Mother of Mercy
“Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope.” So begins one of my favorite traditional prayers. What is rather astounding in this prayer, however, is that in the same sentence we address Mary as queen and yet simultaneously speak to her as a caring mother to whom we can turn. How is it that we would dare to approach a queen as if she was our mother? Conversely, how is it that this humble Jewish woman who spent her life in reflection, service, and love is known to us as a queen…and no less, as the Queen of Heaven? The answer is that Mary is both a queen and our mother, given to us as a precious gift by God.
In mid-August we have two feasts of Mary which shed light on why she is both queen and mother. First is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on August 15 and seven days later, on August 22, is the Feast of the Queenship of Mary. That there are two feast of Mary so close together gives us a clue that there is something important being said of Mary and our relationship with her. At their core these two feasts celebrate the same thing: the love with which Mary expresses her eternal dedication to her Son and to His people. The Feast of the Assumption celebrates the culmination of Mary’s earthly life and her arrival in Heaven where she was greeted by the Father and given a place by the side of Jesus. Mary died, as all humans do, but rather than having to wait for the resurrection of the body on the last day, God gave her that gift immediately upon her death, reuniting her body and soul and taking her directly to Heaven. This gift was given because of all she did in cooperating with God who entered into our world through her assent to Him. The two feasts are connected, then, because upon her entrance into heaven she was honored by God, crowned Queen of Heaven as the mother of Jesus, who is the King. As St. Athanasius said, “If the Son is a King, the mother who begot Him is rightly and truly considered a queen and sovereign.”
The Church has a long history of honoring Mary with various titles. For example, St. Irenaeus described Mary as the God-bearer, or Theotokos, which is the source of the term ‘Mother of God.’ Regardless of the titles given her, we need to keep in perspective why Mary is so important to us. Obviously, she is of greatest importance because she was chosen to bear Jesus. The depth of her love for God, her purity of heart, and the intense desire she had to serve Him, truly made her stand apart from all other women. This love sustained her throughout her life, a life which was filled with sorrow mixed with joy. Throughout the Gospels we can see how much suffering she endured, suffering with her Son as He was reviled and put to death. In all that she went through she never give up hope in what God had revealed to her about her Son. She trusted in God’s message and in so doing gave courage to the other followers of Jesus who were inspired by the witness she gave.
Just before He died on the cross Jesus entrusted us to Mary when He said to John: “Behold, your mother.” He was indicating that she would be the mother of all who were in His church throughout history. She did take on this role, continuing to intercede for the apostles and all those who are disciples of Jesus, which of course, includes us today. Mary was immediately central to the small community of believers which is why she is the only other person named as being with the apostles when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost. I suspect it was not just because of her relationship to Jesus, but because of the beauty of her heart. Though humble, she was beloved as a mother to the community. While there is no mention of her death and entrance into heaven in the Scriptures, it has always been believed that once there, she was honored as the Queen of Heaven.
In understanding Mary as queen we need to realize that her queenship is not the same as that of an earthly queen. Mary does not sit in glory waiting to be adored in some sort of haughty fashion. It simply is not who she is. (And, to be clear, we worship and adore God alone; Mary we venerate.) She spent her life in humble service to God, and therefore from Heaven she does the same. However, as Queen of Heaven Mary does have great power. It is not the power of position and authority, because her will is always submissive to that of her Son. She is not greater than or equal to Jesus. Rather the power of her queenship is the power of love which is expressed by her continual motherly devotion to all the children of God. As the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar said: “A queen enjoys full power, even with regard to the king. Mary’s fullness of power is expressed in her intercession for us and her mediation of graces, so that we receive all personal graces from God.” Mary wants to mediate graces for us and she wants to protect us because she sees us as her children, too.
Therefore, when we celebrate her queenship, we are celebrating the beauty of her heart which is expressed in the love, mercy, understanding, and compassion that she directs to the world and to each of her children. We are celebrating the power of her love and that her highest priority is what is most important to her Son: the salvation of the world. We are celebrating how, through her constant intercessory prayer, she aids us in resisting evil and in our growth in holiness. And we are recognizing that she does not simply pray for us without asking our participation in the fight against sin and evil. As any good queen would do, she encourages us to be empowered through our own prayer joined to hers. Though she has the perfection of being full of grace, and that as His mother she is closer to Jesus than any other person, she also wants us to grow in grace while participating in the work of building the Kingdom of God.
It is important for us to realize that Mary is a queen whose heart is filled with mercy and compassion for those of us who suffer, and that there is nothing we can experience in our lives that she did not experience in hers. She knows what it is to be the object of derision and gossip, to cry until the tears simply can flow no more, to watch the suffering and death of her only child, and to be left as a widow. Because her heart was so stretched by suffering, she has great compassion for all those who struggle with sin and weakness. Though she is without sin she does not sit in judgment, but rather reaches out in mercy to draw us to her Son.
What we take away from celebrating Mary as Queen of Heaven, then, is that the world needs humble leaders, those who lead quietly and firmly through the power of love. To lead as she leads means to have respect for those whom we serve, to treat others with the dignity they deserve. It means that like Mary who gave so much in service of God, we need a sense of solidarity with the poor. It means that we adopt her ministry of intercession and prayer by lifting up those who have entrusted their cares to us, asking her to carry our prayers to her Son. It means we try to be sensitive to the needs of those whom we see on a daily basis. It means standing up for what we know to be true and right based on gospel values. And it means that we continually seek to do that which God calls us to do, trusting in His wisdom. Having Mary as our Queen means that even in the face of that which feels insurmountable we have one to whom we can turn who will never refuse to intercede on our behalf. Her queenship is that of the combined power of her love, humility, and the power of her prayer in which she wants to protect us, keep us from evil, and lead us to her Son. She shows us that without God we have nothing, but if we give ourselves to Him, we have everything. No wonder we have more than one feast in which to celebrate her. Let us rejoice in so great a gift as that of the Queen of Heaven, our mother!
May we ask our Queen, who is the mother of mercy and love, to intercede for our world and for us individually! May we gratefully accept the gift Jesus gives us in sharing His mother with us! May we join in the work of interceding for the world, uniting our prayer to that of Mary! May we imitate Mary in service and works of mercy! May we be led by Mary more closely to Jesus! And like Mary, may we humbly lead others to God through mercy, compassion, and love! Let us meet in the hearts of Jesus and Mary! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first painting is The Coronation of the Virgin which was painted in 1444 by an artist named Filippo Lippi. For more information on Lippi go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filippo_Lippi
Next is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called Our Lady of New the Advent Gate of Heaven. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/our-lady-of-the-new-advent-gate-of-heaven-003-william-hart-mcnichols.html
I chose this because of my reference to Mary as Mother of God. There are simply tons of paintings and icons of Mary as Theotokos, of the Assumption of Mary, (her Dormition, as depicted in iconography) and Mary as Queen of Heaven, so you can search these on Google till your heart is content.
Next is an icon called She Who Reigns written by Fr. William Hart McNichols. You can find it at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/she-who-reigns-276-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The final two photos are mine. The first is a pelican with the Gulf of Mexico in the background, taken in Biloxi, Mississippi. I chose this because the pelican is famous for suffering so that it's children may have life, a sort of intercession. The last is a photo I took of stained glass at a church in Nevers, France.
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Heart Speaks to Heart