Swimming the Tiber 25: The Queen Mother

When I first heard the title “Queen of Heaven,” I must admit that I was troubled. In the limited context in which I grasped monarchy (and divine relationships), I said something like, “So Mary is supposed to be the spouse of Joseph, but she’s really the spouse of the Father (as the Father of Jesus) or the Holy Spirit (as the one who ‘overshadowed’ Mary), and now she’s the spouse of Jesus (the King)?”

Well, first of all, the Incarnation lacks the vulgar carnality of Zeus’ conquests. There was nothing sexual about the entire arrangement (after all, we know that Mary remained a virgin, or else there would have been no virgin birth). We also know that Mary was the spouse of Joseph (he did not break off their engagement, and he raised the Son of God as his own son).1

But the real crux of this question was in Mary’s relationship to the King. As an ignorant American, I had very little experience with the methods and manners of monarchies. All I knew was that England had kings and queens and sometimes they were spouses and sometimes a king or queen had a bunch of lovers (instead of spouses) to avoid sharing power. There was probably also an element of taking fairy tales at their word: if you marry a prince, you get to be queen when he becomes king.

But I never knew the concept of the queen mother. The queen mother is not the ruling monarch (Queen Elizabeth is a queen and a mother, but not the queen mother), but rather the spouse of the ruling monarch’s father. That is to say, she was married to the king, and then the king died, and her son became king. This is the context in which Mary is the “Queen of Heaven.” With Jesus as King, his mother holds a special place in Creation.

The concept of the queen mother can be found in a few places in Scripture. First, there’s the place in 1 Kings 2:13-21, where Adonijah goes to Bathsheba (the queen mother of King Solomon) to request her aid. When she goes on his behalf to Solomon, we see that Solomon sets up a throne for her, and she sits at his right hand. We see that the queen mother has authority and respect and influence (since she is sought to make this request of Solomon).

We see, in a way, a reflection of this event in John 2:1-11. Mary comes to Jesus to intercede on behalf of those hosting the wedding–“They have no wine.” Unlike Bathsheba, she has not been deceived by those requesting something of her (Adonijah is trying to steal the throne by marrying one of King David’s wives), and unlike Solomon, Jesus does not make promises that he fails to deliver on (in the verses following those referenced above, Solomon goes on to kill Adonijah and anyone who supported his claim to the throne). Instead, we see Jesus express his desire not to participate, but Mary’s request (as the queen mother) has influence, so he performs his first public miracle. (This incident, combined with the reality of intercessory prayer that I talked about a couple of weeks ago, is behind almost all Catholic devotion to Mary as an intercessor, someone who can pray on our behalf and ask for our aid.)

The prophet Jeremiah also mentions the queen mother in Jeremiah 13:18; 22:26; 29:2. The idea of a queen mother is also a thing that still exists. (It’s entirely possible that my own ignorance of this throughout my youth is an isolated incident, and most people know what a queen mother is.)

To further connect Mary to Jesus as the queen mother, we see Luke 1:43 (Elizabeth’s greeting of Mary, “the mother of my lord”). We also see John use frequent royal language about Jesus in John 18:33-37; 19:2-5, 10-15, 19-22. When we get to verse 25, we’re well aware of Jesus’ kingship (mostly because of John’s excellent use of irony).

And [they] stoodlit. had been made to stand before the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the [one] of Clopas, and Mary the Magdalene. Jesus, therefore, having beheld the mother and the disciple standing nearlit. having stood near, whom [he] loved, [he] says to the mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then [he] says to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own [things].

– John 19:25-27 (my translation)

The full importance of this moment involves a position for Mary that we’ll discuss later, but we clearly see Jesus’ mother being identified in a special way in the midst of his crucifixion, at which point we’re acutely aware that he is the King. Her status as queen mother is reinforced here.

There is one final passage to look at: Revelation 12:1-6. Here we see Mary “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” How do we know this is Mary? Because she’s pregnant, and the devil sought to consume her child as soon as he was born (recall Matthew 2:16-18, compare Exodus 1:15-16). We see that this child is to rule (literally shepherd) all the nations (compare Matthew 25:31-36; John 10:1-18), and that he is taken at birth to the throne of God.

I hope that clears up the question a little bit. Mary is the Queen of Heaven, not as the reigning monarch, but as his mother. We ask for her prayer because there is established precedent that Mary can (and does) make requests of Jesus, which he fulfills out of love for her. She is given special consideration as beautiful and regal, with her own throne (as with Bathsheba in 1 Kings) and her own crown (as in Revelation). Every aspect of this is based not on her own merit, but on the grace granted her by God through Jesus Christ.

Next week, we’ll be tackling another major point of contention about Mary: the doctrine of her perpetual virginity and just how that relates to all these “brothers” Jesus is said to have in the Gospels.

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1 It’s important to note that Mary is called the spouse of the Holy Spirit in several places, as well as the spouse of St. Joseph. Polygamy should not be presumed here, but a mystical relationship that I will tackle a little bit more next week. Suffice it to say for now that Mary’s relationship to the Holy Spirit does involve the conception of Jesus, but does not involve a carnal act of conception.