As I reflected on the meaning of today’s liturgical memorial of Mary’s Queenship, a fitting festal ending to the Octave of the Assumption, it struck me that the title of ‘queen’ is a title of supreme authority and power within a kingdom. Then I thought, what kind of power does one wield in the Kingdom of Christ? I began to think on all the overturning-paradoxes embedded within God’s strange mode of wielding power that thread their way through the whole New Testament, but above all in the supreme paradox of the Crucified Messiah. Especially I recalled a haunting line from the ancient liturgical hymn about the Cross, Vexilla Regis:
Arbor decora et fulgida,
ornata Regis purpura
O lovely and refulgent Tree,
adorned with purpled majesty
Christ conquers sin and death by obediently embracing them both in an act of ‘heroic defeat,’ making, as the Preface of the Mass says so beautifully, “the cause of our downfall…the means of our salvation.” Only such a ‘great reversal’ allows one to call the wood of the cross ‘lovely’ and ‘refulgent.’ God, who is infinitely rich by nature, becomes finitely poor by condescension, meeting the lowly on the “dung heap” (1 Sam. 2:8) from whence He lifts them up. Such a Kingdom!
Thus, the lowly are lifted up, not by joining a conquering king, but as a conquering king joins them.
And Mary is the mother of such a conquering King!
In light of these considerations I began to re-mull the words of Mary’s regal Magnificat, where she lauds the divine economy of paradox that favors manifesting God’s Most High power through the most low “humiliation of His slave woman” (Luke 1:48):
He puts forth his arm in strength
and scatters the proud-hearted.
He casts the mighty from their thrones
and raises the lowly.
He fills the starving with good things,
sends the rich away empty. (Lk. 1:51-53)
And it is from within the strange vistas of this messianic ‘kingdom of inversions’ that Jesus sharply admonishes the disciples for their sin-distorted view of theandric (divine-human) power:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mt. 20:25-28)
Such is the inner logic of Mary’s Queenship, wherein all of the power and authority given her by her royal Son is freely expended in bent-over service to God’s fallen people. This logic stands in stark contrast with the illogic of sin expressed with such tragic precision by Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.
Happier than Mary
Then, at last, my meandering mind rested in the remembrance of a story from St. Thérèse that for me illustrates, with a tenderness unique to her, the profound beauty of Mary’s lowly, bent-over, other-centered heart of love. The fact that Mary embodies the divine model of selfless love makes her supremely attractive to Thérèse, and to every human heart of flesh, as the Latin title for Mary evinces, tota pulchra, all-beautiful. Thérèse wrote on Oct. 19, 1892, shortly before her death, to her sister Céline:
Everything is mine. God is mine, and the Mother of God is also my Mother…And there is something I find myself saying to her, ‘You know, dear Mother, that I am happier than you? I have you for Mother, whereas you do not have the Blessed Virgin to love. I poor creature am not your servant, but your daughter. You are the Mother of Jesus, and my Mother too….O Mary, if I were Queen of heaven and you were Thérèse, I would wish to be Thérèse, to see you Queen of Heaven.
How blessed are we to have such a Queen Mother? Let’s sing for joy: