May is the month of Mary – 5 ways to honor her

Honoring Mary

The month of May has been set aside for honoring Mary for centuries in the Catholic Church. Many of us have fond memories of May crownings and hymns to Mary such as “On This Day, O Beautiful Mother” (my mom’s favorite.) This year is especially important, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Mary in Fatima, Portugal.

We must speak with great care about our devotion to Mary, as it is often misunderstood by other Christians. Catholics do not worship Mary (or anyone else besides God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.) We honor her as the Mother of Jesus – her “yes” to the angel Gabriel changed the world, and is a model for us of complete surrender to the will of God. Just as we may have a photo of our mother in our home, we Catholic put pictures and statues of Mary to remind us of her importance in God’s plan for our salvation. We also know that Mary, conceived without sin, sits very close to  her Son in Heaven, just as a queen sits next to the king. Those in Heaven are closer to God than we could ever be, here on earth (Eph. 2:5) and their intercessory prayers on our behalf can be powerful.

Honoring Mary in our Homes

May is a great time to begin new ways of honoring Mary in our homes. Here are a few ideas.

  1. There is an ancient tradition in the Church of creating Marian Gardens. Many of us have statues of Mary in our yards, but did you know that there are many beautiful plants that are symbolic to the life of Mary? For example, ferns are symbolic of Mary’s hair and pansies (with their three petals) are a reminder of the Trinity and sometimes referred to as “Our Lady’s Delight.” Their are many online sources for such gardens, and it is a fun way to include the entire family.
  2. Have a May crowning. Many parishes of course have a May crowning, but if you have a statue of Mary in your home or yard, have a May crowning. It doesn’t take much talent to create a small crown (I know this from experience!) with small flowers purchased from a craft store. If you have children, include them! Crown Mary, perhaps sing a Marian hymn or pray the Hail Mary of Regina Caeli together.
  3. Pray the Rosary. Many a good intention has has been made to pray the Rosary daily, only to be forgotten in our busy lives. Praying the Rosary is a most powerful prayer  (Give me an army saying the Rosary and I will conquer the world, said Blessed Pope Pius IX), and Mary herself (at Fatima) promised peace if we would only pray the Rosary daily with great devotion.  If you aren’t sure how to pray the Rosary, it is easy to learn. Again, involve your children if you have any. And if an entire Rosary is too much for some children (I know it was for a couple of mine!), pray a decade with them before bedtime, and then finish the Rosary on your own. If you have kids, make sure they have child-friendly Rosaries.
  4. St. John Paul II credited Mary with saving his life when he was shot in St. Peter’s Square. He had a great devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, and wrote a beautiful prayer to her. Perhaps your May devotion to Mary could be praying this daily. You can find it here; it begins with the words, “O Mother of all mean and women, and of all peoples, you who know all their sufferings and hopes…”)
  5. The University of Dayton is home to the International Marian Research Institute, a treasure of Marian art, prayers, research and dogma regarding Mary. There is a lot to explore here! Why not take some time during this month of May to learn a bit more about the Blessed Mother?

“Hail, Mary!”

We owe Mary so much! Christ came into the world, fully human and fully divine, because Mary said “yes” to God’s request. She is witness to all of Jesus’ life, from his conception to his Resurrection. Our devotion to Mary will always and only lead us to a fuller understanding of Christ, our Savior. Enjoy the month of May, as we pray the words of the angel Gabriel, “Hail Mary, full of grace!”


EH headshotElise Hilton is an author, blogger and speaker. Her role at Diocesan Publications is Editor & Writer with the Marketing Team. She has worked in parish faith formation and Catholic education for over 30 years. A passionate student of theology, Elise enjoys sharing her thoughts on parish communication, the role of social media in the Church, Franciscan spirituality and Catholic parenting. To enquire about booking her as a speaker, please contact her at


Icons: More Than Just Pretty Pictures

While iconography is more common in the Eastern rite churches, icons have gained popularity in the West in recent years. It would be wrong to assume that icons are just pretty pictures of holy people; this type of art has a unique intensity to it.

Icons (icon is Greek for image) are two-dimensional art pieces. That gives them their “flat” look, rather than a three-dimensional piece where an artist gives a sense of depth to the piece. The University of Dayton website explains:

[I]cons are not just decoration, but a visual aid for worship and part of the liturgy. Rather than personal works of art that seek to express an individual artist’s view, the icon expresses the historical church, its traditions, and Scripture. They are made and used in an atmosphere of prayer, bringing the people of God into an encounter with his presence. The artist is not so concerned about exterior resemblance to the subject, as to capturing the essence and spirit of the person or event portrayed. Strict rules of subject and technique secure a timeless and universal quality of the icon which expresses the mystery of the divine. Since authenticity is essential in an icon, there are a few classic forms which are repeated, and yet one cannot claim that icons are only copies. They seek to express the one and only revelation of God, inviting the viewer to adapt to God’s manifestation of beauty rather than a human interpretation of it. The process of development is not how to be different, but how to be better.

This explains why icons tend to have a similar “look,” despite who has created them. The creation of an icon is a form of prayer, and icons are meant to draw the viewer into a deeper understanding of the subject. We Catholics would say icons are similar to sacramentals. Iconographer Kristina Sadley talks about the language of icons.

Those who are versed in icon reading are able to decipher spiritual and biblical messages, even in the smallest details of the work.

For example, in icons of Jesus, his halo contains horizontal and vertical lines. These represent the sacrifice Christians believe that Christ made on the cross. Similarly, floral patterns in a halo represent the garden of paradise and would typically be found in halos of angels or saints.

Unlike other religious artwork, icons are created on wood and blessed with special oil.

Sadley said that the ancient process she follows for icon writing has twenty-two steps and requires her to pray and fast. ‘You pray to hear God’s word and put that image out in the world,’ she said.

Jenny Ward, another iconographer, says that icons (unlike most other art forms) are not meant to draw attention to the artist’s skills and talents, but to present a heavenly image that one can meditate upon.

Iconology is a meditative process,” she added. ‘Each layer has such dimension to it that it takes you to that spiritual depth. It’s a prayerful process. Icons become a witness to our faith, and I think our world needs more of that.’

While icons may still be a bit foreign to many Catholics, they can play an important role in one’s prayer life. This “visual theology” gives us yet another way to grow in faith, hope and love.