top left: It is a time-honored tradition to honor the Blessed Mother. Youth enjoy participating in the May crowning at St. Raphael Church in Bay Village, Ohio.
Clockwise from top left: It is a time-honored tradition to honor the Blessed Mother. Youth enjoy participating in the May crowning at St. Raphael Church in Bay Village, Ohio. (photo: Unsplash; Courtesy of St. Raphael Church)
Bring flow’rs of the fairest. Bring flowers of the rarest. ... We crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

For many decades, the lovely words and melody of the hymn Bring Flowers of the Rarest have been gracing the beautiful traditional crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The ceremony has been held in countless parishes, schools and homes throughout the world.

“The crowning is symbolic of Mary as Queen of Heaven and of our lives,” Father John Broussard, rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin, explained to the Register. “We entrust all our intentions to her, and she takes them to her Son, who is the King. Even here at the shrine, when she appeared to Adele Brise [in 1859] at the opening of the apparitions, she said, ‘I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners.’”

“We take that to heart,” the priest added. “Our Blessed Mother is our Queen and our intercessor, and we symbolize that with our May crowning. Mary’s queenship in the shrine is represented in the crowning of the statue.”

In 1987, in its “Order of Crowning an Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the precursor to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “The month of May is dedicated to the Queen of Heaven, as are all flowers. Early this month, a statue of the Virgin at church is crowned with a wreath of flowers, and flowers are laid at her feet.” 

Incalculable are the number of times girls in white dresses and veils and boys in white shirts and ties have taken part in processions during May crownings, some holding Marian banners, or the number of teens and adults who have also formed an honor guard, processing and acting as attendants to honor the Blessed Mother.

Most churches and schools try to hold the crowning on or near Mother’s Day (May 8 this year) because Our Lady is both Queen and Mother to all the faithful. Some parishes, like St. Raphael Church in Bay Village, Ohio, celebrate more than one crowning — one for the congregation on the Monday evening after Mother’s Day and one during the day for the 600 children in the parish school. All the first Communicants will dress in their first Communion finery. Two of the second graders and two recently confirmed eighth graders are chosen to place the crown of flowers on the head of the school’s Blessed Mother statue.

The entire congregation looks forward to it all year. “The church will be filled for the crowning,” Terri Telepak, the pastoral associate, told the Register. “I think most Catholics remember it from their childhood.” Everyone prays the Rosary as part of the service and sings the traditional songs and hymns, including Immaculate Mary, Bring Flowers of the Rarest, and O Mary, We Crown Thee. They pray other Marian prayers, including the Hail, Holy Queen, and listen to a homily.

The crown of flowers for Mary is brought up in procession and then placed on her image — a 5-foot-tall statue of Our Lady that has been in the church since it was founded 75 years ago. Telepak said the belief is that this crowning has been going on annually since the church’s beginnings. As is customary, the crown is on display for the remainder of May. 

“It’s a longtime tradition here,” Telepak emphasized, adding that this is a beautiful tradition in the Catholic Church that “honors the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as mother to everybody.”

The parish hopes the Marian tradition also serves as a visible testimony. As Telepak explained, “We also have a statue of Mary on our church’s front lawn, and we will crown her on that statue for all the traffic that passes by. Every Wednesday night, at 6pm, a group of parishioners prays the Rosary in front of this statue. As the traffic goes by, that is a witness to the community.”

The crowning at the shrine in Wisconsin, which this year takes place on Mother’s Day, sees several hundred people joining an outdoor procession with the statue of the Blessed Mother around the Rosary path together with the Blessed Sacrament. Those gathered pray the Rosary. At the end, the statue of Our Lady is put in place; Benediction follows. Finally, a young girl “places the crown on Our Lady and honors her with due veneration. She is due veneration because of her great intercession,” Father Broussard said, “especially here at the shrine, where she works so many graces and miracles.”

The age-old tradition of showing the Blessed Virgin Mary wearing a royal crown stretches through the centuries. In Ad Caeli Reginam (Proclaiming the Queenship of Mary), Servant of God Pius XII mentioned that in the East and West the practice of crowning images of the Mother of God came into use in the early fifth century, “since the Council of Ephesus portrayed Mary as Queen and Empress seated upon a royal throne adorned with royal insignia, crowned with the royal diadem and surrounded by the host of angels and saints in heaven”; and by the end of the 16th century in the West, “the practice of crowning images of the Blessed Virgin became extensive,” as to emphasize “she is the Mother of the Son of God.”

Catholics honor Mary at home, too, crowning the Queen of Heaven’s statue or painted image. 

In Cleveland, Ohio, Brooke and Ryan Uehlein began their family crowning with their daughter, Jordan, in 2020. With the pandemic raging at the time, their daughter’s Catholic school was already on remote scheduling, and both parents were working from home. May crownings were either virtual or not being celebrated.

“That led to our decision to do a May crowning at home,” Brooke said, adding that raising a little child during the pandemic made practicing the faith and devotion particularly poignant. “We wanted to do something joyous during the month of May,” Brooke added.

“Mary is our Mother. That is how we and our parish and school community teach that to our daughter,” Brooke explained. May is a fine time to show that appreciation for Mary “and all she is to our Catholic faith, just as we would honor our own mother. For Mother’s Day, we give a card and flowers for our own mom and grandmother. In teaching and bringing your children up in the Catholic faith, there are simple ways to show who Mary is through everyday life.” 

“We wanted to make it as happy and traditional as any of us would have experienced in the past” — including the dressing up, Brooke explained. Jordan, now 8, picked out what to wear. “She wanted to dress up for this occasion. It showed that she understood the importance and how special our Queen Mary is.”

And the family didn’t forget the hymns and prayers — or the procession. 

The Uehleins also individually add a special intention for their mothers and grandmothers and other female relatives, family friends and neighbors.

“It’s a beautiful way for families to gather and celebrate Our Lady within your home space,” Brooke said. “To celebrate Our Lady that way is also to remember her not as only a mother, but this vessel of peace and vessel of protection — all what home life is.”