Today I read a blog from a friend whose son dances in a troupe of Morris dancers. They danced yesterday for May Day in a commemoration of pagan May pole dances, which is held in a small town in Massachusetts every year. Small children come to the town common wearing flowers in their hair and dance with the ribbons tied to the May pole. It must be cute. But.
My May day was loaded in a Catholic liturgical sense. This year May 1 fell on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, plus it was Dominica in Albis, the day that newly baptized take off their white robes, plus it is Divine Mercy Sunday, a great feast of God's tender love for us, plus it was the day Pope John Paul II was beatified. (I started planning to go to Rome to be there, but my boss said there was too much work for me to take the time off.)
Liturgically it's the beginning of the month dedicated to the Virgin Mary. So there was a procession around the block with torches, and incense and lots of little boy acolytes in black cassocks and white albs and Canon Moreau in a biretta and a white and blue cope with an image of Mary on the back. They crowned two statues of Our Lady with flowers and sang songs, such as:
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
Bring flowers of the rarest
bring blossoms the fairest,
from garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
our full hearts are swelling,
our glad voices telling
the praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!
I remember and like the song from singing it at May processions at Notre Dame Academy in Roxbury, Mass., in my childhood. But there are those who think of it as one of the exemplary manifestations of sappy church music from before Vatican II. One holder of this opinion is my friend, Chris Garton-Zavesky, father of five boys, teacher, and composer, and member of my schola. Chris fumed about how it much it sounds like a carousel song, as we drank coffee in the break room after Mass. His oldest son, Nicholas, must have heard this tune from his father before (so to speak), since he was able to chime in with Chris' sing-song parody. Chris says that the song cries out for a new setting, one that would truly honor Our Mother in Heaven. I think Chris will be the one to do it too, in his copious spare time.One humorous note is that I overheard someone telling one of Chris's sons, one of the acolytes, that he had given the wrong cope to Fr. Moreau. It was the short one, made expressly for tiny 84 year old Fr. Otellello. But I hadn't noticed it looking odd at all, myself.
May processions and popularity contests. I remember the year my two blond, blue-eyed sisters and my blond, blue-eyed cousin the same age were picked to be in the May procession, while dark-haired somber me was not. It wouldn't have bothered me much except for my sister Martha's gloating. She had her blond goddess self-importance nailed, down to the mockery of those less exalted, even at six years of age. Ah, but I loved the procession anyway on that sunny spring day, as the chosen girls processed to the statue in their white First Communion dresses wearing flower crowns, and I sang my heart out to my heavenly mother with everyone else. It boggles my mind to realize now that those devout sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in their black and white habits within 15 years would have thrown away their habits, and would be doing liturgical dances wearing pants suits, and throwing bad pottery instead of teaching school. Ah, but that's another story.
And here is another one. Lilacs bloom in May in Massachusetts, so one time when my mother was coming to visit us at my aunt and uncle's house after years when I didn't see her, I made a May altar in the bedroom where she was going to sleep with me. On a card table decorated with lavender crepe paper, I put a plaster statue of Our Lady (I wish I had it now), and a vase of lilac and white lilacs from bushes in the back yard. As it turned out, when she came, she said it was very nice, but she was allergic to lilacs. So out they went.
Sometime about 15 years ago, it pained me to hear my cousins and uncle, in their unsentimental way, had ripped out the lilac bushes. To me, they were the glory of that old tar paper sided house in Hyde Park.
It's because I miss lilacs so much out here in California, where they only grow with a struggle. And the little bushes I do have bloomed early in April and the blossoms are now spent.