A Message from Father Nick 9
Mary and the month of May
Madonna of the Book, Sandro Botticelli (1480), Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan.
We are still in Eastertide, greatest and loveliest of the Church’s seasons, when we focus especially on Jesus’ triumph over death. This was the time when the three great sacraments were celebrated: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, our so-called “sacraments of initiation”. By the power of the Holy Spirit they set us free, teach us and fill us with new life.
But there is a kind of extra gift which comes to us through the rhythms of the natural world. The month of May in its beauty has become the month of Mary, the mother whose “yes” to God marks the beginning of her son’s human story. Mary was there of course at the birth of God’s son. She was there at his death on Calvary when blood and water flowing from his side became a sign of the Church being born. She was there at Pentecost when his Spirit was given to the world. And from the words spoken by Jesus on the cross to his beloved disciple we know that she remains with us as our mother.
Her relationship with us is one of empathy and pure compassion, and that is why artists and poets have always responded to it so instinctively. Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) painted many beautiful images of the Madonna and Child. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) expressed his feelings in a poem – alas, too long for inclusion here – entitled, The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we breathe. His sense of wonder at the whole transforming mystery shines through his sonnet, Spring:
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden, – Have, get, before it cloy.
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.