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The Month of May:

The Virgin Mary, the May Queen, and the Mystery

Who Wrote the May Queen Song?

 

Get Your Maypole Up. Get Your Basket. It’s Time to Celebrate!

Have you set up your maypole? Are you getting your May Day baskets ready? Trying to figure out how to celebrate our legal system?

All of that happens in May, specifically on May 1.

The first day of May is just an ordinary day for most, but for those who want to celebrate, it’s one of the best days of the year!

For centuries, many cultures celebrated May Day as the first day of summer, even though it’s really spring. The idea was to say goodbye to winter, with a day of singing, dancing, flirting. Lots of flirting.

Hence the maypole, designed for dancing around and hopefully finding a mate. Or maybe just a date for the evening. They weren’t very picky in those old days.

May Day baskets come out of the same idea, a way to celebrate spring and maybe lead to an innocent kiss or two. People would gather flowers and candies and other goodies, put them into a basket, and then hang them on the doors of someone they were interested in. Now technology lets you just swipe right and avoid making baskets all together. Not much fun in that!

 

Also Recognizing Workers Rights, and the Rule of Law

The first day of May is also known as International Workers Day, to remember the fight for better wages and working conditions.

But in 1958, when he was serving as president of the American Bar Association, Hicks Epton floated an idea to his old boss, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. How about setting aside May 1 as a day to celebrate the rule of law?

After all, when you think about it, the Ten Commandments were some of the first laws in the Bible.

In proclaiming May 1 as Law Day, Eisenhower stated, “In a very real sense, the world no longer has a choice between force and law. If civilization is to survive it must choose the rule of law.”

The 2019 Law Day theme is: Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.

Without those freedoms, you wouldn’t be able to read what you’re reading right now!

And remember, Jesus told the Apostles to spread the word. Although I doubt today he’d say, “Spread the word, but keep your posts to 280-characters.”

Now Let’s Take a Break and Crown the May Queen

Another tradition in May involves the crowning of the May Queen. Remember that? On the first Sunday in May, some lucky little eighth grade girl would be selected as the May Queen. And she got to decorate a special Altar to Our Lady. It was a huge honor. The lucky girl would be all dressed in white and slowly process up the church aisle all the way to the front where the Statue of the Virgin Mary was. And then she would climb this rickety little ladder and we’d all hold our breath. And she would place that circle of flowers on the head of the Virgin Mary. It was such a thrill to have that special honor.

I never got to be the May Queen.

But I did learn the song, “Bring Flowers of the Fairest.”

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May,
O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

 

Who wrote that song?

Until about a decade ago, nobody remembered who wrote May Queen song we all sing. The sheet music for “Bring Flowers of the Fairest,” only listed the author as Anonymous or Traditional.

But a little investigative work lead to the uncovering of the author’s name: Mary E. Walsh, who was a student of the Sisters of Notre Dame. It took J. Vincent Higginson of The Hymn Society of America and a published authority on Catholic hymns, to declare that the song belongs to Walsh. And there’s now evidence it was published under the title, “Crowning Hymn” as far back as 1871, and later in an 1889 hymnal.

Nice to give credit where credit is due.

Walsh was an accomplished composer who also wrote a wildly popular song called The Black Hawk Waltz, published in 1897. But now she’ll forever be known for creating the hymn we sing every May, for the May Crowning.

 

Another Celebration: The Anniversary of Late Nite Catechism

In case you’re looking for another reason we like May, it’s also the month that the hit comedy, Late Nite Catechism, opened in Chicago, in 1993. Next time you’re in Chicago, check out the show at the Royal George Theatre, where it celebrates 26 years this month! For tickets, call the theater at 312-988-9000.