by Kevin Joshua Cosme
Exactly seven days after the Solemnity of the Assumption, we celebrate Mary’s Queenship over heaven and earth.
In 1954, Pope Pius XII instituted this feast for May 31, the last day of the Marian
month, although Mary had already been venerated as “Queen” in the first centuries of Christianity.
Pope Paul VI moved the feast day to its current date of August 22, the octave of the Assumption, or the eighth day counting Assumption day itself on August 15. The move was intended to relate more closely Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven and her subsequent glorification as Queen over creation, which are also the Fourth and Fifth Glorious Mysteries of the rosary.
She is revered as Queen because she is the mother of Jesus, the King of the Universe. The biblical precedence for this is the ancient Hebrew concept of the gebirah, roughly translated as “queen mother”: when king Solomon was visited by his mother Bathsheba, he stood up to meet her and paid her homage before having her sit down on a throne at his right. She then made a request to her son the king who told her, “Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you” (cf. 1 Kings 2:19-20).
This notion is carried over into the New Testament and applied to Mary. At the Annunciation, the archangel Gabriel proclaims to Mary the royal dignity of her son: “the Lord God will give [Jesus] the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32).
Subsequently, many early Christian writers took to calling Mary as “Queen."
From the 6th century onwards the title became widespread, thanks in part to the impetus from the Council of Ephesus’ monumental declaration of her as the Theotokos or Mother of God in 431 AD.
Christian artworks abound portraying Mary as Queen, some even going as far back as the 6th century. Four of the ancient Marian hymns used in the Liturgy of the Hours have to do with Mary’s Queenship. Among them, the most familiar is the Salve Regina or the “Hail, Holy Queen” which is also the last prayer of the rosary.
Now I have nothing but the fondest regard for our Blessed Mother and love that she is being given all these honors but all this stress on her “Queenship” has gotten me thinking.
For instance, we celebrate the canonical coronation of her statues, invoke her in the Litany of Loreto numerous times as Queen, and say to her devotional prayers styled to address monarchs.
All this is understandable, but might we be focusing too much on her majesty than on the more essential fact of her motherhood? In other words, are we forgetting that she is more Mother than Queen?
Think about it. A queen lives in a palace, away from her subjects. She is powerful and wealthy, even intimidating. She is more of an impersonal figure to all but the royal family so her relationship with everyone else is one of condescension. Being a kind of patroness, people usually go to a queen to ask for favors.
In contrast, a mother lives in a house located in a neighborhood. She may not necessarily be influential or wealthy, but she is always approachable. A mother is a personal figure not only to her husband and children but also to the people in her community. Being a nurturer, a mother stands by her children as a source of comfort and guidance.
Obviously, these two figures do not mutually exclude each other since they can come together in a single woman. Mary typifies the best of both.
Thinking of Mary as a queen makes us realize the greatness of her dignity. But dwelling too much on her grandeur tends to estrange us from her. We would rather keep her at a distance for fear of sullying her purity with our sinfulness. And if we do approach her in this way it is as a subject would approach a sovereign.
I believe this manner of relating with her has historical and sociological roots. In much of the ancient world and into Medieval times, encompassing around three-fourths of all Church history, most societies were ruled by emperors or monarchs, so it made sense to use this regal framework in speaking of spiritual realities. For example, the sixth century artwork of Mary I mentioned earlier actually depicted her as an empress, at a time when the idea of an “emperor” was not far removed from social consciousness.
As I see it, there is much in our faith and practice that still employs a medieval-feudal framework (e.g. treating saints primarily as “patrons” than as models of Christian life, or using the royal “we” in episcopal or papal decrees, etc.).
I believe the regal regard for Mary arises from this. I’m not saying that it’s wrong, just that it had its time.
Yes Mary is Queen, but that’s in a manner of speaking; she has the characteristics of an earthly queen, but she is not an earthly queen. Our secular concepts can only go so far in portraying spiritual realities.
For example, here on earth the great ones have servants that attend them. In the kingdom of God, the great ones are the servants. Heaven is everyone serving everyone else and loving it!
More than as a queen, I think we should regard Mary as a mother and as a model disciple. Not only does this make her more relatable – it is also closer to who she really was as portrayed in the Gospels.
In contrast to her glorified, queenly image, Mary was humble and poor. Instead of living in a palace, maybe she lived in a hovel. She even had to give birth in a stable. She didn’t have any servants, so she likely had to earn her keep by the sweat of her brow.
One can imagine her going about her daily business, going to the marketplace to buy some crusty bread and a few small fish, cooking meals for Jesus and Joseph, cleaning the house and maybe even doing the laundry. Not so stately but oh so relatable.
She was every bit a human being as you and me.
Although she was sinless, she wasn’t exempted from the sufferings inherent in a mortal life, even having to behold the agonizing death of her son which no mother should ever have to live through.
And yet simple biological motherhood isn’t actually what makes her great. Blood relations do not determine membership in Jesus’ spiritual family, for it is only he or she who “does the will of my heavenly Father [that] is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35). Under this criterion, Mary is Jesus’ perfect mother because it is she who is “full of grace” (Luke 1:28) that perfectly accomplishes the will of the heavenly Father.
Mary’s greatness lies in her littleness. The bible is rife with the idea that God resists the
proud but favors the humble (e.g. Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). Jesus himself says that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).
Mary knows this intuitively as she proclaims her Magnificat, “for he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:48-49). Down the ages her prophecy has been fulfilled in the Church, which has never ceased to sing her praises.
God was able to raise Mary to staggering heights because she lowered herself to astounding depths.
Considering her matchless glory, imagine the extent of her humility!
God wants to exalt us as well. The only thing keeping Him from doing this to us is, well, us. Our pride often gets in the way and we resist God’s will, which for goodness sake is aimed at accomplishing what’s best for us in the first place.
We should be taking notes from our humble, pious mother from Nazareth who, because of her proactive cooperation with grace, became the most perfect creature and the Mama of us all.
May it unceasingly astonish us how this unsurpassably great Queen is first and foremost our warm and loving Mother.
No matter how exalted, a mommy will always be a mommy. A real mom wouldn’t think twice about sullying an expensive dress in order to pick up a dirty child who comes running to her arms.
That’s the Mama I know.