by Rev. Fr. (Dr) Anthony Mario Ozele, PhD
The Queenship of Mary is something deeply embedded in Catholic culture. Statues of Mary wearing a crown are common. The tradition of the Mary Crowning is an old tradition seeing a revival. And it is not uncommon to see parishes name Mary Queen of the Apostles, Mary Queen of the Angels or even Mary Queen of Heaven. All of Mary’s queenly titles are derived from her office of Queen Mother. To many non-Catholic Christian such titles are further evidence of what happens when you stray from the Bible. You end up with idolatrous myths.
The Office of Queen Mother: Christ’s reign is described as a kingship, not a republic, or even a democracy. Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of David who came to establish and fulfill the Davidic Kingdom, not just any Kingdom. Saint Matthew wrote his gospel for a Jewish audience. In it he is careful, by documenting Christ’s linage, to identify Jesus in the royal line of David. It is interesting to note that if the Davidic Kingdom had never been conquered, Saint Joseph would have been the rightful King of Israel. And Mary herself (as we will see) would have had a unique role.
The Davidic Kingdom had a number of offices besides that of king.
- One was that of the Chief Steward. This officer ruled in the king’s absence. The Chief Steward was to be “a father” to the people and hold the keys to the house of David. What he would bind would be bound and what he shut, no one would be able open. In Christ’s Davidic Kingdom, the Pope (meaning father) fills the office of the Chief Steward. With the keys and the bishops, he binds and looses what “shall be bound and loosed in heaven”. This Davidic type is fulfilled with the reign of Christ. This office is described in Isaiah 22:15-25. With the giving of the keys the disciples must have understood this.
- Queen Mother was another office in the Davidic Kingdom. Solomon established this office in the Old Testament. We read about it in the book of 1 Kings 2:19-20, “Then Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, and the king stood up to meet her and paid her homage. Then he sat down upon his throne, and a throne was provided for the king’s mother, who sat at his right. She said, “There is one small favour I would ask of you. Do not refuse me.” The king said to her, “Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you.”
It is only the kingdom of Judah that has the true Temple: The Levitical priesthood, the Davidic throne, and its offices of Chief Steward and Queen Mother. And today it is the Catholic Church that has the Davidic King (Christ), reigning over the true Temple (the Church), with its priests of “Levitical succession” (apostolic succession), a Chief Steward (the bishop of Rome) and Queen Mother (Mary). Christ’s Kingdom fulfills the Davidic type.
The office of Queen Mother continued throughout the history of the Davidic throne and is referenced in the following passages of Scripture. “He also deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made an outrageous object for Asherah. Asa cut down this object and burned it in the Wadi Kidron.”(1 kings 15:13 & 2 Chronicles 15:16)
2 Kings10:13 states: “Jehu came across relatives of Ahaziah, king of Judah. “Who are you?” he asked, and they said, “We are relatives of Ahaziah. We are going down to visit the princes and the family of the queen mother.”
Read also Jeremiah 13:18. Jeremiah is speaking out against the royal house in this passage, and Jeremiah 29:2. When reading of the rise and fall of kings in Old Testament Israel, there is difference in how the Kings of Judah are introduced as compared with the Kings of Israel. With Judah, the King’s mother is always mentioned when he comes to the throne. Not so with Israel. The reason is because Judah (with its Davidic line) also installed a Queen Mother, and therefore the mother is named in the transition 8. Israel (with its non-Davidic throne) had no such office (Jezebel tried to establish it, but it never gained traction), and therefore the mother is not named.
But why was the mother of the king installed as Queen? Why not his wife? The answer is that the Kings had many wives but he only had one mother. In polygamist conditions, it was much easier to single out the mother as Queen. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see why.
Mary as Mother and Queen in the New Testament
One of Christ’s final acts while hanging on the cross was to formally make Mary the Mother of all Christians. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciples there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her in to his home.” (John 19:26-27) Standing a few feet away was John’s biological mother. It wasn’t as if he was in need of motherly attention. And this was no last minute, merely personal matter weighing on Christ. No. Each gasping word Christ struggled to speak form the Cross-had redemptive ramifications, meant to bring salvation to humankind. In fact, Christ was making Mary the mother of us all.
It is important to observe that john’s biological mother who was standing right under the cross had previously marched James and John (the sons of Thunder) to Christ asking that they sit on the right and left hand of Christ in his Kingdom. Perhaps “Thunder” actually refers to the mother instead. This woman shows a strong personality, and a definite bond of attachment to her children. Would she have let go of that attitude without a single word of expression?
This singular act of Jesus also attests to the fact Mary had no children to care for her as she is turned over to John. Protestants will quickly retort, “No, instead this points to the fact that none of her children were Christians and Christ was looking to put her in a Christian home”. But Protestants claim James was one of Christ’s biological brothers, born of Mary. Christ had appeared to James after the resurrection and Paul calls this James an apostle of the Church. Thus, In the Protestants scenario, Mary had a very holy son to live with. See 1 Corinthians 15:7 and Galatians 1:19. Within hours after Christ’s death, this James would be a pillar of the Church. Why would Christ take Mary away from James and give her to John to live in far away Ephesus (eventually)? The Protestants case is weak on this passage.
Some others argue Christ said all older Christians women are our mothers (Matthew 12:46-50). True. But this does not contradict Mary’s unique motherhood. Paul claims to be a father to the Corinthians church (1 Corinthians 4:15) and it is said that Abraham is our father (Romans 4:16). But this does not contradict the unique fatherhood of God.
What might be called the first Marian apparition takes place while the apostle John is on the island of Patmos. There John has a vision of a woman wearing a crown.” A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth…” (Revelation 12:1-6).
This scene is juxtaposed against Genesis 3:15 often called the proto-evangelicum. There it is said the woman’s Seed will crush the serpent’s head. In this prophesy the seed is Christ, the serpent is Satan, and the woman is Mary as it refers to the virgin birth. Women do not have seed. With the virgin birth, Mary did. In Revelation we see these three again doing battle in history.
In John’s vision the woman is Mary, the child is Christ, and the serpent is Satan. With a crown and playing an elevated role in the redemptive battle, Mary is depicted as a Queen. The woman can also represent Israel or the Church. But a double meaning does not negate Mary’s role either. Many prophesies have double meanings. For example, Isaiah 7:14 prophesies the birth of Christ, but as the Reformation Study Bible (Protestant) points out, there was probably a partial fulfillment with the birth of Isaiah‘s son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. Even “the seed “crushing Satan in Genesis 3:15 has a meaning beyond Christ as all Christians will crush Satan under their feet (Romans 16:20). But double meanings do not negate Christ from the prophesy.
Later in this passage we see a reference to Mary’s motherhood of all Christians. After the male Child and woman are saved by God we are told the following.
“When the dragon saw that it had been thrown down to the earth, it pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the tow wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly to her place in the desert, where, far from the serpent, she was taken care of for a year, two year, and a half-year. The serpent, however, spewed a torrent of water out of his mouth after the woman to sweep her away with the current. But the earth helped the woman, opened its mouth, and swallowed the flood that the dragon spewed out of its mouth. Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus”. (Revelation 12:13-17)
One last objection
In the book of Jeremiah the prophet tells us the Israelites offered sacrifice and worship to a goddess called the Queen of Heaven (Jeremiah 7:18, 44:17, 44:18,44:19,44:25). Fundamentalists sometimes use this account to claim Catholics are falling prey to the same sin by honoring Mary as Queen of Heaven. But this claim is uncharitable and far from the mark. First, false gods, of which there are many in the Old Testament, do not disprove the true God. Likewise, a false Queen of Heaven does not disprove a true Queen of Heaven. Second, Catholic do not worship Mary. To do so would be a mortal sin. Guilt by name association is not valid.
C.S. Lewis also has an interesting insight worth noting. In this essay “myth Became Fact” he points out there are many pre-Christian myths that anticipate Christian truth. He states, “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.” (C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 66-67)
In many ways this makes sense. In all cultures there is yearning embedded in humankind’s consciousness to worship God. It can be argued that false gods are a proof of the existence of a true God. Likewise that false goddess of Old Testament Israel can attest to true and proper Queen of Heaven. While not a goddess, she is worthy of honour. “All generations will call me blessed.”
Christ has fulfilled the Davidic kingdom foreshadowed in the Old Testament. As foreshadowed, Christ’s kingdom also has a Chief steward and Queen Mother. Additionally, Mary was made the Mother of all Christians at the foot of the Cross. The same John, the first to take Mary as his own, sees her crowned in Heaven while exiled on the island of Patmos. Those keeping the commandments and bearing testimony to Jesus are said to be her children. Catholics and Orthodox therefore look to Mary as their Royal Mother, Queen of Heaven. And as any good mother, she intercede, is it not?