Weekly Reflection – Now is the Month of Maying

03 May 2024

Each year during my time as an undergraduate, and for many of the years I spent as a graduate student, I set my alarm early on 1st May so that I would wake up in time to go down to Magdalen Bridge to hear the Choir of Magdalen College singing from the tower to welcome in the month of May. Unfortunately, I have to admit, each time I failed at this enterprise – it was just a little early and cold for me, when compared to the warm bed in which I was sleeping! However, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, May morning in Oxford has for many years been broadcast online, so if you want to hear the Choir greet the May, then all you need to do now is to go onto social media.

The themes which underlie this quirky tradition come out in the Hymnus Eucharisticus which opens proceedings, and the prayer which follows. They are all about praising God for the birth of a new day, especially at this time of year, when the weather becomes warmer, the blossom fills the trees, and nature seems to well and truly awaken from its winter sleep. The prayer evokes the idea that the re-birth of nature is a sign within the natural world of the supernatural resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on the first Easter morning, and is based on the idea that the world itself echoes the truth of the divine life. It also draws a comparison to Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, and her fruitfulness in bearing the Son of God in her immaculate body. Both of these allusions are appropriate, the first because we are still making our way through the Easter season, when each week, for 50 days, we celebrate Christ’s conquering of sin and death and hell for ever, the second because 1st May is the start of a month traditionally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin – as we like to call it, ‘Mary’s Month of May’.

Whilst restrained in many ways, the Prayer Book is very pro-Mary, perpetuating her importance in salvation history through the inclusion of her major feasts. We see this reflected too in the Anglican divines. Bishops, theologians, poets, spent time thinking about Mary, considering what her role was, and how essential she was to the process of salvation. They understood that without the consent of the humble virgin of Nazareth, salvation could simply not have been wrought in the way it was.

There are many other traditions associated with May, including the crowning the May Queen, which is another Marian-inspired tradition which had made its way into folk practice as we remember Mary as Queen of Heaven (an image from the book of Revelation). And just the other side of Horbury, there is a famous May pole in Gawthorpe. We had one in my village as a child, and I remember dancing round it with other children at my school – it was great fun! I’m not sure there is any religious background to this – readers of this article might know better – though its fits in perfectly to the celebration of new life which all these traditions have in common.

The Choir of Magdalen College, after they have sung the Hymnus Eucharisticus, sing a little madrigal ‘Now is the month of Maying, when merry lads are playing’. It is a delightful song, in lyric and tune, and really does convey the joys which May brings. This week, as we enter this new month, when the world is indeed awaking from its winter slumber, let’s capture some of the joy which that gives us, and let it teach us about the incarnation of divine Son of God as one of us through his mother the Virgin Mary, and the resurrection from the depths of the earth of the Creator of the universe.

Father Christopher

Keep up to date

Be the first to know about the latest news and events.

Wakefield Cathedral

Cathedral Centre
8-10 Westmorland St
View on Map

01924 373923