This Easter, I was in Seville for the Semana Santa celebrations. This is where thousands of people line the streets to watch processions of depictions of the Gospel called pasos. These pasos are large carved wooden sculptures atop a moveable float of wood.
Many of the pasos are dedicated to beautiful statues of our Lady surrounded by hundreds of candles and fresh flowers. These pasos are led by hundreds of ‘nazarenos’ dressed for the occasion and accompanied by music from a brass band. The pasos are carried underneath by a team of men who carry the paso on their shoulders and necks. This is no easy task, most weigh over a metric tonne and are carried by between 25 and 54 people.
The streets are lined with people in awe of this witness to our Faith. As I stood with many others watching the first Marian paso it suddenly stopped in front of me; I and many more blessed themselves. I became emotional thinking of what a great mother Mary is to us all and what a true role model she is for young women today.
I felt blessed to know her and to really appreciate what I was witnessing.
In Ireland the devotion to Mary is particularly strong. Many would credit the apparition at Knock to the great devotion the Irish people had to Mary prior to its occurrence, which began in Ireland in the 8th Century.
In Knock in 1879 Our Lady appeared in an apparition lasting for several hours, witnessed by 15 people. The Blessed Virgin, St Joseph, St John the Evangelist and an altar with a lamb surrounded by angels appeared and hundreds of cures and miracles were credited to Our Lady after the apparition.
Traditionally May is the month for many Marian devotions around the world. A flourishing of Marian devotions began around the time of the crusades when Christianity was threatened. It was in 1965 that Pope Paul VI identified May as a good time to incorporate special prayers for peace.
In many countries on May 31 a recitation of the rosary is often followed by a solemn public procession with a statue or a portrait of the Virgin Mary as it is carried back to the church. One lovely family tradition in some countries is to create a May altar consisting of a table with a Marian picture or statue surrounded by flowers.
The purpose of the altar is a place where each day the family would say the rosary together. How beautiful it is for a family to pray together, in a union of their hearts, connecting them to one another and Our Lady.
Flowers feature in many May traditions. The practice of honouring Mary with flowers began in monasteries and convents in medieval Europe. People were reminded of Mary through the flowers.
The first reference to a garden dedicated to Mary is from the life of St Fiacre, the Irish Patron Saint of gardening. He planted and cared for a garden around the oratory to Our Lady. This is where he built his famous hospice for the poor and the sick in France during the 7th Century.
In Eastern churches additional ornaments are added to the statue of Mary during May including a crown to symbolise her importance to the Church. Processions take place in order to mark the occasion of Mary being crowned, where people reflect on Mary’s role in the history of salvation.
In the Philippines Mary is greeted with the Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May); coloured flowers are collected to decorate the parish church alters and aisles. In the afternoons communities congregate together to pray the rosary and share homemade snacks.
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