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The Muslim Mary. (Odds & Ends).

Among the myriad feasts and festivals of Mary, the annual May crowning ranks high. Many a Catholic sang "O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May," as one of the eighth grade girls solemnly crowned the statue of Mary in the parish church.

I remember one year when Mary was crowned three times in the same ceremony at St. Cajetan Church on the southwest side of Chicago. The garland of flowers fell off Mary's head a first and a second time, finally staying put after the third try. I'm not sure if the crowning of Mary was ever an indulgenced activity, but if so, this event certainly racked up grace like a triple word score in the game of Scrabble.

The church's oldest tradition of a Mary Month was the tricesimum (30 days), originally celebrated from August 15 to September 14. But, like so many other customs in Catholicism, it eventually migrated to a time already rife with pagan celebration and significance. The Greeks had dedicated the month of May to Artemis, a goddess of fecundity; the Romans to Flora, a goddess of bloom and blossoms. By the 17th century the church had a special rite for the coronation of Jesus, Mary, and the saints, and in the 19th century the church approved a rite specifically for Marian coronations.

During the Marian Year 1954, Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam, encouraged the practice of May crownings and proclaimed the last day of May as the Feast of the Queenship of Mary. Thirty-three years later the Congregation for Divine Worship outlined three rituals for the crowning of Mary: one within Mass, another within evening prayer, and a third within a celebration of the Word of God.

Unknown to most Catholics who can sing many Marian hymns from memory is the place of the mother of Jesus in Islam. Mary is the only woman specifically mentioned by name in the Qur'an, and she is mentioned about 30 times in the 114 suras (chapters) that comprise this sacred book of Islam. The 19th sura is named for Mary. A particularly striking passage from sura 19, verses 16-34, relates Mary's questioning, acceptance, and significance of her unique motherhood.

Because after September 11 we now live in a different world, I think it would be wonderful to include some praise to Mary from the Qur'an in this year's May crownings. Why not read sura 19 as part of the celebration? We could invite a Muslim to chant the sura in its original language of Arabic. Let's invite our Muslim sisters and brothers from neighboring mosques to our May crowning. Some parishes might ask a Muslim woman to crown Mary.

For generations we Catholics have brought fair and rare flowers to Mary's crowning. Now it is time to bring more than garlands to Mary's month. Let's reach across centuries of misunderstanding and ignorance, and bring the sacred words of the Qur'an into a celebration of common ground for two of the great spiritual traditions of humanity.

PETER GILMOUR ( teaches at the Institute of Pastoral Studies of Loyola University Chicago.
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Title Annotation:May Crowning of Mary celebration
Author:Gilmour, Peter
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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