“Mary was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son” (Lumen gentium, 59)
“Queen of Heaven” is a long-held, traditional Catholic title for the Virgin Mary, which was bestowed on her because she is the mother of God. The Father chose her to bring our Redeemer into the world. Her son, Jesus, King of heaven and earth, and king of the universe, chose to reflect his glory and the dominion of his kingship on his mother, Mary.
The beautiful prayer, Hail, Holy Queen (Salve Regina, in Latin), commonly recited at the end of the Rosary, extols the queenship of Mary.
The Hail Holy Queen or Salve Regina
“Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To you we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to you we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us; and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.”
(Modern version) “Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To you we cry, the children of Eve; to you we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this land of exile. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us; lead us home at last and show us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus: O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.”
“Hail, Holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.” In this prayer, we first call upon Mary as “holy Queen” and “mother of mercy.” Mary is Mother of Mercy in a double sense—both because she is merciful and because Jesus, her son, is the fullest expression possible of God’s mercy. We can turn to Mary in times of need because she is “our life, our sweetness, and our hope.”
“To thee (you) we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee (you) we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale (valley) of tears.” The second sentence of the prayer states the central motive in calling upon Mary for help, namely, the experience of human anguish and sorrow. We refer to ourselves as pitiful “banished children of Eve.” A later line in the original version (and the same line in the updated version) refers to our condition as “exile.” As “children of Eve,” we recognize that we are sinners.
To call ourselves “banished” may seem incongruous in the light of the Incarnation and redemption of Christ, for in him we are in fact no longer banished. (The updated version of the prayer actually deletes that phrase.) However, because we are still on a pilgrimage and because our salvation is incomplete on this side of eternity, the words of the prayer do describe a real dimension of our experience in this life. A constant underlying theme of our experience is one of incompleteness in this world, and that is what this part of the prayer expresses.
The prayer dates to Europe in the Middle Ages, when many people experienced lives of great physical hardship. The “valley of tears” was their earthly condition, from which heaven would release them “after this, our exile.”
“Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine (your) eyes of mercy toward us…” The prayer acknowledges that Mary is our advocate with Jesus and asks for her mercy, her assistance in our earthly life.
“…and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy (your) womb, Jesus.” Finally, the prayer asks Mary for the ultimate gift of union with Christ following death. The updated version is more active in tone, substituting “lead us home at last” for “after this, our exile.”
“O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.” The prayer concludes with another expression of praise for Mary. The archaic adjective “clement” means “inclined to be lenient or merciful.”
The feast of the Queenship of Mary was created in the liturgical calendar in 1954, and initially celebrated on the last day of May, the month of Mary. In 1969, the feast was moved to August in order to emphasize the close relation between the assumption of Mary, body and soul into heaven, and her queenship. The Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church says, “Mary was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son” (Lumen gentium, 59).
This is a selection from The Rosary Handbook: A Guide for Newcomers, Old-Timers, and Those in Between, by Mitch Finley (The Word Among Us Press, 2017)