By Karen Early
For Today’s Catholic
From time to time it is worthwhile to revisit traditions. Sometimes, traditions merit being discarded. Other times, by remembering the past, there is a renewal of appreciation of traditions. One such tradition is laying flowers at the shrine of Mary.
Flowers used in ritual traditions stem from the ancient Greeks. Instead of floral bouquets, the recipient would receive a garland. Olympic athletes would wear a wreath of olive branches. So too, the bride and groom would wear garlands fashioned from flowers and plants wreathed together which symbolized new life, hope and fertility. As Hellenization spread, the practice of flowers at weddings was adopted by the Romans and through them Europe adopted the custom. Flowers and weddings have a very ancient bond.
Crowning of sacred images is also an ancient practice. In the Eastern Churches it became common practice to adorn icons with crowns, which had been blessed prior to affixing. As Mary is Queen Mother of the Lord, she was adorned with a crown as well. Throughout the history of sacred art one sees both the Lord and the Blessed Mother adorned with crowns highlighting their royal prerogatives.
The combination of crowning with flowers and our Lady naturally followed from both sources: those of ancient European roots and a deepening understanding of Mary’s role in salvation history. “May Crownings” are still part of some locale’s customs of honoring our Lady during the month of May. The connection of flowers and Mary in weddings is now clear to see. Flowers, a symbol of beauty, life, and hope are tied to our Lady, who also brings us beauty, life, and hope in her Son.
As the bride embarks on her new life as wife and mother, it seemed fitting to have a brief moment of prayer to our Lady along with a gift of flowers. This optional token gesture was always done outside of the liturgy. Either before the entrance processional or as the couple is exiting the sanctuary. The placement of this tradition is instructive. It is not to intrude on the sacred liturgy but rather shows a deferential reminder to its relegated status.
It should be noted that there exist some couples with a disoriented notion of this ritual. This is an appropriate time of catechesis on the relation of Mary to Christ and her subsidiary role in salvation. Rare will be the moment for such a prescient dialogue in the future for most Catholic couples. The relationship with the priest and proximity to a ceremony that is dear to their hearts makes the moment particularly relevant.
Our current pontiff Pope Francis has a heart-felt tenderness to our Lady. In every church Pope Francis visits, he pays a tribute to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Alicia von Stamwitz in conjunction with Pope Francis recently wrote a book explaining his affection and encouraging the laity in their hope Mother Mary: Inspiring Words from Pope Francis. Our current pope sees our Lady and flowers as belonging together within a sacred atmosphere.
A recent conversation with a new convert and young bride brought these points into relief. The bride explained how the priest that married them asked, “why or how do you understand this” while preparing her and her husband for marriage. He took his role as catechist very seriously. Part of the conversation revolved around the gesture of placing flowers at the statue of Mary. The bride explained, that she picked various flowers representative of those women in her life that had exhibited characteristics of Mary. Her gratitude for the maternal love those women showed to her, was expressed in her love of Mary and the Catholic Church. This bride and her bouquet given to the Blessed Mother was a Tridium of beauty. Brides, bouquets and the Blessed Mother is a tradition worth reflecting on from time to time so as to appreciate its heritage appropriately.
Karen Early has been married for 36 years, is a mother of seven, grandmother of seven, is a master of theology candidate with the Augustine Institute, and is a parishioner of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles Church.