When you go to bed at night and offer your prayers, do you remember to address the queen?
No, not Queen Elizabeth II, but the Blessed Virgin. The Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated by the Catholic Church on Aug. 22. The last decade of the glorious mysteries of the rosary also honors the “Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.”
Mary’s role as both Queen of Heaven and Queen of Mercy is highlighted by St. Alphonsus of Liguori (1696-1787), in his book, “The Glories of Mary.” In it, this founder of the Redemptorists wrote about a vision of Mary beheld by St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373). Alphonsus said Mary told St. Bridget, “I am the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of Mercy; I am the joy of the just, and the door through which sinners are brought to God. There is no sinner on earth so accursed as to be deprived of my mercy.”
St. Alphonsus and St. Bridget are only two of many saints who have called Mary the “queen” or “mother of mercy” in prayer or by title. Some sources even trace this tradition back to the third century and St. Athanasius of Alexandria. However, general use of the term Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen) seems to date back to Benedictine monks at Cluny, France, in 1138. By 1218, the Cistercian monks were using in daily prayer and it quickly spread to other orders in Europe.
The first part of St. Alphonsus’ book deals with this “Salve Regina,” a prayer honoring Mary as the heavenly queen. In Latin, the prayer begins “Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae” (“Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy.”)
This Marian prayer is recited — or sung — on various occasions in liturgical and prayer settings. These include:
- Sung at the close of Compline (from Trinity Sunday – in late May/early June — to the First Sunday of Advent). Compline is also known as Night Prayer;
- At the end of the rosary;
- In many dioceses — including Green Bay — the prayer is chanted by priests at the end of the funeral Mass for a brother priest. (View this link — bit.ly/2yUbaOK — to hear priests of the Diocese of Rockford, Ill., sing the Salve Regina for the 2013 funeral of Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill.);
- Other priests sing the Salve Regina at gravesides during the committal service at funerals;
- Some young couples, especially recently, have chosen to use the Salve Regina at their wedding Masses in place of the more familiar Ave Maria;
- From 1886 to the reform of the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, this prayer was recited at the end of Low Masses (Sunday Masses without music). This usage was instituted in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII. At the same time, Pope Leo also ordered the St. Michael Prayer said the same type of Mass.
The Salve Regina has also been part of the blessing of ships. There are even records linking it to Christopher Columbus. The explorer had such a devotion to the Blessed Mother that he dedicated his flagship, the Santa Maria, to her care. And he had his sailors pray this prayer each night of their journey to the New World in 1492.
No one is quite sure who wrote the original Salve Regina prayer, though most sources credit an 11th-century Benedictine monk by the name of Blessed Hermann of Reichenau, (also called Hermann Contractus). Like many prayers, it changed and evolved over the centuries. The addition of the final words of Salve Regina that we use today — “O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary” — are attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153). Legend says he was inspired to pray the words during a Christmas Eve Mass.
Another evolution in the prayer is that its opening words seem to have first been “Hail Holy Queen of Mercy.” The version we know today, expands on that: “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy.” (This addition of the word “Mother” to this prayer took place sometime in the 12th century.)
St. Alphonsus quoted many saints who spoke of Mary as the “Queen of Mercy,” who offers sweetness and mercy to all who approach her. It is a reassuring reminder that Jesus’ loving mother is the Queen of Mercy who prays for us. As St. Alphonsus wrote: “How great, then, should be our confidence in this queen, knowing her great power with God, and that she is so rich and full of mercy, that there is no one living on the earth who does not partake of her compassion and favor.”
Sources: “Dictionary of Mary”; Marian Library at Udayton.edu; Dominican Friars at torch.op.org; Catholic Answers at catholic.com; “The Glories of Mary”; “Catholic Encyclopedia”; and preces-latinae.org
Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy,
our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To you we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to you we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn, then, most gracious advocate,
your eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this, our exile,
show unto us the blessed
fruit of your womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Source: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops