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Part 17: Mary's Queenship — Misunderstandings and Objections
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Oct 26, 2015)
The following is the seventeenth part of our Mary 101 series.
Sadly, Mary's role as Queen of Heaven, Advocate and Mediatrix of All Graces has sometimes been misunderstood. Our Protestant Evangelical brothers and sisters worry that this teaching violates the clear words of Scripture that there is only one Mediator with the Father, Jesus Christ his Son, on the basis of the precious blood he shed for us on the Cross.
Saint John Paul II directly responded to this concern in his Wednesday Audience address of Oct. 1, 1997:
In proclaiming Christ the one mediator (cf. I Tim 2:5-6), the text of St. Paul's Letter to Timothy excludes any other parallel mediation, but not subordinate mediation. In fact, before emphasizing the one exclusive mediation of Christ, the author urges "that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men" (2:1). Are not prayers a form of mediation? Indeed, according to St. Paul the unique mediation of Christ is meant to encourage other, dependent, ministerial forms of mediation. (Pope John Paul II, Theotokos: Woman, Mother and Disciple. Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000, p. 242)
What St. John Paul II and St. Paul are telling us, therefore, is that all Christians are called to "mediate" the grace of Christ to one another: for example, through prayer for one another, and through witnessing to the Gospel in word and deed. Our role as mediators, however, is entirely dependent upon the grace of Christ, the unique and supreme Mediator, and is intended to lead people closer to him. The same is true for Mary, who by her unique cooperation in her Son's saving work, by her example of faithful discipleship, and by her prayers, conveys the saving grace of Christ to all her children. She mediates grace in these ways to all of humanity: all whose hearts are open to the workings of divine grace.
Moreover, the Greek word used for "one" that St. Paul used here in I Timothy 2:5-6 in the phrase "one mediator" is not monos, which would mean "sole," but eis, which can mean "one" in the sense of "principal," or "first in a series." Jesus is the principal Mediator who enables many other sub-mediators to transmit the grace of God to others. Again, faithful Christians act as sub-mediators in Christ when they pray for their neighbors, share the Gospel with the lost, and serve the suffering and the oppressed. The merciful love of Christ thereby passes from Jesus Christ through his faithful disciples to those in need.
This was also the clear and explicit teaching of the Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium (62):
For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. Just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by the ministers and by the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is really communicated in different ways to His creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.
Many Protestant Christians argue that there is no explicit indication in Scripture that we can pray to Mary as Queen, Advocate or Mediatrix, or to any of the saints and angels in Heaven. In Scripture, prayers are always addressed to God alone. The practice of addressing prayers to other heavenly beings, it is argued, must have been borrowed from the pagans of the Roman Empire, who addressed prayers to gods and goddesses of all kinds.
Catholics cannot agree. There are several indications right in the New Testament itself that the saints in heaven know of our struggles and prayers on earth and join their powerful intercessory prayers with our own. Hebrews 12:1 says, "Seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [that is, by all the heroes and martyrs of the Faith mentioned in chapter 11], let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us." So, the early Christians believed that the martyrs and heroes of faith from the past are a good example for us, and they surround us like a crowd cheering for the runners at an Olympic race. James 5:16 tells us that "the prayer of a good man has powerful effects," and gives as an example the powerful intercessions of the prophet Elijah. This reminds us that the most powerful intercessors in the Church are those most advanced in holiness. In Revelation 5:8 and 8:3-4 we are told that in heaven the elders and the angels offer up the prayers of the saints (on earth) as incense before the throne of God. This implies that the angels and the elders (that is, holy Christian leaders of the past) know of our prayers on earth and join their prayers with ours now.
Put the implications of these Scripture passages together and we can surely say that since the angels and saints can see us in our earthly struggles, and since they care about us, and since they are powerful intercessors who can and do pray for us, we can ask them to do so even more, and will be heard. That is as far as the Bible alone can take us, but it surely at least establishes that the invocation of the angels and saints is consonant with Scripture.
The first surviving written record of a prayer addressed specifically to Mary is dated ca. 250 A.D.:
We fly to your patronage
O holy Mother of God.
Despise not our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us from all dangers,
O ever glorious and blessed Virgin.
Notice here that in the middle of the third century Mary is already referred to as "Mother of God," a title for her which will not be formally decreed by the Church for another two centuries. By the fourth century, the public invocation of the angels and saints was universally present in the life of the Church, both East and West, and there is no evidence at all of any division or dispute about this practice in the early Christian community. Many of the early Fathers were quite adamant about rejecting pagan influences on the life of the Church — why did none of them claim that this universal custom of invoking the angels and saints was a pagan corruption of the Faith? Evidently, they did not believe it was a pagan practice at all; rather, they saw the prayer-partnership of struggling Christians on earth with the angels and saints in heaven as a clear expression of the truth that in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ death has no dominion, and that we are One Body in Christ in his Spirit, whether we are on earth, in Heaven, or in Purgatory.
Besides, the invocation of Mary, the angels and the saints fits well with the wider pattern of Christian doctrine (what theologians call the analogy of faith). The Bible says that our growth in faith and holiness is aided by the intercessions of the other members of the Body of Christ (Eph 6:18; I Thess 3:11-13; I Tim 2: 1-4), and the Church on earth and heaven are evidently closely united (Heb 12: 22-24). It is hard to see how asking the angels and saints to pray for us amounts to pagan idolatry, while asking one's family members and friends for their prayers is not. Both acts seem to be based on similar principles of charity and intercession. Idolatry would only occur if one believed that a saint or angel would give you something that our Lord would not (as if praying to an alternate god!). But most Catholics believe no such thing. They know that authentic prayers addressed to the angels and saints are no more than requests made to them to pray for us to Jesus Christ. The final address of our prayers is still the same, just as in the "Hail Mary" we say: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
Some Evangelical biblical scholars are concerned that addressing Mary as "Queen of Heaven" means giving her a title that comes from an idolatrous pagan cult condemned in the Old Testament (see Jer 7:18). But, as the old saying goes, this is "like comparing apples and oranges." Tim Staples gives three reasons why the biblical objection to the worship of "the queen of heaven" in ancient Palestine bears no resemblance at all to how Catholics relate to Mary today:
1. Jeremiah here condemns the adoration of the Mesopotamian goddess Astarte. She is in no way related to Mary....
2. Jeremiah condemned offering sacrifice to "the queen of Heaven" [and Catholics neither worship nor offer sacrifice to Mary]....
3. That there is a counterfeit queen does not mean there can't be an authentic one.
(Staples, Behold Your Mother, pp. 283-284)
Finally, some people worry that Catholic belief in their heavenly Queen as Mediatrix of All Graces might imply that only those who explicitly ask for Mary's intercession every time they pray will actually have their prayers heard in heaven. Dr. Miravalle responds:
Does this mean that the graces of Jesus will not be distributed unless we pray to the Blessed Virgin? No. It does, however, express the truth that whether we call directly upon the name of Mary or not, we nonetheless receive all graces through her actual and personally willed intercession. (Introduction to Mary, p. 105)
In short, like any good and loving Mother, Mary is caring for the needs of her children in ways we do not even see, and never even asked for. Only in Heaven will we begin to appreciate how Mary's loving care follows us every step of our life as we journey onward toward the eternal Kingdom of her Son.
O excellent heart of my Queen, my most amiable sun, blessed are the hearts that love thee! ... Blessed are the eyes that contemplate thee, O radiant Mary! ...
O beautiful sun, enlighten our darkness, melt our frigidity, dispel the clouds and fog of our minds, inflame our hearts with thy sacred fire! Make us ever receptive to thy sweet influence, that every Christian virtue may flourish in our souls, so that they may be rendered fertile in all kinds of good works. By thy intercession, obtain that we may lead a heavenly life on earth, and never seek any joy here below except the joy of the children of God, which consists in pleasing their heavenly Father and obeying His adorable will in all things. (St. John Eudes)
Questions for Discussion for Parts 16 and 17
1. Where is Mary's role as Queen of Heaven and Queen Mother of the Kingdom indicated in Scripture?
2. How do we know that we can ask Mary and the angels and saints to pray for us?
3. Reflect on the meaning of the prayer, "Hail, Holy Queen": what does this prayer mean for you personally?
Suggestions for Further Reading
• Read Catechism, entries 963-970
• Read St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary, (Brooklyn: Redemptorist Fathers, 1931), Part One, chapter 1.1, the section entitled "How Great Should be our Confidence in Mary who is Queen of Mercy," pp. 35-46.
Follow the entire Mary 101 series.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.