Catholics love to ask for the saints’ intercession, and no saint is called upon more often than Mary, the mother of Jesus. While every saint has at least some devotees within the Church, Mary is loved almost universally. Just about every Catholic has some sort of devotion to her, making her by far the most popular saint to whom to pray in times of need. However, this raises some questions for us: Why is she so special? Why is her intercession sought so much more than that of all the other saints?
The simple answer is that Mary’s intercession is more powerful than anybody else’s, but that just pushes the question back a step. If she is such a powerful intercessor, why is that so? Why are her prayers more effective than those of any other saint? There are a few ways we can approach this issue, but I want to focus on just one: Mary is our queen, and the Bible teaches that our king, Jesus, won’t refuse her.
To understand what I mean, we have to go all the way back to the Old Testament. Specifically, we need to look at the ancient kingdom of Israel, the one ruled over by King David and his royal descendants. In this kingdom, the queen was the king’s mother, not his wife, and she was called the queen mother (1 Kings 15:13, 2 Chronicles 15:16, Jeremiah 13:18). Now, in case the title “queen mother” isn’t clear enough, Scripture drives this point home for us with a woman named Bathsheba, the wife of King David and the mother of his successor Solomon. When David was king, Bathsheba would bow down to him and call him “my lord” (1 Kings 1:17, 31), but her position changed after her son ascended to the throne. When Solomon became king, he bowed down to her and gave her a seat at his right side, indicating her royal authority (1 Kings 2:19).
It may seem strange to us that the queen was the king’s mother rather than his wife, but there’s actually a very good reason for it. Ancient Israelite kings often had more than one wife, so they couldn’t choose just one as their queen. However, they only had one mother, so choosing her solved the problem. Moreover, the queen mother served as a link between the current king and his predecessor. As one of the former king’s wives, she legitimated her son’s reign by proving that he really was the son of his predecessor. As a result, the king’s mother held a very important position in ancient Israel, one unmatched by anybody else.
The Queen’s Intercession
Now, if we look more closely at the queenship of Bathsheba, we find something very interesting. Towards the beginning of her son’s reign, one of his brothers came to Bathsheba and asked her to convey a request to the king. He wanted to marry a woman named Abishag the Shunammite, and when he asked this, he pointed out that Solomon would not refuse her (1 Kings 2:17). Then, when she went before her son and told him that she had a request to ask of him, Solomon reiterated his brother’s point that he would not refuse his mother (1 Kings 2:20).
However, the text takes an unexpected twist at this point. When Bathsheba told her son what exactly his brother wanted, he went back on his word and refused her, saying “And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom also” (1 Kings 2:22). So what happened? Why did Solomon all of a sudden change his mind, and why did he seem to equate asking for this woman with asking for the entire kingdom? The key here is to understand that Abishag was part of the king’s harem, and having sex with a member of the king’s harem (let alone asking to marry of them) was considered an act of disloyalty to the king (2 Samuel 3:6-8, 16:20-22). More specifically, since the royal harem was passed down from king to king (2 Samuel 12:8), asking to marry one of its members was tantamount to asking to be king.
That’s why Solomon refused his mother even though he had said that he would not do that. Under normal circumstances, he would never refuse her, but this was different. This was essentially a request that he hand over his kingdom to someone else. As a result, even though he refused her in this specific case, we can still surmise that whenever she asked for something good, Solomon (and, presumably, his successors) would do anything the queen mother wanted, just like he said he would.
The New Queen Mother
So what does this have to do with Mary? What connection does she have with the queen mothers of ancient Israel? Simply put, she is our new queen mother. When we say that Jesus is our king, we mean that he is our Davidic king. The Old Testament prophets said that God would one day raise up a new descendant of David to take up his throne once more (for example, Ezekiel 37:24-25). The New Testament identifies Jesus as that king. When the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah, he identifies his royalty as that of David, “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32).
This implies that Mary, the mother of the new Davidic king, is our queen mother. However, we have to go further than this, because not every single detail of the kingdom in the Old Testament transferred over to the Church, the new Davidic kingdom. We have to look more closely to see that Mary really is our queen mother. The Visitation provides a subtle indication. Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, after finding out that Mary was pregnant, cried out in surprise:
And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:43)
At first, this line may not seem to have much to do with our topic, but take a look at the title that Elizabeth gave to Mary. She called her “the mother of my Lord,” and that’s significant. We usually take the title “Lord” to refer to Jesus’ divinity, but in this context it means something else as well. Remember, back when David was king, his wife Bathsheba addressed him as “my lord” (1 Kings 1:17, 31). This was a common title that other people in ancient Israel used for the king (for example, 2 Samuel 3:21, 1 Kings 2:38). This is significant because Jesus was called the new Davidic king in the immediately preceding story (Luke 1:32). Thus, in this context, the title refers to his kingship, not just to his divinity.
Once we realize that, Elizabeth’s words take on a whole new meaning: she was surprised to be visited by the mother of the Davidic king. More than that, her words also convey a sense of unworthiness to be in this woman’s presence. This raises a question for us: Mary was her younger cousin, so why would she feel this way? The text doesn’t tell us, but given everything we’ve seen so far, it has to be because Mary was the queen. If that’s not the case, then Elizabeth’s reaction is difficult to explain. On the other hand, since she wasn’t used to being visited by royalty, it makes perfect sense that she would be surprised to be visited by the new queen mother and feel unworthy to be in her presence.
The New Queen’s Intercession
With that background in place, we can finally get to the question with which we started. Mary’s intercession is so powerful because she is our queen mother, and the king will never refuse the queen. Just like Solomon, Jesus too will never refuse his mother (unlike Bathsheba, she won’t ask for anything bad), and we actually see this play out in the New Testament. In the famous story of the Wedding at Cana, Mary noticed that the wine had run out, and mentioned it to Jesus (John 2:3). After this, the text becomes a bit vague and difficult to understand, but two points come through clearly enough.
First, Jesus’ initial response implies that he didn’t want to grant her request. He said, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). While his exact meaning is tough to pin down, it seems clear that at the very least, he didn’t want to help the situation because his “hour has not come yet.” Secondly, he did eventually grant her request (John 2:7-11), and because the text does not tell us what changed, we have to attribute his action here to Mary’s intercession. Even though at first he didn’t want to help out, he acquiesced and granted his mother’s request simply because she asked for it.
And with that, we see clearly that just like the Israelite kings of old, Jesus won’t refuse his mother. Like Solomon in the Old Testament, Jesus will do whatever she asks. However, we have to be careful here. Praying to Mary is not magic, so we should not expect everything we ask through her to be done for us. God does not grant our requests, if he has something better in mind, and Mary’s intercession is not a loophole to get around that. Mary is on the same spiritual wavelength as her son, so if he knows that not granting a request would be better for our eternal salvation, so does she. Consequently, when we pray to Mary, we cannot expect a 100% success rate from our limited perspective . Nevertheless, she is a powerful intercessor with her son, the most powerful one there is, and we should take advantage of that intercession as often as we can.