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Monday, May 4th, 2020

‘Go Forth, Daughters of Sion:’ a Sermon on the Queen of May

Catholics find themselves in a spiritually precarious state whenever their worship is disrupted. The enemy of our souls is no doubt pleased with the situation. On one level, this is true on account of the disagreement and confusion surrounding the question of whether that worship ought to have been disrupted in the first place. Such confusion is quite exploitable. But there is more to the picture as well. The father of lies, the murderer from the beginning,[1] can move more freely where sacramental grace is absent. Now, he cannot win in the end—there is no thwarting Divine Providence—but his ferocity is proportionate to the shortness of his time.[2] All this comes to mind as we enter the fair month of May, in many places the customary time of First Communions and Confirmations and Ordinations. It is not too dire to say that we enter an impoverished springtime.

All that is to speak of the Church’s Sacraments. But we are met with another disruption of traditional piety: May devotions in honor of the Mother of God. We can safely speculate that the enemy is pleased about this as well.

To some, this observation will seem trivial or perhaps even appalling, given the various hardships that many are undergoing. But no, indeed—to call attention to the stoppage of our May devotions is not to trivialize, but to relativize:

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.[3]

Catholics know by a sacred instinct that the opening days of spring ought to witness the spontaneous and public outpouring of veneration and gratitude toward the Virgin Mary, who the Church honors with innumerable titles. Dark days require a redoubling of our devotion.

There is a Mass formulary that honors Mary under the titles of Queen of All Saints and the Mother of Fair Love.[4] Most of the texts are taken from the Wisdom Literature, and rightly: the Immaculate Virgin is lady wisdom personified. Witness an excerpt from the epistle of the Mass:

I have stretched out my branches as the terebinth: and my branches are of honor and riches. . . . I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way and of the truth: in me is all hope of life and of virtue.[5]

The same Mass begins with a text of special note. The compiler of the Mass, acting under the liberty of the Holy Ghost,[6] appropriates and modifies a few verses from the Song of Songs:

Go forth, daughters of Sion, and see your Queen, whom the stars of morning praise: of whose beauty the sun and moon stand in wonder, and on account of whom the sons of God sing joyful songs.[7]

The biblical text does not reference a queen, but rather a king: that is, King Solomon. But the modification is entirely fitting; it is a song for the Queen of May.

Catholics must continue to go forth to see and to meet their Queen, and this no matter the circumstances. For the Queen Mother merits the praises of the cosmos. Our Mass introit tells us so.—Not only do the daughters of men give veneration to the great Queen, but even the most beautiful elements of creation: the stars, sun, and moon. This is indeed the truest motivation for our May devotions. The very freshness and beauty of the earth demand it.

Amidst our circumstances, it would not be out of place for Catholics to experience a disquieting desire for May devotions. For such a desire can inspire love. But what, then, is to be done? It would seem very little.—But in point of fact, it would be no small thing for us to speak our Ave Marias with greater fervor, as a way to compensate for the disruption of our customary Marian devotions. Far be it from us to give Satan the satisfaction of seeing the praises of the Queen of May fall into neglect.

Cujus pulchritudinem sol et luna mirantur. The movement of the earth around the sun that gives us our year and its seasons; the spin on its axis that brings us from night to day—such beautiful and ceaseless regularity! And yet the Hail Mary, too, never stops. It is probably no exaggeration to say that it is the most frequently repeated prayer on the planet. How could man not wish to add his voice, weak and halting though it be, to the unceasing murmur of prayer that is at every hour rising from earth to heaven? The globe is never without the echo of the names of Jesus and Mary. And it is the Hail Mary that makes it so.

From the greatest to the least of us, we each have our praises to give. Thus in the summer of 1916, in the very midst of the Great War, Raïssa Maritain could write of our Lady with all truth:

She is the calm lake of celestial Peace; the very pure mirror of the eternal Light; the white, sweet-scented rose on the breast of the benign Trinity.[8]

 


[1] Cf John 8, 44.

[2] Cf Apocalypse 12, 12.

[3] Ephesians 6, 12.

[4] This Mass exists in both the Missal of 1962 and in the reformed Missal of 1970.

[5] Ecclesiasticus 24, 22, 24-25.

[6] 2 Corinthians 3, 17. ‘Now the Lord is a Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.’

[7] Cf Song of Songs 3, 11. Egredimini & videte, filiæ Sion, Reginam vestram, quam laudant astra matutina: cujus pulchritudinem sol & luna mirantur & jubilant omnes filii Dei.

[8] The Journal of Raïssa Maritain, (Providence, Rhode Island: Cluny Media, 2020), p 18. Entry of July 2nd, 1916.

{Art Credit: detail, The Blessing of Wheat in Artois (c 1857), Jules Breton (1827-1906).}

 

 

 

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