The warmth of springtime brings bursts of color across the landscape. Trees bud, flowers bloom, and gardens begin to grow. All this beauty naturally points us to God. As a matter of fact, when we read about the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we find that the indigenous people Our Lady was sent to evangelize believed—even before they learned about Christianity—that the gods communicated by way of flor y canto: flowers and song. The month of May, traditionally dedicated to Mary, is a perfect time to utilize the beauty of the natural world to honor the Queen of Heaven, who can point us to Jesus in the Eucharist.
Many symbols remind us of the Blessed Virgin Mary, like stars, rosaries, crowns, and her Immaculate Heart. These Marian symbols can be found in art, church décor, sacramentals, holy cards, and more from across the centuries. Each tells us a little about the Blessed Virgin Mary and her role in salvation history. The symbols also show us the connection between Mary and Jesus. As the Mother of God, everything she does leads us to know, love, and follow her Son.
In his letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope Saint John Paul II invited the whole Church to contemplate the face of Christ in the school of Mary. We can learn from Mary how to draw close to Jesus. In a particular way, she helps us deepen our Eucharistic faith. “To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize him wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of his body and his blood. The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by him she is fed and by him she is enlightened. The Eucharist is both a mystery of faith and a ‘mystery of light’.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 6). It is Mary, the woman of faith who first bore Jesus in her womb, that points us most marvelously to Jesus in the Eucharist. This is why we refer to Our Lady as Mother of the Blessed Sacrament.
A common Marian symbol is flowers. We often think specifically of roses in association with Our Lady, but there are actually hundreds of flowers with Marian names and meanings.
In the Middle Ages, flowers were given religious names as a little way to sanctify, or make holy, an everyday object. These names came from traditions associated with the plant or symbolism that could be matched to its shape, color, or use. The titles highlighted things like events from the life of Jesus or virtues of Mary and the saints. When intentionally grown together, these flowers are called a Mary Garden. While most of these names have fallen out of popular use, we can bring back the Mary Garden names as a way to celebrate our faith and honor the role of Mary as the Mother of our Savior.
Here are some common flowers and their Marian titles:
• Daffodil: Mary’s Star
• Iris: Sword of Sorrow
• Lavender: Mary’s Drying Plant
• Lily of the Valley: Mary’s Tears
• Morning Glory: Our Lady’s Mantle
• Sunflower: Mary’s Gold
• Tulip: Mary’s Prayer
• Zinnia: The Virgin
Just as everything about Mary points us to Christ, even Mary Gardens can help us to call to mind the gift of the Eucharist while enjoying the beauty of nature. There are several flowers with traditional names connected to Jesus’ Passion and the Blessed Sacrament:
• Fuchsia: Christ’s Blood Drops
• Oriental Poppy: The Crucifixion Flower
• Passion Flower: The Five Wounds of Christ
• St. John’s Wort: Christ’s Sweat
• Lunaria Honesty Plant: connected with the Eucharist because of its similar shape to Communion hosts
• Eucharist Lily: named for its radiant white color and sweet fragrance
• Basil: Holy Communion Plant, called such because it was used to decorate Communion rails
Knowing the Christian name for these flowers can create small catechetical opportunities. In your garden or landscaping at home, consider growing a few plants with Eucharistic and Marian names. Teach them to your children or grandchildren, pointing out the meaning behind the title. If choosing flowers for a First Communion or Confirmation party this spring, or even deciding on the bouquets that will decorate the altar for Holy Mass, use flowers with layers of symbolism pointing to Jesus and Mary. We can enrich our worship by filling our homes and churches with beauty, which teaches us the truths of our faith.
Children commonly pick little flowers and sweetly offer them to their mom as an act of love. In the same way, we can gather flowers—whether from our garden, the florist, or the grocery store—and bring a bouquet to our heavenly Mother to show our love and ask for her prayers, all the while letting her gently lead us closer to Jesus. During May, many parishes and schools will host a May Crowning to honor Mary. Singing songs, presenting flowers, and crowning a statue or image of the Blessed Mother brings the community together to celebrate and pray. Families can replicate this devotion at home, creating their own shrine with a Mary statue in their home or yard. A May crowning doesn’t have to be fancy in order to have an impact on children—even a fistful of dandelions and a simple, heartfelt prayer can show our Lord the gratitude we have that he shares his Mother with us.
• Create your own family Marian Shrine. Use a Mary statue or make a paper version using the included craft, which features an image of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Decorate the shrine with flowers (real, artificial, or drawn by the children) and candles (real or battery-operated). [English | Spanish]
• Have a simple May Crowning together as a family. Make a crown for a Mary statue in your home or yard from flowers. Sing a Marian song (like “Immaculate Mary,” “Hail Holy Queen,” or “Flowers of the Rarest”) and say a prayer together (like the Hail Mary or Hail Holy Queen) as you place the crown on Mary.
• Research a few flowers with Marian or Eucharistic names like those included in this article. See which grow well in your area and plant a few. As you plant and care for them, think of how much care God gives to creation. When they bloom, enjoy the beauty that they bring to the world and think about the symbolism carried by their name.
• Learn about Marian symbols so that you and your children recognize hints of Mary in church art and architecture. Think about how Marian symbols point to what we believe to be true about Jesus. Use the included activity sheet to read about some symbols of Mary and make a Marian monogram. [English | Spanish]
• Did you know that flowers could have so many meanings? Would you like to research more Christian names for flowers? Should our family try to grow our own little Mary Garden?
• What is one of your favorite stories about Mary from the Bible? What are some ways that Mary leads us to Jesus?
• Have you ever been to a May Crowning at your church or school? If not, would you like to try to attend or host one this month?
• Have you ever noticed that there are almost always flowers decorating the sanctuary of our church? What do you think are some reasons why we would add that beauty around the altar? How might it help us to show our love for Jesus in the Eucharist?
• Do you have a favorite Mary statue or picture in our home? How do you think having images of Mary helps us honor her? How do these images help us think about Jesus?
• May is a month to honor all of the women who care for and love you. How can you pray for your mom, grandmas, aunts, and godmother this month?
• Through the Year with Mary: Ponder and Pray Together with Children by Katherine Bogner from Emmaus Road Publishing includes chapters on both Mary Gardens and May Crownings, as well as a wealth of information on how everything we believe about Mary leads us closer to her Son, Jesus.
• A Garden for Mary by Neena Gaynor from TAN Books is a sweet picture book that explains our devotion to the Mother of God using a short lyrical story about growing a garden.
• Plan a May Crowning for your family with this printable booklet from Catholic All Year, complete with prayers, hymns, and Bible readings.
• To learn more about the history of Mary Gardens, Mary’s Flowers: Gardens, Legends & Meditations by Vincenzina Krymow from Saint Anthony Messenger Press or A Garden Catechism: 100 Plants in Christian Tradition and How to Grow Them by Margaret Rose Realy from Our Sunday Visitor are full of both legends and traditions as well as practical information about growing these flowers, plants, and herbs. You can also check out the collection of research on Mary Gardens in the University of Dayton archives.
• If you’d like to add a year-round reminder of the Christian symbolism of flowers to your home, Rose Harrington Art has beautiful prints of botanical watercolor artwork, like this poster with a flower for each Mystery of the Rosary.