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August 10, 2001 Issue
Foundations of Faith

Queen Mother shares in the King's work

Mary assumed a special role in the work of salvation

By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

Last Saturday (Aug. 4), Britain celebrated a big event: the Queen Mother's 101st birthday.

This month, the church celebrates the feast of another Queen Mother: the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The feast of the Queenship of Mary on Aug. 22 is the newest of the Marian feasts on the liturgical calendar. It was added in 1954 by Pope Pius XII and originally celebrated on May 31. (Pope Pius was also the pope who declared Mary's Assumption to be dogma, in 1950.)

As part of the liturgical reform following the Second Vatican Council, the feast of Mary's Queenship was moved to Aug. 22, the octave of the Assumption.

Pope Paul VI, in his 1974 encyclical on devotion to Mary, explained the logic of the change of dates. "The solemnity of Aug. 15 celebrates the glorious Assumption of Mary into heaven. It is a feast of her destiny of fullness and blessedness, of the glorification of her immaculate soul and of her virginal body, of her perfect configuration to the Risen Christ. The Solemnity of the Assumption is prolonged in the celebration of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which occurs seven days later. 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).

The idea of the power and influence of the King's mother has long been part of human history. Many ancient civilizations honored the Queen Mother. The ancient Egyptians, Babylonians and Persians all gave the queen mother special titles, power and influence - especially in the role of her son's assuming power as the next ruler.

Catholic apologist Scott Hahn notes a queen mother's power came from a second source: stability. "As wife of the former king and mother of the present king, the queen mother embodied the continuity of dynastic succession."

The influence of the queen mother was also an aspect of ancient Israel. The Hebrews had a word hrybg (pronounced "gebirah") meaning "great lady," the title of the king's mother. The most famous of hrybg was Bathsheba, widow of David and mother of Solomon. Her influence is noted in 2 Kings 2. Other references to queen mothers - some of whom misused their influence - are found in 1 Kings 15:13, 2 Kings 10:13, 2 Kings 24:15; and Jer. 29:2.

However they used their power, it is clear the mothers of kings had great influence over their sons and, therefore, great power in the kingdom.

It is in this way that Mary can also seen as "the great lady" of her son's kingdom.

Placing Mary in a special intercessory position developed in the first centuries of the church, first through honoring her as the Mother of God - confirmed by the Council of Ephesus in 431 - and later becoming the high Mariology of the Middle Ages, the time of vast historical empires ruled by emperors and kings.

Fr. Stefano de Fiores, former professor of Marian Spirituality at Gregorian University in Rome, explained Mary as Queen by calling her "the Gebirah of the New Testament. As Mother of the King par excellence whose reign will have no end, she makes possible the marriage of the Word with humanity."

Mary's queenship is linked to her motherhood. But, her queenship derives from another source as well, as we are reminded by Piux XII: "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."

And just what is Mary's role in the work of salvation? We can see that in how she is portrayed in Scripture, as pointed out by Pope Paul VI in his 1974 encyclical on devotion to Mary, Marialis Cultis (no. 17-20):

-- "Mary is the attentive Virgin, who receives the word of God with faith, that faith which in her case was the gateway and path to divine motherhood."

-- "Mary is also the Virgin in prayer. when she poured out her soul in expressions glorifying God, and expressions of humility, faith and hope."

-- "Mary is also the Virgin Mother - she who 'believing and obeying'. brought forth on earth the Father's Son.

-- Mary is, finally, "the Virgin presenting offerings" (MC 20) when she brings Jesus to the Temple, and stands at his cross.

In all these roles - attentive to God, worshipful, faithful and, finally, total committing herself - Mary lived her life as Queen Mother. But as Queen Mother of the Church, she has another role: teaching by example. And the Church, as Pope Paul says, has long been recognized this. "Mary is not only an example for the whole Church in the exercise of divine worship, but is also clearly a teacher of the spiritual life for individual Christians. The faithful at a very early date began to look to Mary and to imitate her in making their lives an act of worship of God and making their worship a commitment of their lives" (MC 21).

The British honor Elizabeth, the Queen Mother - not because she is a ruler or has any governmental power - but because she has seen her people through rough times (especially during WWII) and remains a sign of hope in the continuity of what has been good and noble in British history.

Elizabeth is only one of many queen mothers throughout history. But there is only one Queen Mother of God. So how much more, then, should we honor Mary, who stood by Jesus and his Church through rough times, was human just like us and now is "a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God (Vatican II) who seek to follow her Son into the holy and eternal kingdom.

(Sources:; Marialis Cultis; Ad caeli reginam;; Lumen gentium and Dictionary of Mary.)

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