Queen of Heaven and Earth, Pray For Us!

SAINTS & ART: Just as the moon reflects the sun, so Mary reflects her Son in ‘fully revealing man to himself’

Niccolò di Buonaccorso, “Coronation of the Virgin,” ca. 1625
Niccolò di Buonaccorso, “Coronation of the Virgin,” ca. 1625 (photo: Public Domain)

The Church marks the Memorial of the Queenship of Mary on Aug. 22. Every year, we celebrate two “royal” feasts: the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (on the last Sunday in Ordinary Time) and the Queenship of Mary.

Separately, the Queenship of Mary falls a week after the Solemnity of her Assumption. With those two celebrations, the Church concludes the last two Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary: Mary’s Assumption and her Coronation.

What do these two realities — the last “mysteries” of Mary’s life and “Kingship/Queenship” — have to say to Catholics, especially of our times?

Let me try to explain through a special lens, their relevance to our own salvation. I contend that Mary — like Jesus — reveals man to himself.

During his pontificate, Pope St. John Paul II emphasized Vatican II’s teaching that “Christ … fully reveals man to himself and makes his [man’s] supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et spes, 22; see also John Paul’s encyclical Redemptor hominis, 8, 10). I would maintain that this same idea can be applied congruo congruis referendo, to Our Lady. Just as the moon reflects the sun, so Mary reflects her Son in revealing, through her life, who the human person is and just to what he is called. I recognize this is a theological insight that needs developing. Let me do some developing here.

Christ the King teaches us that human models of “kingship” and rule are not God’s. Among the Gospels used for that solemnity are Jesus on the cross, Jesus before Pilate, and Jesus as the ultimate judge who separates the sheep from the goats. A tortured prisoner is not most folks’ idea of a king. It wasn’t the Apostles: throughout most of Jesus’ three-year public ministry, they keep asking, “So, are you going to restore the Kingdom to Israel now?” They, too, couldn’t think in terms of God’s measure of rule.

But God’s Kingdom, as the Preface for Christ the King reminds us, is a “Kingdom of justice, love, and truth.” Love is apparent on Calvary. Its offer (or refusal) leads to the truth and justice of the Final Judgment, the definitive separation of sheep and lambs. And Jesus is that king because, by his emptying, God “exalted him and have him the name above all other names, so at the name of Jesus every knee must bend, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord!’” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Likewise, Mary, the “handmaid of the Lord” (1:38) upon whom God looks — and exalts — “in her lowliness” (1:48) as Queen of the Universe. A human being! How that must sit in the Devil’s craw!

Greatness does not come from one’s achievements but from doing the will of the Father. That was always the recipe. Adam and Eve squandered it by buying a “get great quick” scam.

Mary, the first disciple, is exalted by following the path of her Son, i.e., doing the will of his Father. It’s the same path for each of us. Mary just doesn’t follow it: she is a model to us to follow to her Son and his Father.

Mary does that in the order of grace for human beings after the Fall, after the first sin. She’s often been called the “new Eve” or “second Eve.” In fact, she shows us possibilities beyond Eve’s wildest dreams. Eve was tempted to be “like God.” Mary, and all her children entrusted to her by her Son (John 19:26-27), have the possibility of the Living Triune God dwelling in them.

So, the connections to the Glorious Mysteries?

As regards the “mysteries” — they are not just private “achievements” of Mary’s. Yes, because of whom she was and what she did, she was specially privileged by God. But these privileges also tell us about whom we are supposed to be. The Assumption is not just Mary’s special privilege because she obeyed God (though that’s true). Mary’s transition from this world could not be like ours because we experience death as sinners and Mary was conceived without sin. What happened to her after “complet[ing] the course of her earthly life” therefore also would be different.

That said, Mary’s Assumption is not a stand-alone. It is part of Easter. Easter launched the ultimate conquest of sin and death, a process that will end in “the resurrection of the body” on the Last Day. Sin and death are already conquered in Mary: the Assumption is the fruit of the Resurrection, just as our own bodily resurrection one day will be. Mary thus reveals not only her unique privileges but “what God has prepared for those that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Likewise with her Queenship. Mary is Queen of the Universe, her unique privilege. But she also reminds us that her Son’s Sacrifice has made us “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people set apart” (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus has made us a “kingdom, priests for God our Father” (Revelation 1:6). We are subjects of Jesus’ Kingdom and our Mother is our Queen. Vatican II reminds us that, by Baptism, we share in Christ’s threefold office of priest, prophet, and king — a king in God’s sense of the term, i.e., one who rules himself by doing the will of his heavenly Father.

Today’s memorial is depicted in art by the Sienese artist, Niccolò di Buonaccorso. Not much is known about him, including when he was born. We know his artistic works run from about 1355 until his death in 1388.

“Coronation of the Virgin” comes from about 1380. It is a tempera (i.e., pigments bound in water by some glutinous material like egg yolks) work 17-1/2 by 10-1/2 inches: Buonaccorso excelled at miniatures. Its size and Marian theme suggest it might have been once part of a set of three (including the Presentation of Mary in London’s National Gallery and the Marriage of the Virgin in Florence’s Uffizi), though it is unclear if they were just a set of three or perhaps even a triptych. “Coronation” is on view at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Paintings of Mary’s Coronation usually take one of two variants: her coronation by the entire Trinity or, in this case, by Jesus. In all of them, Mary’s posture is always one of humility: she is always “the handmaid of the Lord,” even as Queen. Buonaccorso’s heavenly court is angelic. Winged seraphim form the top arch, presumably cherubim following. The act of coronation occurs against a flaming witness of angels. Female-looking angels (parallel to a court’s ladies in waiting) attend the throne, though — before Judgment Day — there are no other human bodies in heaven but the two principal protagonists of this scene. Spanish art historian José María Salvador-González says the whole angelic hierarchy is represented in this painting. Six angels frame the bottom of the painting, two adoring, four bringing musical celebration to the act.

This feast day, stop to consider whom you have as a King, Queen, Mother and Brother.

Blessed Mother painted by artist Giovanni Battista Gaulli, Museu da Casa Brasileira.

Why the Queenship of Mary Matters

I would suggest that the feast of the Queenship of Mary has to do with this choice: Where do you stand in the great spiritual struggle?