In many parishes, it’s a great honor to be the girl chosen to crown the Blessed Virgin at the May Crowning. Your own parish probably had a May crowning sometime this past month, and hopefully you’re enjoying all the flowers coming into bloom at this time of year.
At the May Crowning at my parish, Epiphany of Our Lord, each child is given a flower to carry in procession, which they proudly do until each, in turn, arrives at the statue of Our Lady to make of the flower a gift. The flowers multiply into a bouquet as child after child contributes. Finally, with a bouquet at her feet, the intrepid young volunteer climbs up a step stool and crowns Mary with a wreath of roses.
Around this time of year, St. Louis is a beautiful place. Flowers, if you look close enough, are little miracles, delicate and translucent. With all that creativity and beauty in the air, it’s natural to make the connection to motherhood. Mary is not only mother of Our Lord, but she’s also queen and mother of all creation. Flowers are a sign of the beauty of our relationship to her.
There’s a long tradition of honoring Mary with flowers. The medieval writer, Chaucer, titles her the “Flower of flowers.” In sacred art, Our Lady is frequently depicted holding a flower or with flowers nearby to visualize the connection. When she appears to her children, she is regularly accompanied by flowers. At Guadalupe, flowers bloom in the desert and Juan Diego is sent running off with a shirt full of roses. When she appears at Lourdes, she fulfills the ancient prophecy from Canticles, “I am the rose of Sharon, a lily of the valley.” The Litany of Loretto gives her the title, “Mystical Rose.”
Countless flowers have been named in Mary’s honor and symbolize aspects of her motherhood. There is no way to list them all, such is the abundance of grace. She arrays herself in the beauty of the field – Our Lady’s Slipper, Our Lady’s Mantle, Our Lady’s Tears, Our Lady’s Milk Drops, Our Lady’s Lace. Many flowers are said to have been present in the stable on the night Christ was born, perhaps even blooming in his manger as divine bedding — Holy Hay, Cradlewort, Our Lady’s Bedstraw.
Shape and color has also reminded the faithful of Our Lady. For instance, St. Bede considers the pale white petal of the lily to be a symbol for the purity of her soul. St. Bernard sees heaven reflected in the golden hues of the Marigold, or as he calls it, “The golden Gillyflower of Heaven.” He also intuits the beauty of her humility in the purple color of the violet.
St Francis Borgia says, “God has left us from Paradise three things: the stars, the flowers, and the eyes of a child.” Flowers are spiritual reminders that Christ is shepherding us into a new Eden, a garden of immeasurable beauty. Mary, as our New Eve, must love flowers very much, for each one reminds us of her Son.
Father Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.