AcknowledIng that Mary is our Queen is quintessentially Catholic. In Catholic-Protestant dialogues, our beliefs about Mary are often some of the biggest points of contention. At best, many Protestants view those beliefs as unnecessary, and at worst, they consider them downright blasphemous. In particular, our belief that Mary is our Queen often elicits some of the strongest responses, and with good reason. If we don’t understand the theological basis for this doctrine, it can seem like we are elevating Mary to the status of God himself.
So why do we believe this? What makes Mary heavenly royalty in our eyes? In a nutshell, it is because she is the mother of Jesus, our king. That may seem strange to us because we normally think of a queen as the king’s wife, not his mother, but we have to look at this question through the lens of Scripture rather than our own ideas about kingship. We have to understand what kind of king Jesus is, and when we do that, Mary’s role as queen falls perfectly into place
Let’s begin by taking a look at how the Gospel of Luke describes Jesus’ kingship. When the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is going to be the mother of the Messiah, he says:
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)
These words draw heavily from the Old Testament, so we need to know to what Gabriel is alluding in order to properly understand his message. He tells Mary that her son will be given “the throne of his father David”. David is the one who famously fought and killed the giant Goliath in the Old Testament. He eventually became the king of Israel, and God promised him a dynasty that would last forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16). However, things didn’t work out quite so smoothly. The Israelites were later conquered by the Babylonians, and the king no longer ruled over his people (2 Kings 25:1-7). The Davidic dynasty came to an end, so God’s promise to David seemed to have failed.
However, the prophets foretold a day when God would raise up a new descendant of David to take up the throne and restore the kingdom. For example, we read in the book of Ezekiel:
My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. They shall dwell in the land where your fathers dwelt that I gave to my servant Jacob; they and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there for ever; and David my servant shall be their prince for ever. (Ezekiel 37:24-25)
So when Gabriel tells Mary that her son will be given “the throne of his father David,” this means that Jesus is the new Davidic king prophesied in the Old Testament. He is the new descendant of David who will take up the throne of his ancestors and usher in the new, restored kingdom of Israel, which is the Church.
The Davidic Queen
Consequently, if we want to know what Jesus’ kingdom is like, we need to look at the Old Testament and see what the kingdom of David and his descendants was like. When we do that, we find something very interesting: the queen was the king’s mother, not his wife. She was known as the “queen mother” (1 Kings 15:13, 2 Chronicles 15:16, Jeremiah 13:18), and her office was very important in ancient Israel.
To see just how respected the queen mother was, let’s consider Bathsheba, one of King David’s wives and the mother of his successor Solomon. Back when she was just King David’s wife, she bowed down to King David and called him “my lord” (1 Kings 1:16, 31). This all changed after her son Solomon took the throne. When she was the queen mother, King Solomon actually bowed down to her and had her sit on a throne at his right side (1 Kings 2:19).
Moreover, if we read through the books of 1 and 2 Kings, we find that almost every time a new Davidic king takes the throne, the text tells us who his mother was. For example, when Solomon’s son Rehoboam becomes king, we read:
Rehoboam son of Solomon was forty-one years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled seventeen years from Jerusalem, the city where the Lord had chosen to be worshiped. His mother Naamah was from Ammon. (1 Kings 14:21)
We see this stereotyped formula throughout 1 and 2 Kings, and even though the Davidic dynasty lasted for hundreds of years, you can count on one hand the number of times the Bible doesn’t tell us the name of the new king’s mother when he takes the throne. This shows us just how important the queen was in the Davidic kingdom.
Joseph and Mary
Now, if Jesus is our new Davidic king, we might be tempted to conclude right away that Mary is our queen mother, but it is not quite that simple. Not every element of the kingdom in the Old Testament carries over into the Church, so there is still one more step we need to take. We need to see if the New Testament gives us any indications that Jesus’ kingdom does in fact have a queen mother.
When we do that, we see that there are a few. First, we can see a subtle hint of Mary’s queenship in the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. In his opening chapters, Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ birth, and the focus is entirely on Joseph. He finds out that Mary is pregnant, and then he is told in a dream that her pregnancy is a miracle from God (Matthew 1:18-25). Moreover, after the three wise men visit them, he is warned in another dream to flee from King Herod because the king wants to kill his son, so he takes Jesus and Mary to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). Then, after Herod dies, Joseph is told in yet another dream that it is safe to return to the land of Israel, so he takes his family back home (Matthew 2:19-23).
Throughout the whole story of Jesus’ birth and childhood in Matthew’s Gospel, Mary doesn’t actually do anything. The focus is entirely on Joseph, with one exception. When the wise men finally find Jesus, we read that “they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2:11). This is the one verse in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ childhood where Mary is emphasized instead of Joseph, and that is extremely significant.
By making this verse stick out like a sore thumb in its context, Matthew is giving us a clue that it is important. More specifically, since he strays from his normal pattern and highlights Mary rather than Joseph, it is clear that he wants to tell us something about her, and to understand just what he is trying to say, we need to take a closer look at the story of the wise men.
The Wise Men
This story is filled with royal, and specifically Davidic, imagery. For example, the wise men explicitly say that they are looking for “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), and the story as a whole alludes strongly to one of the Davidic psalms in the Old Testament. We read in one of the “prayers of David”:
May his foes bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust!
May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations serve him…
Long may he live,
may gold of Sheba be given to him! (Psalm 72:9-11, 15)
Just like in the story of the wise men, this psalm talks about foreigners bowing down and worshipping the Davidic king and giving him gifts, including gold (the wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh). From this connection, we can see that Matthew includes the story of the wise men in his Gospel in order to show that Jesus fulfills this psalm. He is the ultimate son of David, the true king who is worshipped by foreigners and given gifts of gold.
Once we understand that, Matthew’s purpose in focusing on Mary rather than Joseph is easy to grasp: he is drawing our attention to her as the mother of the Davidic king. Something about that role is important to him, and when we understand it in light of its Old Testament background, the reason for this emphasis becomes clear: Mary must be our new queen mother.
The Gospel of Luke
Next, we can turn to the Gospel of Luke. In this Gospel, when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth exclaims, “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43), a remark that is surprisingly significant. Most people read this and think that Elizabeth calls Jesus her “Lord” because he is God, and that is not wrong. However, this story comes right after Gabriel’s announcement that Jesus will be the new Davidic king, and Luke is not done with that theme yet.
Even though on one level the phrase “my Lord” refers to Jesus’ divinity, it also has another meaning in this context: Jesus is her Davidic king. Think back to Bathesheba, the mother of Solomon. We saw that when she was just the king’s wife, she called him “my lord.” That was a common title used in the Old Testament to address the king (for example, 2 Samuel 3:21, 1 Kings 1:17), so when Elizabeth uses that exact same phrase to refer to Jesus right after Gabriel says that he is the new Davidic king, it is not just a coincidence. No, Luke knew exactly what he was doing. He intentionally put these words at this point in his Gospel to continue the Davidic theme that began with Gabriel’s announcement to Mary.
And since the title “my Lord” means that Jesus is the Davidic king, the phrase “mother of my Lord” implies that Mary is the queen mother, which makes excellent sense in its context. Elizabeth was surprised that Mary visited her; her exclamation conveyed a sense of unworthiness in the presence of Mary because she was “the mother of my Lord.” In other words, Elizabeth felt like she didn’t deserve to be visited by the mother of the Davidic king. And why would that be? Why is a visit from the king’s mother be so special? It has to be because she was the queen.
Mary is Our Queen
From all this, we can see that while the Bible never explicitly says that Mary is our queen, it does give us some important hints of this doctrine. Both Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus is our new Davidic king, and in the Davidic kingdom, the queen was always the king’s mother, not his wife. As a result, when these Gospels draw attention to Mary’s role as the mother of our Davidic king and highlight it as something significant, we can confidently conclude that Mary is the queen mother in the new Davidic kingdom, the Church, and that is why we Catholics call Mary Our Queen.