From Assumption to Queenship
The feast of the Queenship of Mary is a newer Marian celebration instituted by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam on October 11, 1954. This year was the first Marian year to promote devotion to the Blessed Mother and this new feast day was to be seen as a climax of the various devotions to Mary. The feast day was originally celebrated on May 31st, but after Vatican II it was moved to August 22nd in order for it to occur at the end of the octave of the Assumption. Pius XII is also the pope who defined the dogma of the Assumption just four years earlier.
Early Christians Recognized Mary as Queen Because Her Son is King
One of the titles often associated with Mary in the early Church is “Domina,” or “Lady,” which is the feminine version of “Dominus,” which means Lord. St. Ephrem is quoted by Pius XII saying, “Majestic and Heavenly Maid, Lady, Queen, protect and keep me under your wing lest Satan the sower of destruction glory over me, lest my wicked foe be victorious against me.” By calling Mary “Domina,” Christians didn’t simply give her an empty but sweet sounding title that is common today in the West. Instead, “Lady” conveyed a person of great authority and power who deserved great respect because of her exalted status. Here we see St. Ephrem beseech the Blessed Virgin for her power to protect him against Satan who is the most powerful adversary of all. Many other early Christians praised Mary for her status as Queen and invoked her intercession for their pilgrimage here on earth. This power and authority that she possesses does not come from herself but derives from her Son. St. Elizabeth called the Blessed Mary “Mother of my Lord” and other titles such as “Mother of the King” were employed. If a woman’s descendant is a king, surely the mother must also be royalty too and Christians made this connection very early in the life of the Church.
Queens in the Ancient Near East Were Generally Mothers of the King
In the West we often think of the wife of the king as the queen but in ancient Israel it was typically the mother of the king that was the queen. Mothers of a king often became queens when their sons rose to power. A prime example of this is when Bathsheba becomes queen when Solomon comes to power in 1 Kings 1–2. Another example is in 1 Kings 15:13 when Maacah is removed from the office of queen mother because of her idolatry. The queen mother often had an intercessory role with the king and was very influential in ruling the kingdom but the ultimate decisions lay with the king. In 1 Kings 2:13–25 we see Bathsheba try to intercede for Adonijah before Solomon but he refuses her request because it would take away the throne from him. Mothers of the king were given the role of queen partly in recognition for their responsibility of raising the future king and partly to ensure stability in the kingdom because if the king had more than one wife—which was quite common—then the women could try to usurp the power from each other or even the king himself.
The Two Principles and Purpose for Mary’s Queenship
Pope Pius XII lays out two principles for Mary’s royal dignity. The first is her divine motherhood. This is connected to the queen mother tradition in ancient Israel and St. Elizabeth’s statement that Mary is “Mother of my Lord.” St. John Damascene writes, “When she became Mother of the Creator, she truly became Queen of every creature.” The second principle is that Mary is given a unique role by God in achieving our salvation. Christ, who is the new Adam, accomplishes our redemption and Mary, as the new Eve, is so closely associated with Christ in His work of salvation so that by this association with the King of all she becomes the Queen of all creatures. It is precisely because Mary is Queen that we have such a powerful intercessor before God like the queen mothers of Israel, not as someone who rivals Jesus as mediator but who seeks to accomplish the Father’s will with Jesus just as He commanded us. The will of the Father is our salvation and Jesus says that those who do His Father’s will are is His mothers, brothers, and sisters. Mary’s Queenship is not simply a dignified status for her benefit but a role that empowers her to carry out God’s will in a singular powerful way to help us all receive salvation from Jesus Christ.