By J. David Franks
Today, the Kingdom of God has a Queen! And Our Lady’s role in the economy of salvation illuminates and makes possible the fact that the scroll of world history is written for one purpose: that we all become the Father’s instruments in bringing heaven to earth, in incarnating true love.
This was the point of imaging God in the beginning: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it…’” (Gen. 1:27-28)
Male and female are entrusted with the task of procreation and civilizational progress. The slaughtered Lamb has loved us to the end to make this possible: “Worthy art Thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for Thou wast slain and by Thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10)
And to get from Garden to golden City, to that New Jerusalem which will descend to consummate all love’s actions in history, requires not only an Adam and Eve. The New Adam needs a New Eve. And that is what we celebrate today.
Sixty years ago, Pope Pius XII instituted a feast in honor of the Queenship of Mary. Eventually, this feast would be celebrated on the octave of the Assumption. And it is this heavenly Marian glory, following upon the Transfiguration, that lights up these august but waning days of summer, transforming melancholy into the determined initiative to be about the Father’s business of reconciliation.
My favorite apse mosaic is in Rome’s Santa Maria Maggiore, a depiction of Jesus sitting side-by-side with His Mother on a royal bench, reaching over to crown her. It is different from most depictions of the coronation in that Mary and Jesus sit on the same level. This indicates how humble the divine love is. All Jesus wants to do is share His heavenly glory.
There is a reason the consummating mystery of the rosary is the Crowning of Mary as queen of heaven and earth. The whole of the Father’s plan of loving goodness is bent to one end: to make humans His partners in making love visible.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul describes the sweep of history as an act of recapitulation, that is, of bringing all things under the headship of Christ. On the one hand, this includes all the cosmic labor of 13.8 billion years of evolutionary process. On the other hand, and even more crucially, this means Jesus’ descending into the trivialities and horrors of human existence to transfigure them by the alchemy of the Cross. Here the philosopher’s stone is precisely the divine and human love of Jesus, abased and unrequited, bleeding to the end for each of us.
But Jesus thirsts for our love, as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta insisted. For God does not act the way a micromanager does. The point of the divine initiative is to call forth creaturely cooperation. And here we get to the secret behind the celebration of Mary’s Queenship. The Father in His generous goodness creates difference—different excellences, analogies of divine goodness—in a symphonic and panoramic effusion of the infinitely rich simplicity of the divine life. It pleases the Father to distribute the merits of His Son through the Mother of His Son. Pope Pius writes in Ad Caeli Reginam, no. 43, “Let all Christians, therefore, glory in being subjects of the Virgin Mother of God, who, while wielding royal power, is on fire with a mother’s love.”
There is an order here, to be sure. The human nature of Jesus is a creature, the greatest creature of all. That’s the impossible paradox of the Incarnation: the Creator, as God the Son, unites Himself to a creature, so irrevocably that for all eternity the Second Divine Person will always be named Jesus of Nazareth. And through the Sacred Humanity of Jesus, the Father accomplishes His plan of loving goodness.
But the next creature in rank is Mary, who is in fact the greatest of all created persons (Jesus being a divine person). Her personhood sums up what all creaturely personhood is about: to be the handmaid of the Father’s loving will.
When the Word, God the Son, becomes flesh, He undertakes all of the tensions that mark human existence. In the social order, the most basic such polarity is that of man and woman. The Incarnation is not sufficiently honored if we do not recognize that in becoming a male, Jesus took to Himself a partner, an associate, for His mission: the Woman, Mary.
And the point of recognizing Mary’s preeminence amongst created persons is, in the end, to recognize our own calling to participate in the mission, the ministry of reconciliation, to bind hearts together in true love and solidarity. Looking to Mary as Queen, we are comforted, even under the blows that we suffer in life. For all of that wasting away, that seems so characteristic of human existence, the Father allows, and sometimes commands, for one reason only: to try our hearts in the crucible, so that only love remains. Love transcends time; it is eternal:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor 4:16-18)
Love alone is glorious. It seeks to build the neighbor up, to create unity where once there was division. Thus the body of Christ makes visible the invisible world of divine love. And that is the task that has been entrusted to us. In Christ. And under Christ, in Mary. For the generous Father, Who causes every good thing, nestles mediation upon mediation within His direct, creative, and beneficent action. Christ takes us captive, normally through baptism, so that He might move us by His Spirit to ever greater works of love:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, Who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 17-19)
The message of reconciliation: the word that energizes your neighbor, rather than crushing him; the word that has nothing to do with gossip, but only with the justification of your neighbor in Christ.
The Queenship of Mary means our pettiness is not inevitable. We can be free! With a mother’s care, she keeps trying to separate us from the self-seeking that causes us to fail in our love for coworkers, family members, strangers, the unborn, the poor, the throwaways of our society. True love bears fruit in solidarity. May Pius XII’s words energize us (Ad Caeli Reginam, no. 49) to strive to create the fraternity of love that Mary’s maternity makes possible:
“All, according to their state, should strive to bring alive the wondrous virtues of our heavenly Queen and most loving Mother through constant effort of mind and manner. Thus will it come about that all Christians, in honoring and imitating their sublime Queen and Mother, will realize they are truly brothers, and with all envy and avarice thrust aside, will promote love among classes, respect the rights of the weak, cherish peace.”