It is well known that Pope Francis has a great personal devotion to our Blessed Mother, Mary, about whom he speaks very frequently. Whenever he leaves Rome to visit another country and returns to it, he always goes to the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome to offer a prayer to Our Lady. He prays before the Blessed Sacrament, which is reserved in a tabernacle with a golden relief of the Coronation of Mary. This depiction of Mary is a common one portraying Mary being crowned by God the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit hovering over the crown they place upon her head. It is a reminder of the centrality of Mary in the life of the Church as our Mother.
This particular depiction of the Coronation of Mary has a deep theological significance as it represents the life of Mary who is, body and soul, in heaven, having been the first one to share fully in the redemption of Christ. While, obviously, Mary is not part of the Trinity, nor the Redeemer, she has an essential role in redemption. Christ is now present with the Father and the Holy Spirit in His risen human body. That human body came into this world through His conception in the womb of Mary. Mary now shares the fullness of life in heaven with her glorified body and its perfect state. Being sinless, Mary is truly the perfect human person, who lived as her Son asks us. It is fitting that Mary’s coronation is depicted in a manner that does not make her part of the Trinity but gives a sense of completion to the Trinity’s involvement in our lives and to God’s taking our human nature to Himself for all eternity. Mary truly is Queen of Heaven and Earth in the same manner as Jesus is King, not with worldly power but with the fullness of divine love and mercy. As Pope Benedict expressed so well, the Queenship of Mary “is not (one of) wealth and power” but is “a service of love.”
We celebrate the feast of the Queenship of Mary on Aug. 22, exactly one week after the celebration of the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. This is a significant feast for our diocese as Mary is our patroness under the title of Our Lady, Queen of the Apostles. The coat of arms for our diocese portrays two crowns with stars representing Mary and her role as Queen and as Star of the Sea. The feast of the Queenship of Mary was established by Pope Pius XII in 1954 just after he had infallibly declared the dogma of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. In his encyclical letter, Ad Caeli Reginam, proclaiming the Queenship of Mary, Pope Pius XII set May 31, the final day of the month dedicated to Mary, for the celebration of the feast of the Queenship of Mary. He declared, “The Blessed Virgin Mary should be called Queen, not only because of her Divine Motherhood, but also because God has willed her to have an exceptional role in the work of our eternal salvation.” After the Second Vatican Council, St. Pope Paul VI moved the celebration to Aug. 22 to complete an octave of the celebration of the solemnity of the Assumption.
As we celebrate the Queenship of Mary, we look to her as our Mother, who expresses the mercy of the Lord primarily through her being the Queen of Mercy. In his encyclical on God’s mercy, Dives in Misericordiae, St. John Paul II emphasized Mary as the Mother of Mercy. This title of Mary is so significant as it relates intimately to her role as Queen in imitation of the kingship of her Son upon the cross. Mary continually intercedes for her Son’s mercy upon us. In his encyclical, St. John Paul II stated that Mary is “the one who obtains mercy in a particular and an exceptional way, as no other person has.” It is surprising to hear of Mary as one who experiences mercy, as she was sinless and had no need of forgiveness. However, she accepted all that God bestowed upon her, even though she was unworthy of it, as a gift and thus knew what the true meaning of mercy is all about. Mary was the first to accept God’s mercy freely and unconditionally, always realizing that it is God who bestowed upon us all that we have.
Mary has a special role in our lives and a special role in the life of Heaven. The tabernacle that Pope Francis prays before during his visits to St. Mary Major Basilica represents that special role. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who had great devotion also to Mary, used to humorously say that the Lord would greet a person in heaven with the words, “My mother speaks very favorably of you.” Pope Francis has urged us to “knock at the door of Mary.” Certainly, she will be there to greet us in our heavenly home!
Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, pray for us!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
August 18, 2023