The Queenship of Mary follows logically from her status as Mother of God and as mother to Christ the King. The best explanation of the Catholic insistence on this title, in my opinion, is the encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam from Pope Pius II. Some Catholic apologists also will un-spool some very intricate biblical-theological arguments for why Mary should be considered Queen of Heaven, based upon studies of the Old Testament and the ancient near Eastern position of Queen Mother. (A fine example of such scholarship is available here.)
But faithful Catholics actually need to look no further than Hail Mary prayer itself and the gospel text upon which it is taken. “Hail” is, after all, not simply a “hello.” It is a particular kind of greeting delivered to a person who is considered to enjoy a royal status. Think of the common salutation “Hail Caesar” from ancient Roman times. The same idea carries through in the gospels in which the word appears only a handful of times. In fact, the only other times, in the gospels at least, that the word is used, it is addressed to Jesus himself—certainly a strong hint of the special status that Mary enjoys as Queen next to Christ the King.
Three moments stand out:
■ Judas greets Jesus with a “hail” when he meets Him in the Garden of Gethsemane in order to betray him.
■ The second moment is the scourging of Jesus, after which the Roman soldiers mocked Him by crying out “All Hail King of the Jews,” an episode recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John (but curiously not in Luke).
■ Finally, Jesus uses the word Himself in Matthew 28 when he meets the women who had just stumbled upon the empty tomb. Here is how the gospel writer records it: “And behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Hail.’ But they drew near and took hold of his feet, and they adored him.” In fact, one alternative way of reading the original Greek is that Jesus literally tells them to hail Him. In effect, He could just as easily be saying: “Hail Me. Worship me.” It’s a reading that makes sense in the context of the verse: their immediate response is to fall down before His feet in adoration.
As for the first two moments, those are clearly ironic affirmations of Christ’s kingship: the Jews and Judas mock and deride Jesus as king, without believing, when in fact He truly is king. The bottom line: as a greeting, hail is not used casually in the gospels. In fact, other than the Annunciation it appears to be used only to address Jesus, and, in two out of three instances, it is used in a royal context.
It’s something to ponder next time you say the Hail Mary. The prayer, for all that is it, is also an affirmation of the Queenship of Mary. It’s a comforting thought to all those who already draw so much consolation and spiritual strength from this prayer.