"When I was a child, this month belonged to the Virgin Mary. It was the time of processions, the crowning of the statue, of overlapping and never-ending hymns. I've caught fragments of this ecstasy in my novels, but never the full measure of what the May Procession of our parish was like---grammer and high school students marching hand in hand through the streets, girls in white dresses, chanting the rosary aloud, neighbors standing on their porches beside lighted shrines in their front windows, and finally the Coronation itself.
The schoolyards were vast, overflowing, the priest's voice amplified over blocks. Some lucky boy or girl climbed the ladder to place the crown of flowers on the Virgin. "Oh, Mary we crown thee with blossoms today...."
No one had ever heard of a Maypole, of pagan rituals to a mother goddess. Mary; the Mother of God, was our Blessed Lady, Holy Queen, Mater Regina, Mother of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Guadelupe, Fatima, Lourdes. Those are our titles for the eternal feminine.
Each day in school at noon, we had our crowning, just as recess ended. A different class would have the distinction of preparing the crown.
The hymns soaked so deep in my blood that one night, when I was in college, a brand-new-born athiest and grieving hysterically for my lost faith, I spent the evening of May 1 alone on a slope surrounded by heaps of store-bought flowers, singing all the hymns I could remember and crying. I remember rolling down the grassy slope in the flowers. There were no witnesses on the quiet evening campus with so much green lawn between its few small buildings. That night gave me perhaps the first sense that I had lost more than Heaven and Hell when I lost Catholicism.
Statues of the Virgin now adorn my houses; I collect rosaries. In Rome, in 1996, we bought every kind of new rosary for sale in the Vatican gift shop.
But now the Virgin is goddess, fecundity, Mother Earth---Juno warring with Jupiter---dozens of names, echoes, calumnies. Yet no title is so mellifluous as "Our Lady of Prompt Succour," "Our Lady, Star of the Sea."
To her, in her veil, possessed of her impossible innocence and her eternal silence, belongs the twilight, the scent of lilies, and the first evening star."