“Tis the Month of Our Mother:” Celebrating Mary & Our Mothers

“’Tis the Month of Our Mother” is an older Catholic hymn sung often at this time of year when the Catholic Church traditionally has honored Mary during the month of May. The first lines of the song are:

’Tis the month of our Mother,
The blessed and beautiful days,
When our lips and our spirits,
are glowing with love and with praise.

Refrain:
All Hail! to thee, dear Mary,
the guardian of our way;
To the fairest of Queens,
Be the fairest of seasons, sweet May.

In the refrain, Mary’s “Queenship” in the third line refers to our Catholic Church belief that, when she died, like Jesus, she was assumed body and soul into heaven. Conceived without original sin and the mother of Jesus, she was honored by God by her assumption. Catholics have given her the title of “Queen of Heaven,” a title taken from ancient sky goddesses in the Mediterranean and Near East.

Tomorrow, Archmere celebrates the Ascension into Heaven of Jesus, her Son. Thursday, May 9, is the traditional date, though some dioceses, including Wilmington, have moved the observance to Sunday, May 12, which also happens to be Mother’s Day.

When I attended my Catholic parish grade school from first through eighth grade, I looked forward to participating in the parish May Procession each year. We would sing Marian songs and prayers, and then crown the statue of the Blessed Mother in Church. It was a big event, and as students, we would practice the songs as part of religion class for weeks in advance.

The second grade First Communion Class, dressed in white, led the long procession of students. Two or three of them were selected to be in the May Court of students. These students actually placed the crown of flowers on the statue of Mary.

The procession of students in the school uniform of blue and white, led by altar servers with candles, incense, and processional cross, walked around the block in reverent silence, two-by-two, shortest to tallest, from the school building to the Church. Parents, aunts, uncles, and friends lined the sidewalks to watch the procession pass, then quickly moved into the church through the side doors to watch as the procession entered the Church down the main aisle.

The organ swelled with the strains of the opening hymn to Mary, and the assembly sang robustly the first of several Marian songs throughout the prayer service. When the appropriate time came for the May Crowning ceremony, the eighth grade girls, each carrying one long white gladiola, lined the Church’s center aisle. With their flowers, they formed a series of arches, under which the children from the second grade May Court would pass as they made their way to the altar of Mary adorned with flowers and ferns.

After the event, which ended with Benediction, there were the obligatory family pictures on the Church lawn with family members before heading home. But the May celebrations of Mary did not end. Each school day in May, we were invited to bring flowers from home to place before the May altar that would be set up in our school classroom with a statue of Mary. I remember bringing in azalea clippings, lilacs, and bouquets of a flowering white shrub called, spiraea alpine spring flower, wrapped in aluminum foil. We would recite the Memorare or a decade of the Rosary as part of our daily prayers in May.

Of course, it was easy for me as a child to make the connection between Mother’s Day and the devotions to Mary, our Blessed Mother. My brothers and I revered my mother and appreciated all that she did for us and for our extended family. She, in turn, had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother, and would always encourage us to turn to Mary in prayer.

I just read an article in the May 7 edition of The News Journal, entitled “Mothers never really become obsolete,” written by Momspeak Columnist Tracy Grant of The Washington Post. In the article, Grant claims that a mother’s goal is to teach her children life skills so that they can become independent. She comments, however, how hard it is sometimes to “let go” of special moments. Her sons are now 17, and she writes:

And I know, too, that even while I lament their growing independence, this is life as it should be. I’ve decided I’m going to stop looking in their rooms to see unmade beds and feel frustrated. Soon enough, the beds will be made and will stay made for weeks or months.

But Grant concludes the article referencing a text message from her son that ends with “Love you Mom.” She writes, “The feeling that clutches at my chest as I read those words will never become obsolete.”

Grant and I agree that “recognizing a mom’s efforts is not just one Sunday in May; it’s 365 days of the year.” Celebrating motherhood and all that our mothers do for our families seems to be a natural and universal reaction. It is appropriate then, that we recognize the work of our Mothers’ Guild, joined by our Fathers’ Club volunteers this year, on May 15 at a gathering in The Patio.

assumption_murillo

Assumption of The Virgin
Bartolome Esteban Murillo

The very first Mothers’ Guild in 1932 presented to Archmere a reproduction of the 1670 painting, “The Assumption of the Virgin.” Painted by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, it is a symbol of the Norbertine’s devotion to Mary. The painting hangs in the Music Room of The Patio, which served as the school’s first chapel from 1932 until 1970. Since the founding of the Norbertine Community in 1120, many abbeys, priories, and houses dedicated themselves to Mary, each carrying one of her many titles.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, is one of nearly 50 titles found in the Litany of Loreto, a prayer of the Church to the Blessed Mother that dates back to the Middle Ages. It is a title most fitting for this month when we use a crown of flowers and not a queenly crown of gold and precious stones to show our devotion to Mary. In keeping with the Norbertine tradition, it is a title most special to Archmere, exemplified in Murillo’s painting.

As Grant points out, celebrating mothers and motherhood is not just a one-day event. With Mary as a perfect example of all that a mother sacrifices, endures, enjoys, and loves, we are especially grateful for our mothers during this special month of May, but we also know how much we appreciate and love them every day.

For those of us whose mothers are no longer with us, we pray for them and ask them to pray for us. For those of us who may not have known a mother, we pray in gratitude for those who may have taken up the formative tasks of motherhood, acknowledging that we love them just as a child loves his or her mother.

In closing, I share with you the Marian antiphon Regina caeli laetare. The “Queen of Heaven” hymn is recited during the last hour of the Liturgy of the Hours as part of Night Prayer:

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom thou didst merit to bear in your womb, alleluia.
Has risen, as He promised, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Junior Class Ring Mass

Tonight, Archmere Academy’s Junior Class received their class rings. Over the next 13 months, these rising seniors will make decisions that lead them to the next chapter of their lives. With the support of their families and the strong foundation of an Archmere education, I am confident their successes will exceed the desks and chairs of the classroom.

Earlier this evening, I spoke briefly about the significance of the Ring Mass and the class ring, which remind us of this foundation.


Members of the Junior Class,

As we conclude this momentous event – the Junior Class Ring Mass, when your rings are blessed and distributed among you – I think about family sayings.

You know these sayings, the one’s your parents may often talk about. They usually start with, “My mother always used to say to me…” or, “Your grandfather always said…” Often times these parental remarks are made during the holidays or on special occasions, especially when the person who used to say them is no longer with us to celebrate.

Well, this evening the Archmere family is offering you another saying that will be forever added to your personal history – Pietate et Scientia. Translated, it means “Reverence and Wisdom.” Archmere’s motto was selected by Abbot Crets of Averbode Abbey in Belgium during the early part of the 20th century.

junior class ring mass

Class Rings of the Class of 1976

Abbot Crets selected this motto to be included in his coat of arms when he was elected Abbot General of the international Norbertine community. During Abbot Crets time as Abbot General, Archmere Academy was founded. Very much like family sayings that are adopted by each successive generation in our own families, Archmere adopted Abbot Crets’ motto, including it on all of the graduates’ rings.

On the other side of the Archmere ring is another Latin motto – Ad omne opus bonum paratus. Translated, it means “Prepared for every good work.” This is a quote taken from the second letter of Saint Paul to Timothy, 2:21.

Used by the international Norbertine community as a “call to arms,” this quote is incorporated into the last phrase of Archmere’s mission statement:

Inspired by its heritage, Archmere cultivates empathetic leaders – young men and women prepared for every good work.

As classmates of the Class of 2014, you are connected to each other. You are connected to all Archmere alumni. But in addition to this Archmere family, you are also connected to the 2,000 years of faith and heritage of the international Norbertine community, its schools and apostolates around the world.

In graduating, you are, in the words of Saint Paul, “prepared for every good work.” Welcome to the Archmere “workforce” in the world.

Congratulations!

Finding Common Ground

I hope that all of our Archmere families enjoyed time together over the Christmas holidays. It is a wonderful time to reconnect with family and friends that we do not see as often as we would like.

My wife and I enjoy gathering the family together in our home to make sure that we stay in touch. But with a large Italian family, we need to limit gatherings to our brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, great nieces, great nephews, and first cousins, and we need to break the group into different gatherings over the holidays to be able to enjoy visiting with everyone.

At each gathering, conversation always seems to include our “family tree,” and relatives who have passed away. Whether it is sparked by a question from a niece or nephew about someone they know who claims to be a relative, or a request from a cousin for my mother’s Christmas/wedding/anniversary or other special occasion cookie recipes, or a comment about how much a great niece or nephew shares family resemblances with older relatives, a part of our conversation always seems to be about finding “common ground” that links us and holds us together.

This has become more apparent since my wife and I began these get-togethers, as our parents and the relatives of their generation have passed away (with the exception of one lovely aunt, who, approaching 88, is delightful company, but cannot remember today’s visit tomorrow.) In addition, our conversations this year included reports and updates on some serious health challenges of relatives in my generation.

In these instances, it seems that we find hope and strength in talking about how our parents and their generation managed through these difficulties with determination, grace, and a strong faith. Their lives, complete with failings and triumphs, continue to be role models for us, and it seems that those of us who are parents or grandparents only wish that our children and grandchildren live with the same values and perspective. But I heard a thread of anxiety in my cousins’ conversations about being sure that their grandchildren “find their way” in a world that is changing at a fast pace and that seems less and less to embrace common values and morals.


Over the Christmas break, I read, “The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development,” by Dr. Richard Weissbourd. Dr. Weissbourd was one of the faculty members at the Independent Schools Institute that I attended at Harvard last October.
finding common ground
His book is based on his research in the field of child and adolescent development. As a psychologist and a parent, he draws on his research and personal experiences to frame moral and values-based issues as described by young people today.

He states in Chapter 6, entitled, “The Real Moral Power of Schools,” that:

“The American public schools were conceived not solely as an engine of academic success. They were intended chiefly to cultivate in children a certain ideal of character. . . . Today the expectation that schools will cultivate character is again widespread and deep. The American public, deeply concerned about the failure of children to absorb key values from their parents, sees schools as the next best hope. Polls show that about 70 percent of public school parents want schools to teach ‘strict standards of right and wrong,’ and 85 percent want schools to teach values.” (p. 116)

As I read Dr. Weissbourd’s book, I realized how fortunate I am to have had the support and guidance of a large, close-knit family, still felt today when we gather, even if only once a year. I am doubly fortunate because that same sense of connectedness was present at Archmere when I attended as a student, and is still, I believe, very present today. I believe that our school community supports the values that we, as parents, want for our children.

The most recently adopted strategic plan is shaped around a revised, carefully crafted mission statement, that captures the rich Catholic, Norbertine traditions of community and prayer, combined with the ambitious demand for high academic standards.

We use words like “community,” “respect,” “zeal,” “reverence,” and “wisdom” to describe ourselves. But it is not the words that teach. As Weissbound concludes, it is the actions of mentors –parents, teachers, coaches – which animate the words that shape the minds of our students and the next generation of adults.

Weissbourd, in his concluding remarks about developing moral communities, believes that our American culture needs to address three challenges: expect more of America’s fathers, create stronger ties among parents, and give each other (as parents) feedback.

Of course, just like my own family, our school community is diverse in thought – some being more conservative and some more liberal. There is always room for conversation, evaluation, and learning from one another. The important point is to continue to arrive at “common ground” and to present cohesive and consistent models of action for our children.

Easier said than done.

Even Weissbourd discusses how he teaches one concept in class with his students and then “falls into the trap” of making opposite, usually emotionally charged decisions with his own children. As a parent, I know that I am constantly “replaying the tapes of the day” of the interactions with my children, and discussing them with my wife.

As we begin this New Year, my hope and prayer is that each day we work together to provide a positive formative experience for our students. While there will be challenges and setbacks for all of us at times, together, we can learn from them and celebrate our successes.

May you and your family be blessed in this New Year with the things that matter – good health and the support and collective wisdom of family and friends.