Friday, May 31, 2024

Papal Justifications for a Feast of the Queenship of Mary

When Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary and assigned it to May 31, he explained his decision in the 1954 encyclical Ad caeli Reginam, and in his November 1, 1954 sermon at St. Mary Major.

As one would expect from the differences in genre, the encyclical presents an erudite overview of the history of devotion to the Blessed Virgin under the title of Queen, as well as a robust theological justification for this devotion. The sermon, on the other hand, brings the hay down to the sheep with simpler explanations and more practical reasons for the feast. The original Italian sermon is available on the Vatican’s website. Here, for the first time, is a rough English translation.
I invite the reader to consider one question as he reads the sermon: In what ways is Pius XII’s feast of the Queenship of Mary similar to or different from Pius XI’s feast of Christ the King? I was struck by the balancing act the Holy Father was striving to achieve in this speech. On one hand, he disavows an exclusive monarchism or specific political agenda when he points out that the Queenship of Mary is compatible with a number of different regime types. On the other, he intimates in so many words that he hopes that the feast will be an aid to Christians behind the Iron Curtain, a shot in the arm to Western leaders in the Cold War (whom he portrays as exhausted and feckless and afflicted by a dangerous psychological depression), and a balm for a world threatened by nuclear annihilation.[1] On one hand, he praises Mary as the acies ordinata, the terrifying Victrix arrayed in battle formation; on the other, he is quick to add that there is no “belligerent intention” behind the metaphor, but only a reminder that Mary was tough as nails and got the job done, and she will do the same for us.
And I suggest the following thesis: Pius XII’s feast of the Queenship of Mary is a development of Pius XI’s concept of the social reign of Christ the King, implemented with the Cold War in mind but still relevant in every day and age.
Finally, I invite readers to enjoy previous articles on the subject by Peter Kwasniewski and Gregory DiPippo.
Sermon of His Holiness Pope Pius XII
In Honor of Mary the Queen
The testimonies of homage and devotion towards the Mother of God, which the entire Catholic world has multiplied in the past months [during the Marian Year of 1954], have splendidly demonstrated, both in public demonstrations and in the most modest undertakings of private piety, its love towards the Virgin Mary and faith in her incomparable privileges. But in order to crown all these events with a particularly significant solemnity of the Marian Year, We wanted to establish and celebrate the Feast of the Queenship of Mary.
None of you, beloved sons and daughters, will be surprised by this, nor will you think that it was a question of decreeing a new title for the Virgin. Have not the Christian faithful been repeating for centuries in the Loreto Litanies the invocations which greet Mary with the name of Queen? And does not the recitation of the Holy Rosary, proposing in pious meditation the memory of the joys, sorrows, and glories of the Mother of God, end with the radiant memory of Mary welcomed into Heaven by her Son and adorned by Him with the royal diadem?
It was therefore not Our intention to introduce something new, but rather to make shine before the eyes of the world, in the present circumstances, a truth capable of providing a remedy for its ills, freeing it from its anxieties and directing it towards the path of health, that it anxiously searches for.
Even less than that of her Son, Mary’s queenship must not be conceived in analogy with the realities of modern political life. Without a doubt, the wonders of Heaven cannot be represented except through the very imperfect words and expressions of human language: but this does not mean at all that, to honor Mary, one must adhere to a specific form of government or a particular political structure. Mary’s queenship is an otherworldly reality, which however, at the same time penetrates into the deepest recesses of hearts and touches them in their profound essence, in what is spiritual and immortal about them.
The origin of Mary’s glories, the solemn moment that illuminates her entire person and her mission, is the one in which, full of grace, she addressed the Fiat to the Archangel Gabriel, which expressed her assent to the divine disposition; in this way she became Mother of God and Queen, and she received the royal office of watching over the unity and peace of the human race. Through her we have the firm faith that humanity will gradually set out on this path of salvation; she will guide the leaders of the nations and the hearts of the people towards harmony and charity.
What therefore could Christians do in the present hour, in which the unity and peace of the world, and indeed the very sources of life, are in danger, if not turn their gaze towards she who appears to them to be clothed with royal power? Just as she already enveloped the divine Child, firstborn of all creatures and of all creation, in her mantle, (see Col. 1, 15) so she now deigns to envelop all men and all peoples with her vigilant tenderness: worthy, as the Seat of Wisdom, to make the truth of the inspired words shine, which the Church applies to her: Per me reges regnant, et legum conditores iusta decernunt; per me princes imperant, et powerfules decernunt iustitiam – “Through me kings reign, and magistrates administer justice; through me princes command, and sovereigns govern righteously.” [2] If the world currently struggles tirelessly to forge unity and to ensure peace, the invocation of the reign of Mary is, above all earthly means and all human designs which are always defective in some way, the voice of Christian faith and hope, firm and strong with divine promises and inexhaustible help, that this reign of Mary has spread for the salvation of humanity.
However, from the inexhaustible goodness of the most blessed Virgin, whom we invoke today as the royal Mother of the Lord, we also await other no less precious benefits. Not only must she annihilate the dark plans and iniquitous works of the enemies of a united and Christian humanity, but she must also communicate something of her spirit to the men of today. By this we mean the courageous as well as audacious will which, in difficult circumstances and in the face of dangers and obstacles, knows how to take the resolutions that are necessary without hesitation and pursue their execution with an unfailing energy, in such a way as to make the weak, the tired, and the doubtful follow in its footsteps, those who no longer believe in the justice and nobility of the cause they must defend. Who does not see to what degree Mary implemented this spirit in herself and deserved the praise due to the “strong woman”? Her Magnificat, this canticle of joy and invincible trust in the divine power, whose works she undertakes to carry out, fills her with holy audacity, with a strength unknown to nature.
How We would like all those who today have the responsibility for the good and correct conduct of public affairs to imitate this shining example of royal sentiment! Instead, are we not perhaps also sometimes noticing in their ranks a sort of exhaustion, resignation, passivity, which prevents them from facing the arduous problems of the present moment with firmness and perseverance? Do not some people sometimes let events drift, instead of dominating them with healthy and constructive action?
Is it not therefore urgent to mobilize all the living forces now in reserve, to stimulate those who are not yet fully aware of the dangerous psychological depression into which they have fallen? If Mary’s queenship finds a completely appropriate symbol in the acies ordinata, in the army lined up in battle, [3] certainly no one will want to think of any belligerent intention, but only of the strength of mind, which we admire to a heroic degree in the Virgin, and which proceeds from the awareness of working validly for the order of God in the world.
The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Battle of Lepanto
May Our invocation to the queenship of the Mother of God obtain for men attentive to their responsibilities the grace to overcome dejection and indolence, in an hour in which no one can afford an instant of rest, when in many regions the right freedom is oppressed, the truth obscured by the work of mendacious propaganda, and the forces of evil seem almost unleashed on the earth!
If Mary’s queenship can suggest to the rulers of nations attitudes and advice that respond to the needs of the hour, she does not cease to pour out the abundance of her graces on all the peoples of the earth and on all social classes. After the atrocious spectacle of the Passion at the foot of the Cross, in which she had offered the hardest sacrifice that could be asked of a Mother, she continued to pour out her maternal care on the first Christians, her adopted children. Queen more than any other for the elevation of her soul and for the excellence of divine gifts, she does not desist from bestowing all the treasures of her affection and sweet care on miserable humanity. Far from being founded on the demands of her rights and the desire for a haughty dominion, Mary’s reign knows only one aspiration: the full gift of herself in her highest and total generosity.
Thus Mary exercises her queenship, accepting our homage and not disdaining to listen to even the most humble and imperfect prayers. Therefore, eager as we are to interpret the feelings of all the Christian people, We address this fervent supplication to the Blessed Virgin:
From the depths of this land of tears, from which aching humanity painfully drags itself; among the waves of this sea of ours perpetually agitated by the winds of passion; we raise our eyes to you, O Mary, beloved Mother, to comfort us by contemplating your glory, and to greet you as the Queen and Lady of Heaven and earth, as our Queen and Lady.
We want to exalt this queenship of yours with the legitimate pride of children and recognize it as due to the supreme excellence of your entire being, oh sweetest and true Mother of Him, who is King by his own right, by inheritance, by conquest.
Reign, O Mother and Lady, showing us the path of holiness, directing and assisting us, so that we never stray from it.
As in the highest Heaven you exercise your primacy over the Hosts of Angels, who acclaim you as their Sovereign; above the legions of Saints, who delight in the contemplation of your resplendent beauty; thus you reign over the entire human race, above all by opening the paths of faith to those who do not yet know your Son. Reign over the Church, which professes and celebrates your sweet dominion and turns to you as a safe refuge in the midst of the calamities of our times. But especially reign over that portion of the Church which is persecuted and oppressed, giving it the fortitude to endure adversity, the constancy not to bend under unjust pressures, the light not to fall into enemy snares, the firmness to resist open attacks, and at all times the unshakable fidelity to your reign.
Reign over our intellects, so that they seek only the truth; over our wills, so that they follow only the good; over our hearts, so that they love only what you yourself love.
Reign over individuals and families, over societies and nations, over the assemblies of the powerful, over the advice of the wise, over the simple aspirations of the humble.
Reign in the streets and squares, in the cities and villages, in the valleys and mountains, in the air, on the land, and on the sea;
And welcome the pious prayer of those who know that yours is a reign of mercy, where every supplication is heard, every pain is comforted, every misfortune is relieved, every infirmity is healed, and where, almost at the nod of your gentle hands, from the same death life rises up with a smile.
Obtain for us that those who now in all parts of the world acclaim you and recognize you as Queen and Lady may one day enjoy the fullness of your reign in Heaven, in the vision of your Son, who lives with the Father and the Holy Spirit. and reigns forever and ever. Amen!
[1] The Soviet Union had developed its own atomic weapons by this point, and eight months before Pius XII promulgated the feast, the United States successfully tested the first hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll--to this day the most powerful nuclear device that the U.S. has ever detonated.
[2] Prov. 8, 15-16; Brev. Rom. in Comm. Fest. B. Mariae Virg. I Noct. Lect. I.
[3] Off. in Assumptione B. M. V. passim.

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