May Day-May Day!

My Dad's garden
Today my Dad was on my mind a lot. It’s May Day and I was thinking back to the years in primary schools where we prepared May altars religiously. My Dad was a brilliant gardener and had a beautiful garden, however we weren’t allowed to pick the flowers that often! One of those few occasions was for the school May Altar when it was ‘our turn’ to bring the flowers. I was always so proud to bring in that big bunch of red homegrown roses, purple lupin, bright orange marigolds, pretty forget-me-nots, vibrant dahlias and pure white lilies. Not only did they look beautiful but the perfume would fill the classroom and the other teachers who popped in would all comment on the beautiful flowers! I remember other times when the younger kids from the neighbourhood would try and ‘borrow’ some flowers. My Dad, possessive as he was of his hybrid roses, would give in and often snip one off and give it to the child, who would skip away, happy as larry, and possibly out of mischief for another few minutes.My own little altar on my dresser (where my prized possession of my porcelain tea-set stood!) was the centre of my prayers for the month of May. The flowers here were a lot humbler and generally gathered from nature walks along by the river or up Clonown Road. They were good memories!

Being MayDay, wiithout fail, our concluding hymn for our Mass today was the Marian anthem: “Bring flowers of the rarest”. As the rain battered down on the chapel roof, it was proving hard to enter into the imagery of the hymn. Any kind of walking in ‘gardens or woodlands, hillside or vales’ would definitely require  wellies, a raincoat and if it continues raining like this, possibly an ark! But how the people sang with gusto: “Mary, we crown you with blossoms today….Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May”. It brought me back to when faith and belief was so much easier, and less complicated! We sang our hymns to Mary, we brought her flowers because we believed she was looking after us, we knelt at the devotional shrine and told her all our woes. How many of our religious traditions are being lost out because we are not passing them on? Our structures have become complicated, our religion often just mere lip-service, yet God keeps calling us to holiness.

Wilton Diptych

Reading the Magnificat Missal today, I was reminded of the Wilton Diptych, a painting which is permanently on display in the National Gallery in the UK. It shows Richard II in the act of handing England over to our Lady and her Son, the King is kneeling before her in a desert, and she is standing before him in a field of flowers. There she represents the beauties of nature and grace which she brings to fulfilment. In her, nature blossoms. Nature, full of grace, blossoms in eternity.

Again, borrowing the image from the Magnificat Missal, the Church’s calendar for this month is a variety of saints: today we have St. Joseph (for all workers and fathers), a doctor of the Church (Athanasius), various apostles (Philip, James, Matthias), bishops, priests, martyrs and religious. Almost a full spectrum of vocations in the Church- a field of flowers for our Lady. The month is crowned then with the great celebrations of the Ascension and Pentecost. As disciples we prepare to receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit, like tongues of fire. One of my most vivid celebrations of Pentecost Vespers was,when at the end of the liturgy, rose petals, symbolising these very flames, were scattered over the assembly. Just like, for the Solemnity of Pentecost at the Pantheon; rose petals are dropped from the open oculus at twelve o'clock noon in commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. As the "dew" falls, the choir chants the sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus! Here we are reminded that the garden of the Church blossoms in faith and fire! Let’s hope that we continue to fan that flame and it spreads throughout the whole world!