We Catholics love Mary. We ask her to intercede for us, we crown statues of her, we consecrate ourselves to her, and we build churches in her honor. To many people, even sometimes to Catholics, this devotion can seem strange or even idolatrous. What makes Mary so special? Why does she get a special form of devotion that no other saint receives? While a full answer to that would require more than just a single article, I want to look at part of the answer: she is our queen, and as our queen, she deserves all the love and honor we give her. More specifically, I want to look at how the Bible subtly teaches this doctrine even though it never comes out and says it explicitly.
Jesus, Our King
Mary’s role as queen of the Church is intimately connected to Jesus’ role as our king. That may seem strange to us today, as we’re used to thinking of a queen as the king’s wife, but once we fully understand the biblical background to this idea, it will all make perfect sense.
To begin, let’s look at the nature of Jesus’ kingship. He is not just our king in some vague, undefined sense. No, he is our Davidic king, and that makes all the difference in the world. In the Old Testament, God promised King David (the same David who fought and killed the giant Goliath) that his descendants would rule over Israel forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16), but things did not exactly work out that way. While David’s dynasty lasted for several centuries, it eventually came to an end when the Israelites were conquered by the Babylonians and exiled away from their land (2 Kings 25:1-7). The Davidic dynasty was no more, so God’s promise seemed to have failed.
Nevertheless, the prophets foretold a day when God would make good on his promise and raise up a new descendant of David to rule over his people once again (for example, Ezekiel 37:24-25), and the Jews of Jesus’ day were anxiously awaiting the fulfillment of these prophecies. With this background, let’s turn to the New Testament and look at the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary when he announced that she would be the mother of the Messiah:
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33)
Gabriel was clearly telling Mary that her son would be the new Davidic king, the long-awaited descendant of David who would restore his ancestors’ dynasty and rule over Israel. As a result, it seems reasonable that Jesus’ kingdom, the Church, would resemble the Davidic kingdom in the Old Testament in at least some key ways, so let’s take a look at that kingdom and see if it can shed any light on Mary’s queenship.
The Davidic Queen
When we do that, we find something remarkable: the queen was the king’s mother, not his wife. She was known as the “queen mother,” and she held a very important office in the kingdom (1 Kings 15:13, 2 Chronicles 15:16, Jeremiah 13:18). To see just how important she was, let’s consider a woman named Bathsheba, the wife of King David and the mother of his successor Solomon. When David was king, she would bow down to him and call him “my lord” (1 Kings 1:16, 31), but we see something very different after her son ascended to the throne. When she became the king’s mother, he would bow down to her, and he gave her a throne at his right side, indicating her royal authority (1 Kings 2:19).
Like I said before, this may seem strange to us, but there’s actually a very good reason why the queen was the king’s mother rather than his wife. The Davidic kings often had more than one wife, so it would have been difficult for them to choose just one to be their queen. However, they only had one mother, so choosing her solved the problem. From all this, we can already begin to see why we honor Mary as our queen. She is the mother of our king, so just like the mothers of the Davidic kings of old, she too is our queen.
“The Mother of My Lord”
Nevertheless, we need to go further than this. Not every single detail about the Davidic kingdom in the Old Testament transferred over into the Church, so it is possible that the role of the queen mother didn’t either. As a result, we have to dig a bit deeper and see if the New Testament gives us any indication that Mary is in fact our queen. To do that, let’s look at a little line in the Gospel of Luke that hides a wealth of meaning behind a seemingly unassuming phrase:
“And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)
This verse comes from the story of Mary’s visitation of her cousin Elizabeth immediately after her visit from the angel Gabriel. When Elizabeth realizes who has come to see her, she lets out this exclamation of surprise that it is Mary. Now, when we read this text, most of us tend to assume that the phrase “my Lord” simply refers to Jesus’ divinity. Mary is the mother of God, so Elizabeth is surprised that she is coming to visit her.
However, there is another way to take this phrase, one that makes more sense in this context. Remember, this story comes immediately after Gabriel tells Mary that she will be the mother of the new Davidic king, and the phrase “my Lord” is exactly how Bathsheba addressed her husband David when he was still king. In fact, it was a common title used in the Old Testament to address the Davidic king (for example, 2 Samuel 3:21, 1 Kings 2:38), so its use here is almost certainly not coincidental. No, Luke knew what he was doing, and he intentionally placed these words on Elizabeth’s lips to continue the Davidic theme from the immediately preceding story. By calling Jesus “my Lord,” Elizabeth was referring to his Davidic kingship, so she was actually calling Mary the mother of the new Davidic king.
It may seem like a short step from here to the doctrine of Mary’s queenship, but we haven’t clinched the argument just yet. It is still possible that Elizabeth referred to Jesus as the Davidic king and Mary as his mother without implying that the office of queen mother transferred over into the Church. To demonstrate that it did, we need to take one final step, so let’s take a closer look at Elizabeth’s surprise that “the mother of my Lord” would visit her.
Her words convey a sense of unworthiness in the presence of Mary precisely because she is the mother of the Davidic king; they imply that she does not feel that she deserves to be visited by Mary precisely because of who Mary’s son is. And why would that be so? Why would she be so surprised to be visited by the king’s mother? The best explanation is that she knew that Mary was the new queen mother, and Luke, in narrating this scene, wanted us to know it too. Otherwise, if Mary had no special status, it is difficult to see why Elizabeth would feel so honored to be in the presence of her cousin.
Mary Our Queen Mother
From all this, we can be confident that Mary really is the queen of the Church. Just like the mothers of the Davidic kings in the Old Testament, the mother of Jesus, our new Davidic king, is also the queen of her son’s kingdom. Granted, the New Testament never spells this out explicitly for us, but if we understand the subtle echoes of the Old Testament in the Gospels, it’s clearly there. Elizabeth’s surprise at Mary’s visit makes sense only if Mary is in fact our queen mother, so that’s our smoking gun. It shows that the office of queen mother did in fact transfer over into the Church, so Mary really is our queen, and she deserves all the honor we give her.