Edward P. Sri
Mary’s title as “Queen of Heaven and Earth” is a great scandal to many non-Catholic Christians. After all, the Bible doesn’t mention anything about there being a queen in God’s kingdom. All this royal attention Catholics give to Mary—whether it’s singing “Hail, holy queen enthroned above” or portraying Mary in statues and paintings with a crown on her head—seems to many non-Catholics to detract from the royalty of Christ, who alone is King of Kings. Besides, how could Mary be a queen, since she is not the wife of the Jesus but only his mother?
One biblical theme sheds light on these questions and serves as a key for unlocking the mystery of Mary’s queenship: the Old Testament tradition of the “queen mother” in the Davidic kingdom.
In the monarchy of King David, as well as in other ancient kingdoms of the Near East, the mother of the ruling king held an important office in the royal court and played a key part in the process of dynastic succession. In fact, the king’s mother ruled as queen, not his wife.
The great pre-eminence of the king’s mother may seem odd from our modern Western perspective, in which we think of a queen as being the wife of a king. However, recall that most ancient Near-Eastern kings practiced polygamy. King Solomon had seven hundred wives (1 Kings 11:3)—imagine the chaos in the royal court if all seven hundred were awarded the queenship! But since each king had only one mother, one can see the practical wisdom in bestowing the queenship upon her.
A number of Old Testament passages reflect the important role of the queen mother in the Davidic kingdom. For example, almost every time the narrative of 1 and 2 Kings introduces a new monarch in Judah, it mentions the king’s mother as well, showing the mother’s intimate involvement in her royal son’s reign. Similarly, the queen mother is listed among the members of the royal court whom king Jehoiachin surrendered to the king of Babylon in 2 Kings 24:12.
Her royal office is also described by the prophet Jeremiah, who tells how the queen mother possessed a throne and a crown, symbolic of her position of authority in the kingdom: “Say to the king and the queen mother: ‘Take a lowly seat, for your beautiful crown has come down from your head…. Lift up your eyes and see those who come from the north. Where is the flock that was given you, your beautiful flock?’” (Jer 13:18, 20). It is significant that God directed this oracle about the upcoming fall of Judah to both the king and his mother. Addressing both king and queen mother, Jeremiah portrays her as sharing in her son’s rule over the kingdom….
With this Old Testament background, we can now more clearly see how the New Testament portrays Mary in light of the queen mother tradition.
Matthew emphasizes that Jesus is “the Son of David,” who is the true King of the Jews establishing the “Kingdom of Heaven.” With all this kingly imagery, it should not be surprising to find queen mother themes as well…. Matthew singles out the intimate relationship between the mother and her royal son by using the phrase “the child and his mother” five times in the first two chapters, recalling the close association between queen mother and royal son as described in the Books of Kings….
We find Mary portrayed against the background of Davidic kingdom motifs in Luke’s Gospel as well, especially in his accounts of the Annunciation and Visitation. First, the angel Gabriel is said to appear to a virgin betrothed to a man “of the house of David” (1:27). Then the angel tells Mary, “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 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).
Hear the strong Davidic overtones describing Mary and her royal son: a woman from the house of David giving birth to a son who will be the new king whose reign will never end. With echoes from the queen mother tradition of the Davidic kingdom and the mother-son prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, we can conclude that Mary is being given the vocation of queen mother.
Mary’s royal office is made even more explicit in Luke’s account of the Visitation. Elizabeth greets Mary with the title “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). This title is charged with great queenly significance. In the royal court language of the ancient NearEast, the title “Mother of my Lord” was used to address the queen mother of the reigning king…. Thus with this title Elizabeth is recognizing the great dignity of Mary’s role as the royal mother of the king, Jesus….
We have seen how the Old Testament queen mother tradition serves as an important background for understanding Mary’s royal office. Indeed, the New Testament portrays Mary as the queen mother par excellence. Thus, prayers, hymns, and art giving honor to Mary’s queenship are most fitting biblical responses for Christians. In honoring her as queen mother we do not take anything away from Christ’s glory, but rather we exalt him even more by recognizing the great work he has done in her and through her.
Understanding Mary as queen mother sheds light on her important intercessory role in the Christian life. Just like the queen mother of the Davidic kingdom, Mary serves as advocate for the people in the Kingdom of God today. Thus, we should approach our queen mother with confidence, knowing that she carries our petitions to her royal son and that he responds to her as Solomon did to Bathsheba: “I will never refuse you.”