May is the month traditionally dedicated to Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are five months dedicated to some aspect of Our Lady: August to her Immaculate Heart, September to her Seven Sorrows, October to her Holy Rosary and December to her Immaculate Conception. May, however, is dedicated to her personally. It would be easy to simply say that this is because when you add an r to the name of the month, you get the name of Mary but that only works in English.
Interestingly, in ancient Rome, the month was called Maius, after the obscure Roman goddess Maia, better known as Bona Dea (the “Good Goddess”), whose festival was held on the Kalends (first day) of the month and was associated with the normally opposed concepts of fertility and chastity. Of course, these two principles are joined in Our Lady, the Virgin Mother of God. Although replacing a pagan feast or deity with a similar Catholic counterpart was a relatively common occurrence once Christianity became the dominant religion, it should be pointed out that the month of May includes two feasts of Our Lady, although they are of recent origin.
Our Lady of Fatima
The first is the memorial of Our Lady of Fatima on May 13, which commemorates the first of her six apparitions to the shepherd children Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto and their cousin Lucia de los Santos in 1917. On the exact same day, Eugenio Pacelli, who would go on to lead the Church through World War II as Pope Pius XII, was consecrated a bishop by the predecessor of his predecessor Pope Benedict XV. Furthermore, in 1967, Pope St. Paul VI made a pilgrimage to Fatima, where he prayed before the image of Our Lady alongside Sr. Lucia on the 50th anniversary of the first apparition. Most famously, Pope St. John Paul II was shot and seriously injured in an assassination attempt on May 13, 1981 and ascribed his subsequent survival to Our Lady’s intercession. Five years later, at Fatima, the Pope left the bullet with which he had been shot in the crown of Our Lady and renewed the consecration of Ven. Pope Pius XII to the Immaculate Heart. Thirty years later, on the centenary of the first apparition, Pope Francis canonized Sts. Francisco and Jacinto Marto at Fatima.
The first person to use the title Help of Christians for Our Lady was St. John Chrysostom in A.D. 325 and it is in the Litany of Loreto, which was published around 1576 and approved by Pope Clement VIII in 1601. The feast was instituted in 1815 by Pope Pius VII, who had been in conflict with Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France, for most of his pontificate. Napoleon had arrested the Pope in 1808 and Pius had been a prisoner until Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in 1814. The Bishop of Rome had triumphantly returned to his diocese and entered Rome on May 24. The Pope was forced to leave Rome again only 10 months later, but returned after Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo. In gratitude, on September 15, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Pius VII instituted the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians.
St. John Bosco had a strong devotion to Our Lady under this title. He built the Basilica of Our Lady, Help of Christians in Turin, Italy, which was consecrated in 1868. He died and was buried there twenty years later in 1888. In 1905, Pope Leo XIII granted a canonical coronation to the image of Our Lady that is now enshrined in the Basilica. Other images of Our Lady, Help of Christians located in China, Poland and the Philippines were granted canonical coronations by Ven. Pope Pius XII in 1946, Pope St. John Paul II in 1994 and Pope Francis in 2018, respectively. In the same year that he granted the coronation to the image of Our Lady in China, Ven. Pope Pius XII granted a canonical coronation to the image of Our Lady of Fatima.
St. John Bosco, ora pro nobis!
Sts. Francisco and Jacinta, orate pro nobis!
Pope Sts. John Paul II and Paul VI, orate pro nobis!
Our Lady of Fatima and Sheshan, Help of Christians, ora pro nobis!