In this year’s Assumptiontide Lecture at Walsingham, and inspired by the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Her Majesty The Queen, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet took as his theme the Queenship of Mary. Here is part of the opening section of his address, reviewing the key magisterial teaching on Mary’s Queenship in the twentieth century.

It was Pope Pius XII who established the feast of Mary’s Queenship, in his encyclical Ad Caeli Regnam, given on 11 October 1954. Pius appointed 31 May as the date for the universal observation of the feast; after the Second Vatican Council, it was transferred, as a memorial, to its present date of 22 August, the Octave Day of the Solemnity of the Assumption. Pope Pius had already shown himself to be an ardent disciple of Mary’s Queenship in his devotion to the Blessed Virgin under her title of Our Lady of Fatima. Broadcasting amidst the turmoils of the Second World War, in October 1942, Pius greeted the people of Portugal with these words: ‘Happy are the people whose King is God and whose Queen is the Mother of God’; he further addressed Our Lady as heavenly Queen, Queen of Peace, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, and Queen of the World, to whose Immaculate Heart he consecrated the entire human race.

Pope Pius XII’s address

Then, in 1946, on the occasion of the crowning of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima by the Pontifical Legate, Cardinal Aloisi Masella, Pope Pius made more explicit his theology of the Queenship of Mary in the text of his address conveyed to the pilgrims of Fatima. Calling Mary ‘Queen of the Universe’, the Pope wrote this:

Because [Mary] is associated as Mother and Helper of the King of Martyrs in the ineffable work of human redemption, she is also for ever most powerfully associated in the distribution of grace and divine redemption. Jesus is King of the eternal ages by nature and conquest. By Him, and with Him, and under Him, Mary is Queen by grace, by her divine relationship, by conquest and by singular election. And her kingdom is vast, vast as that of her divine Son, because from her dominion none is excluded. So the Church salutes her as Lady and Queen of Apostles and Martyrs, of Confessors and Virgins, acclaims her Queen of Heaven and earth, most glorious and worthy Queen of the Universe – ‘Regina Caelorum’: most worthy Queen of the world – ‘Regina Mundi’: the light shining amid the tears of this exile. ‘Hail, Holy Queen! Mother of Mercy, Hail! Our life, our sweetness and our hope!’

Fourfold explication

It is worth pausing, amidst the triumphalism of which we, even in Walsingham, can only dream, to pause over the fourfold explication of Mary’s Queenship which this passage contains. Pius’ Christology and his Mariology, his entire theology of the Queenship, are sound. It is Christ alone who is King both by nature (that is to say, by virtue of his divinity, entire and perfect from the first moment of his conception) and by conquest (that is to say, his vanquishing of sin and hades by means of his sacrificial self-offering even unto death on Calvary).

Mary does not exercise her Queenship by nature, but through grace (kaire kecharitomeme, Hail! Full of Grace!); by virtue of her maternal relationship with her divine Son; by her own share, via her suffering at the foot of the Cross, in her Son’s Passion; and by the free, sovereign exercise of the divine will, the singular choice of the Father (by election). These are four vital principles which we need to keep in mind in all of our reflection on the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Fathers

Ad Caeli Reginam (1954) builds upon the foundations laid in the Fatima address. Pope Pius is careful to assert, very close to the beginning of the encyclical, that he does ‘not wish to propose a new truth to be believed by Christians, since the title and the arguments on which Mary’s queenly dignity is based have already been clearly set forth and are to be found in ancient documents of the Church and in the books of the sacred liturgy.’ He sets out a catena of the Fathers whose writings bear witness to a primitive understanding of Mary’s royal status.

He cites Ephrem, who prays to Our Lady in these words, ‘Majestic and Heavenly Maid, Lady, Queen, protect and keep me under your wing’; and then a host of others who do not explicitly honour Mary as Queen, but who do emphasize that she is truly the mother of the King of the Universe: among them Gregory of Nazianzus, Origen, Jerome and Epiphanius of Constantinople. But others among the Fathers are bolder: John of Damascus, in his first Homily on the Dormition, calls Mary ‘Queen, ruler and Lady’, and, elsewhere, ‘the Queen of every creature’, ‘favoured Queen’ and ‘the perpetual Queen beside the King her Son’, whose ‘snow-white brow is crowned with a golden diadem’.

St Andrew of Crete

Another of the Fathers referenced by Pope Pius is St Andrew of Crete (d. c.740), and it is worth pausing over the contribution of this great hymn-writer and contemporary of John Damascene to Marian theology, and, in particular, to Mary’s Queenship. Andrew is keen to garland Mary with royal honours and titles. In his homilies, he readily addresses her as Queen of the human race, Immaculate Queen, New Queen, Queen of the whole human race and so on, and he is ever ready to stress her mediatory and intercessory roles – but in a manner which makes clear that they are entirely dependent on, and sub-ordinate to, her Son’s uniquely salvific mediation with the Father.

Thus Mary’s role does not surpass nor even duplicate that of Christ, but exists in relationship with it, by virtue of her maternal relationship with him.