Dear Catholic Exchange:
May and October have been named “Marian” months. When did the Church decide to set aside these two months as the months of Mary? What councils or popes established them as such?
Thank you and God bless.
Dear Mr. Guenette,
Greetings in Christ. Honoring Mary during the month of May has early roots. According to Catholic Encyclopedia, “In some manuscripts of the “Transitus Mariae,” which dates from the late fifth century, three annual Marian feasts are noted, including one on “the 15th day of Iyar, corresponding more or less to May. . . . Still later in date (seventeenth century at earliest) is the adoption of the custom of consecrating the month of May to the Blessed Virgin by special observances.”
Pope Pius XII further solidified May as a particularly Marian month when he instituted the feast of the Queenship of Mary (May 31) as part of the Marian Year he proclaimed in 1945 (1). May 31 is now the feast of the Visitation of Mary. The Queenship of Mary has been moved to August 22. In addition, in the Church’s Enchiridion of Indulgences, there used to be special mention of indulgences for May Marian devotions. In the new Enchiridion, there is specific enumeration of general norms for Marian prayers that make a plenary indulgence obtainable not just in May, but any time of the year. The month of May as a Marian month was further affirmed by Mary’s first apparition at Fatima (May 13, 1917).
Regarding the month of October, October 7 is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. The Church chose that day and, apparently by extension, the month of October to honor Our Lady of the Rosary because a great victory took place on October 7. In October 1571, the Church in Europe faced a seemingly hopeless challenge. The Muslim Turks had already conquered the Middle East, slaughtering millions and forcing the survivors to convert to Islam. They then moved across the Mediterranean Sea, taking the crucial islands of Crete and Cyprus. From these islands, they set their sights on the Christian kingdoms of the central Mediterranean, threatening Sicily, Venice, and even Rome herself.
Pope Pius V called on the Christian princes of Europe to rally to defeat the Islamic threat. In addition, he called on rosary confraternities in Rome and all over Europe to undertake special processions and public recitation of the Rosary, asking the intercession of the Blessed Mother. What ensued was the famous Battle of Lepanto. The Christian fleet was far outnumbered and appeared to have no human hope of winning. On the first Sunday of October 1571, the Christian fleet met the invading Muslims off the coast of Greece in the Gulf of Lepanto.
As Christians all over Europe prayed for Our Lady’s intercession, the Turks surrounded the Christian ships. But the European fleet broke through. By days’ end, almost all of the Turks were driven to shore or drowned. Europe was saved. Pope Pius established an annual commemoration to honor Our Lady of Victory, and his successor, Gregory XIII, decreed that the first Sunday in October would be the feast of the Holy Rosary.
In summary, the decision to designate October as the month of the Rosary apparently stems from the Church’s desire to extend its thanksgiving to Our Lady for victory in the Battle of Lepanto from one Sunday to a whole month. In addition, when Our Lady appeared in Fatima in May 1917, she identified herself as Our Lady of the Rosary.
Finally, Catholic Encyclopedia adds that “the practice of reciting the Rosary every day during the month of October can hardly be said to be older than the Rosary Encyclicals of Leo XIII.”
I hope this answers your question. If you have further questions on this or would like more information about Catholics United for the Faith, please contact us at 1-800-MY-FAITH (693-2484). Please keep us in your prayers as we endeavor to “support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.”
United in the Faith,
Thomas J. Nash
Senior Information Specialist
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
1. New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 9 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of American, 1967) p. 368.