One of the newest feasts of Mary on our liturgical calendar occurs this month. Aug. 22 is the memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was added to the church’s calendar in 1954, by Pope Pius XII. Twenty years later, Blessed Pope Paul VI said of this feast: “On this occasion, we contemplate her who, seated beside the King of ages, shines forth as Queen and intercedes as Mother” (Marialis Cultis, no. 6).
Certainly most of us are quite used to thinking of Mary as a queen. We are equally comfortable with seeing her images adorned with crowns. Dr. Robert Fastiggi, professor of Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, notes that, in Eastern-rite churches, placing crowns on icons of Mary dates to the first millennium. In the West, placing crowns on Mary’s images only became widespread in the 16th century. Pope Clement VIII (d. 1605) began the practice by crowning an image of Our Lady and the infant Jesus in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.
Other sources note that the Western church’s practice of crowning statues of Mary — and of other images, especially those of Jesus and St. Joseph — gained support thanks to Alejandro Sfortia. He is credited with leaving a bequest, upon his death in 1640, to be used for this purpose.
Examples of crowned images from this time period include the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, whose feast day is Aug. 26. In 1656, King John Casimir declared Our Lady of Czestochowa “Queen of Poland.” This Sept. 8, (the day the church honors Mary’s birth) marks the 300th anniversary of the canonical crowning of this image of Mary.
As noted, far older than crowns on statues are the coverings of precious metal placed over Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic icons. Called riza in Greek, and oklad in Russian, these are meant to both honor and protect the icons.
“Riza” means “robe” and “oklad” means “cover.” Both metal coverings are used to protect the paint of the icon’s images from damage and from the smoke of candles that are lit before them. A riza is most often made of silver and exactly replicates the image beneath them. These silver or silver-gilt coverings are often elaborately decorated with jewels and enamel. The coverings are often commissioned as votive offerings to honor the saint depicted by the icon and to ask for their help.
By the 17th century, crowning of statues had become popular in the West. A special rite for the crowning of images of Mary was composed, and, by the 19th century, this was inserted into the Pontificale Romanum (the liturgical book of rites used by bishops). “The Order of Crowning of an Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary is used when a particularly venerated image of Our Lady (or Jesus or St. Joseph) receives a crown. This rite was revised by the Holy See in 1981. It can only be celebrated by a bishop or a priest designated by the bishop. Most often, the rite is “held on solemnities and feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary or on other festive days” (n. 9).
This rite is obviously done rarely, since it must be approved by the Vatican. Because it requires the pope’s approval, we also know of this rite by the name “canonical crowning,” as was the case for the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa. For example, in May of this year, the image of Our Lady of Aranzazu in San Meteo, Rizal, Philippines, was canonically crowned by Cardinal Orlando Quevedo on behalf of Pope Francis.
In our own area, the statue at the Shrine of St. Joseph in De Pere is a canonically crowned statue. Bishop Sebastian Messmer of Green Bay crowned the statue in 1892 after Pope Leo XIII had formally recognized the shrine.
Other crowns have been placed on many statues of Mary in churches and chapels around the world, but the ceremony used is not this official “canonical crowning.” Instead, some version similar to that used for May crownings of Mary statues is used. While there is not a formal rite for these events, they follow a certain form and do not take place during a Mass. Many follow a pattern from the 1987-88 Marian Year. That was when the U.S. bishops released a booklet for Marian Year celebrations that included a service for the crowning of an image of Mary.
Often, such crownings take place after a Mass or at evening Vespers (part of the Liturgy of the Hours.) The ceremony usually includes flowers and Marian hymns and prayers, as well as a litany of Mary. If a priest or deacon leads the ceremony, he may impart a blessing at the end.
Mary’s right to the crown of queen seems a natural to us, since she is the mother of Jesus, who is called “King of Kings.” However, Mary’s queenship crown derives from another source as well, as we were reminded by Pope Pius XII in 1954: “the Blessed Virgin Mary 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.”
Sources: fisheaters.com; ewtn.com; thequeenofheaven.wordpress.com; osv.com; marypages.com; the “Catholic Encyclopedia; Marialis Cultis; Ad Caeli Reginam; “Dictionary of Mary”; “A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons”; Aranzazushrine.ph; Our Lady of the Abandoned of Marikina Facebook site
Kasten is the author of several books, including “Linking Your Beads” (OSV press) about the rosary. Her latest book is “Journeys with the Magi. From Persia to Bethlehem… and Beyond” (Amor Deus Publishing at amordeus.com).