Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Finally, we come to the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven. This honorific, like many others, is an expression of common piety that emerges from the heart of the common man. It's also, I was surprised to discover, rooted in Scripture.
For just as there was the office of King in the Old Testament, so there was the office of Queen Mother. As noted biblical scholar Dr. Scott Hahn points out:
David's first successor, Solomon, reigned with his mother, Bathsheba, at his right hand. Israel's queen mother, or gebirah ("great lady"), appears, then, through the history of the monarchy, to the very end. When Jerusalem falls to Babylon, we find the invaders taking away the king, Jehoiachin, and also his mother Nehushta, who is given precedence, in the account, over the king's wives (2 Kgs 24:15; see also Jer 13:18).
Between Bathsheba and Nehushta there were many queen mothers. Some worked for good, some didn't; but none was a mere figurehead. Gebirah was more than a title; it was an office with real authority. Consider the following scene from early in Solomon's reign: "So Bathsheba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a seat brought for the king's mother; and she sat on his right" (1 Kgs 2:19).
This short passage packs implicit volumes about Israel's court protocol and power structure. First, we see that the queen mother was approaching her son in order to speak on behalf of another person. This confirms what we know about queen mothers in other Near Eastern cultures. We see in the epic of Gilgamesh, for example, that the queen mother in Mesopotamia was considered an intercessor, or advocate, for the people.
Next, we notice that Solomon rose from his throne when his mother entered the room. This makes the queen mother unique among the royal subjects. Anyone else would, following protocol, rise in Solomon's presence; even the king's wives were required to bow before him (1 Kgs 1:16). Yet Solomon rose to honor Bathsheba. Moreover, he showed further respect by bowing before her and by seating her in the place of greatest honor, at his right hand. Undoubtedly, this describes a court ritual of Solomon's time; but all ritual expresses real relationships. What do Solomon's actions tell us about his status in relation to his mother?
First, his power and authority are in no way threatened by her. He bows to her, but he remains the monarch. She sits at his right hand, not vice versa.
Yet clearly he will honor her requests — not out of any legally binding obligation of obedience, but rather out of filial love. By the time of this particular scene, Solomon clearly had a track record of granting his mother's wishes. When Adonijah first approaches Bathsheba to get her intercession, he says, "Pray ask King Solomon — he will not refuse you." Though technically Solomon was Bathsheba's superior, in the orders of both nature and protocol he remained her son.
Hahn's point in all this is that just as David and Solomon are types of Jesus, the "Son of David," so Mary's role in the Kingdom of the Son of David is prefigured by the role of Queen Mother as well. This doesn't mean that every detail about the lives of Old Testament figures is to be reproduced in the lives of Jesus and Mary. Just because Jesus is not noted for hamstringing horses, leading troops into battle or committing adultery doesn't mean he is not a Davidic King. Similarly, just because Bathsheba's plea for Adonijah was rejected doesn't prevent her office from foreshadowing Mary's far greater office as a Queen Mother of a far greater King than David.
Some (including me, once upon a time) take the notion of Mary as a Queen as "baptized paganism." They read Jeremiah 7:18 and tremble that the title "Queen of Heaven" makes Mary into Ashtoreth:
The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.
But, in fact, applying this verse to Mary is a grossly ahistorical reading of Scripture. For Mary is no more Ashtoreth than an Easter egg hunt is a fertility cult. Rather, Mary is a Queen because, in Christ Jesus we are all kings and queens. That's why Paul tells the Corinthians:
Already you are filled! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! (1 Corinthians 4:8)
It's why Paul himself looks forward to a "crown of righteousness" (2 Timothy 4:8) and why the blessed in Heaven all have crowns as well (Revelation 4:10). And supremely it's why the heavenly Woman of Revelation 12:1 -- the one who gave birth to a male child who rules the nations with an iron sceptre -- has on her head "a crown of twelve stars."
In short, the Rosary is a Success Story. Mary's crown is the promise of our crown. What we shall be, Mary already is supremely: a creature exalted and glorified by Jesus Christ to show forth the glory of God in the splendor of His saints. This too is profoundly Davidic, for David (unlike Saul) was never stingy about sharing his kingly glory with others. Through her, we see how incredibly lavish her Son is in sharing the glory of an even greater kingdom with His friends, children and servants.