Ahhhh! The merry month of May! Flowers bloom, more sunny days, warmer weather, and of course, Devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
So, what does this all have to do with music? Let's start with our regular Sunday liturgies. More people than ever have begged me to play Marian hymns during the month of May. I'm not talking about Devotions, where hymns to the BVM are most appropriate, but at Sunday Mass. Trust me when I tell you that Father Kevin Fisette (who I happily worked for at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Providence from June 1999 to August 2003) was NOT one of them, and rightfully so. Let's look at the themes for these Sundays:
May 6, 2001 is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus reveals himself in the day's Scripture readings as the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep. His sheep, in turn, know him.
May 13, 2001 is Mothers' Day in the secular calendar. In the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, it is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Thematically, Jesus gives us his "new commandment": "Love one another as I have loved you". The music planner must bear in mind that Mothers' Day is a secular holiday and must NEVER take precedence over the Sunday in terms of liturgy. Another note, taken from the Book of Blessings, is that although the blessing of mothers is permitted at Mass on this day, the crowning of the BVM is not.
May 20, 2001 is the Sixth Sunday of Easter. Not yet Pentecost, but the Holy Spirit is mentioned frequently in the day's Scriptures.
May 24, 2001, a Thursday, is the Solemnity of the Ascension our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven. In many dioceses, this is moved to the following Sunday. However, many East Coast dioceses still celebrate this Solemnity on its actual day. Note when planning music: the key word here is "Ascension", not "Assumption" (Assumption is August 15, when Mary is taken into heaven).
May 27, 2001 is the Seventh Sunday of Easter here on the East Coast, Ascension Sunday most of everywhere else. Here, the focus still appears to fall into Ascension themes.
What boggles me is despite such themes as those listed above, I'm still approached with requests for such devotional hymns and songs such as "Ave Maria" and "Bring Flowers of the Rarest". These are simply hymns of devotion that have absolutely nothing to do with the themes stated above, or the Easter Season, whatsoever. Hymns to Mary that are appropriate include "Regina Caeli" (Be Joyful Mary, Heavenly Queen) and "Concordi Laetitia" (One in Joyful Songs of Praise). Both of these are actually messages to Mary that she should rejoice, for her Son is risen from the dead. "Ave Maria" is more appropriate during the later part of Advent and for the Annunciation (March 25). There are many beautiful settings to the "Ave Maria", including those by Charles Gounod (his melody placed over "Prelude in C" by Johann Sebastian Bach), Jacob Arcadelt, and Tomas Luis da Victoria (this gorgeous octavo is based partly on the Gregorian Chant setting). But where does it really fit in the Easter season at Sunday Mass? Nowhere, mon frere. In all actuality, the Optional Mass of the BVM is celebrated on Saturday - at the daily morning Mass, not the evening Mass anticipated for the Sunday.
As I mentioned in my first paragraph, many parishes celebrate Devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the ideal appropriate place to use such hymns, as these services are devoted especially to Her. We invite all, especially those fans of "O Sanctissima", "Immaculate Mary", "Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above", and "Salve Regina", to come for Devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the "acceptable time".