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Part 16: Mary, Queen of Heaven
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Oct 19, 2015)
The following is the sixteenth part of our Mary 101 series.
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy.
Our life, our sweetness, and our hope ...
For many centuries, Catholics all over the world have rejoiced to honor Mary and call upon her aid under the title "Queen of Heaven." According to St. John's vision in Revelation 12:1, she appeared in Heaven wearing a crown of 12 stars, symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles who were the foundation stones of the New Israel, the Church. Mary is clearly the heavenly Queen of the People of God.
This title for Mary was also foreshadowed in the story of the Annunciation. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he promised her that her Son would reign forever as the Messiah:
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Lk 1:32-33)
Now, if Mary's Son was to inherit an everlasting Kingdom, this implies that Mary was literally to be the "Queen Mother" of his Kingdom, for we know for a fact that in ancient Israel, the mother of a king usually received the role and title of "Queen Mother." As Catholic theologian Dr. Mark Miravalle pointed out:
Because the kings of Israel normally had numerous wives, the mother of the king was chosen to be queen of the kingdom, due to her singular familial relationship with the king. The "Gebirah" or "Lady" of the kingdom assisted the king in the ruling of the kingdom in her noble office as the queen mother (cf. 2 Kings 11:3, I Kings 2:19; I Kings 15:9-13; Jer 13:18-20).
The office and authority of the queen mother in her close relationship with the king made her the strongest "advocate" to the king for the people of the kingdom. No one had more intercessory power with the king than the queen mother, who at times sat enthroned at the right side of the king (cf. I Kings 2:19-20). The queen mother also had the function of "counselor" to the king in regards to matters of the kingdom (Prov 31:8-9; II Chr 22:2-4). The Old Testament image and role of the queen mother, the "great lady," as advocate to the king for the people of the kingdom prophetically foreshadows the role of the great Queen Mother and Lady of the New Testament. For it is Mary of Nazareth who becomes Queen and Mother in the Kingdom of God, as the Mother of Christ, King of All Nations. (Miravalle, Mary: Co-Redemptrix, Advocate, Mediatrix of All Graces. Santa Barbara: Queenship Press, 1993, pp. 58-59).
Mary, Advocate and Mediatrix
If Mary has been exalted by God's grace to the role of Queen of Heaven, then this has tremendous implications for her relationship with the whole People of God. Let's go back again to the days of the early Christians and see the central role she played in their lives as heavenly Queen Mother of the Church. Dr. Miravalle writes:
The first historic indications of the existing veneration of Mary carried on from the Apostolic Church is manifested in the Roman catacombs. As early as the end of the first century to the first half of the second century, Mary is depicted in frescoes in the Roman catacombs both with and without her divine Son. Mary is depicted as a model of virginity with her Son; at the Annunciation; at the adoration of the Magi; and as the "orans" ("the praying one"), the woman of prayer.
A very significant fresco found in the catacombs of St. Agnes depicts Mary situated between St. Peter and St. Paul with her arms outstretched to both. This fresco reflects, in the language of Christian frescoes, the earliest symbol of Mary as "Mother of the Church." Whenever St. Peter and St. Paul are shown together, it is symbolic of the one Church of Christ, a Church of authority and evangelization, a Church for both Jew and Gentile. Mary's prominent position between Sts. Peter and Paul illustrates the recognition by the Apostolic Church of the maternal centrality of the Savior's Mother in his young Church. (Introduction to Mary, pp. 41-42)
It is easy to appreciate what was happening here: Mary was evidently seen by the early Christians as carrying out her role in Heaven as Mother of the Church, which is the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth (Mt 13:1-52, 16:17-19; Lk 12:32). As "Gebirah" of this Kingdom she fulfills her role by acting as loving intercessor with her son for all the needs of the People of God (with the People of God represented in the fresco by the two figures of Peter and Paul).
For these reasons, Catholics down through the ages have referred to Mary as their heavenly Queen, "Advocate" for the people of God, and even as "Mediatrix" of all the graces that Christ pours out upon the world. A mediator is someone who stands between two parties in order to help unite them — and a "mediatrix" is just the word used for a female mediator.
The title "Mediatrix" was used for Mary at the Second Vatican Council, but the Church has not yet solemnly defined that she is Mediatrix of all graces. Nevertheless, this doctrine is strongly attested in the Catholic Tradition. It has been taught by numerous saints, including St. Ephrem the Syrian, St. Germanus of Constantinople, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Bonaventure, St. Bernardine of Siena, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Louis De Montfort, and St. Maximillian Kolbe.
The logic is simple: Jesus is the Source of all saving grace, and he came into the world through Mary's faithful "yes" to the angel Gabriel. She was therefore the vessel, the Mediatrix chosen by God to bring his saving grace to all mankind.
Also, as Mary participated in a unique way in the reception of grace by the world, it is only fitting that she participates in a unique way in the distribution of saving grace throughout the world. Again, we see this foreshadowed at the Annunciation, when she was implicitly named the Queen Mother of the Messianic Kingdom of her Son, and as we have seen, one of the roles of a Queen Mother was to be an advocate for the needs of the people to her Son, the King.
It was also foreshadowed in the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana, according to St. John, the story of the first miracle that Jesus performed to inaugurate his public ministry, a ministry that would ultimately lead to his saving death on the Cross (his "hour," as Jesus called it, Jn 2:4). This miracle at Cana happened in response to Mary's personal mediation and intercession with Jesus on behalf of the wedding couple ("They have no more wine," Jn 2:3-5). In this way it was Mary's intercession that actually initiated Christ's public ministry.
Mary stood at the foot of the Cross, where her Son gave her to all the beloved disciples of Christ as their spiritual Mother (Jn 19: 26-27). After the Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, the book of Acts tells us that the disciples were waiting and praying for nine days for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift that alone could empower them for carrying out their mission. Who was there with them at the praying heart of the Church? Mary, Mother of the King, Queen Mother and Advocate for His People (Acts 1:14). Thus, Mary's intercession was involved in bringing about the very birth of the Church at Pentecost.
In short, at every major step of Christ's mission, Mary was present in faithful prayer, interceding for the saving work of her Son, and that all its benefits might be poured out upon the People of God.
Again, all of this was according to God's sovereign will. He did not have to arrange his plan of salvation this way: No doubt he could have accomplished his saving work in another way that did not involve the consent and cooperation of an earthly mother. And no doubt he can hear our prayers today without the added support of an intercessory Mediatrix. But God evidently wished to associate his creatures — and especially his highest creature, Mary "full of grace," in the saving and sanctifying work of his Son. In this way, humanity is not just a passive recipient of God's grace, but is raised to the dignity of a graced participant in the wonderful plans of God.
The saints of the Church have always been struck with awe and wonder at this special role in God's plan given to Mary, Queen Mother, Advocate, and Mediatrix. Saint Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373) once wrote, "After the Mediator [Jesus Christ], you [Mary] are Mediatrix of the whole world," and St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) was especially devoted to this title for Mary, calling her the "aqueduct" of all the graces that flow to us from Jesus Christ. He insisted, "It is the will of God that we should have nothing which has not passed through the hands of Mary." Saint Bernard noted that the angel Gabriel came to deliver his message to one who was "full of grace," and yet he also declared that the Holy Spirit would come upon her again: "To what purpose if it be not to fill her to overflowing? To what purpose, I repeat, except that, being filled in herself by His first coming, she might be made to superabound and overflow unto us by the second?" (Cited in Orozco, Mother of God and our Mother, p. 65). Saint Maximillian Kolbe, the martyr of Auschwitz (1894-1941) taught that divine grace flows to the world from the Father through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, and through the intercession of Mary, who was full to overflowing with the same Holy Spirit.
Saint John Paul II called attention to another aspect of Mary's "Queenship" in his Letter to Women (section 10), namely, that her reign is one of service and of love:
Putting herself at God's service, she also put herself at the service of others: a service of love. Precisely through this service Mary was able to experience in her life a mysterious but authentic "reign." It is not by chance that she is invoked as "Queen of heaven and earth." The entire community of believers thus invokes her; many nations and peoples call upon her as their "Queen." For her, "to reign" is to serve! Her service is "to reign"!