Virgin Mary, Queen Mother
In Honor of the Queenship of Mary
Do we have “a strong and tender love, as becomes children, for Our most gracious and exalted Mother”? Pope Pius XII, who in 1954 instituted the feast of the Queenship of Mary to be celebrated on May 31, asks us this.
Do we honor and love Our Lady as both Queen and Mother? For the two are inextricably bound together: those who fail to honor her in one regard, will fail in the other.
In 3 Kings 2:20, King Solomon says to his mother Bathsheba, who is seated on a throne to his right: “My mother, ask: for I must not turn away thy face.” In ancient Israel, the position of the Queen Mother, the Gebirah or “Great Lady,” was the highest honor and position of authority for a woman. According to Solomon’s treatment of his mother, to be the mother of the king is to hold the greatest position of influence with the king, who may not dishonor his mother by ignoring her. He honored her not only as queen, not only as mother, but as Queen Mother.
Some will ask: how can we, who are not kings, nor Our Lady’s child by natural birth, see her as our Queen Mother? We know that mothers are meant to be gentle, tender, affectionate, anxious for our souls. We know to treat them with love, honoring their wishes and caring for them unceasingly.
But what do we know of queens? Many base their notion of queens on powerful, secular women. Jezebel, the vain wife of King Ahab, worshiped idols. Cleopatra, the powerful lover of multiple rulers, left a legacy of betrayal, confusion, and death. The English nicknamed their Catholic queen “Bloody Mary” when she sent heretics to be executed (refusing to acknowledge the hypocrisy when Mary’s successor killed twice as many Catholics). The French revolutionaries wrongly thought of their queen as a cruel figure who had declared of the poor, “Let them eat cake.” And the queens of today are distant, if iconic, figures who might wave a hand and smile at us, if we are fortunate enough to be noticed in the crowd. Whether our notions are mistaken or true, we treat these queens with vague admiration, distant respect, patriotic affection, or even condescending scorn: but they do not inspire love.
We need a queen whom we can see as a mother.
Rather than Jezebel, we should think of Esther, who, through her intercession with God and king, saved her people from destruction. Rather than idolizing Cleopatra as a strong woman, we should look at Saint Bathildis, who served meekly as a servant, eventually gaining the king’s love by her goodness and causing many slaves to be freed. Rather than subscribe to portrayals of bloodthirsty monarchs with misguided zeal, we ought to admire Saint Helen, who found the True Cross and aided in the conversion of the entire Roman Empire. Rather than believe the French Revolutionaries’ caricature of Marie Antoinette, we should give thanks for Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, who used her wealth to feed the poor, earning the love and admiration of her husband and many others in the process.
And rather than the queens of today, we should think of Our Lady, who raised her Son the King with tenderness, clothed Him, fed Him, wept over Him, loved Him. We should think of her who followed the Cross and stood at its foot, suffering more greatly than any mother ever has for her child. We should think of her, whom Christ Himself gave to us to love and hold, when He gave her to St. John the Evangelist. We should see in her the Mother who loves us because we are her own, given to her by God Himself. We belong to God; and by His command, we belong to her as her sons and daughters. She who loves her own Son perfectly turns that love toward us.
Holy queens are filled with maternal love; it defines their queenship. True queenship is a mother’s tender care for all those who are entrusted to her. A queen’s subjects are not chattel slaves; they are her children. When St. Louis de Montfort encourages consecration to Our Lady in True Devotion to Mary, even calling it slavery, he emphasizes the sweetness of being her subject, and how our high regard for her as Queen leads to love of her as our Mother. The more we perceive her dignity and merit, the more we go to her with confidence, humility, and affection. Were we to truly understand how perfect and gracious a Queen she is, we would better love her, as a trusting child loves its mother.
Why honor her as a queen? Why not simply esteem and obey her as a mother? First, God Himself has given her the crown of stars, told of in the Apocalypse (12:1). And as Mother of the King, it is her right to be recognized as Queen. She has been known as the Queen of Heaven since the earliest years, honored in Church documents throughout the centuries and praised in song. In the encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam (1954), Pius XII wrote that Our Lady is the Queen of Heaven because her son, Christ Jesus, is the king of the Universe. He also said that she “remains forever associated to [Christ], with a practically unlimited power, in the distribution of graces which flow from the Redemption. Jesus is King throughout all eternity by nature and by right of conquest: through Him, with Him, and subordinate to Him, Mary is Queen by grace, by divine relationship, by right of conquest, and by singular choice.”
She is Queen by grace, her queenship a gift from God. And she is full of grace, having more virtue than any other. She is queen by divine relationship: she is the Mother of God, though not the source of His divinity. She is queen by right of conquest: she shared in the battle and the victory over Satan, though it is Christ Himself to Whom belongs the victory and the Kingship.
Finally, she is queen by singular choice: the Father chose her to be the Mother of the Son. Pius XII explains that “[t]he main principle on which the royal dignity of Mary rests is without doubt her Divine Motherhood” (34). Yet he goes further to say that she should be called Queen “not only because of her Divine Motherhood, but also because God has willed her to have an exceptional role in the work of our eternal salvation” (35). It is through her that we receive graces: “from her union with Christ she receives the royal right to dispose of the treasures of the Divine Redeemer's Kingdom” (39). The image of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal shows how she distributes the king’s treasures to us. And as a mother, she does so with generosity, giving well beyond what is needed and asked for.
Much like the Blessed Trinity is a font of paradoxes, so is God’s most perfect creation, the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is both queen and handmaid, both virgin and mother; in her heart the lowliest of creatures, yet the most exalted of all creation: exaltavit humiles. But there is no paradox in being both mother and queen; for in being one, she is the other. As Pius XII says, “Let all Christians, therefore, glory in being subjects of the Virgin Mother of God, who, while wielding royal power, is on fire with a mother's love” (43).