Queenship of Mary
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen (Patronal Feast)
August 23, 2020
The Naming of the Cathedral
The story of how the Cathedral Church of Mary Our Queen came to be is well known. During the great Baltimore fire of 1904, a businessman, Thomas O’Neill, promised the Lord that, if his buildings were saved, he would leave money in his will to build a hospital, namely, Good Samaritan, and also to build a new Cathedral, indeed, the Cathedral in which we now stand. What is less well known is why this Cathedral bears the title “Mary Our Queen”.
Mr. O’Neill died in 1919 and the new cathedral was not completed until 1959. During the intervening years, a name for the new cathedral had not been selected, that is, until 1954, a year which Pope Pius XII dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Towards the end of that Marian year, on October 11th, 1954, Pope Pius XII established a new feast day, the Queenship of Mary The Pope meant the new feast day to complement the Feast of Assumption, which dogma the same pope had solemnly defined in 1950.
In 1954, the architectural plans for this Cathedral were also being finalized. My predecessor, Archbishop Francis Keough, who had a warm devotion to Mary, took his cue from new feast day that Pope Pius XII had just established, and decided to name this cathedral, “Mary Our Queen”. He knew that, in naming the new Cathedral in honor of Mary’s Queenship, he was also honoring the original Cathedral, the Basilica, which is named in honor of Mary’s Assumption. What better way to show the continuity of the two Cathedrals than by bestowing on the new Cathedral a complementary title to the old, just as in the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, the 5th decade follows the 4th! In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must add that, as far as I know, no documentation exists to support the explanation I just offered. So, as they say, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!”
The Light of Scripture on the Queenship of Mary
What, then, is the meaning of this feast, the Queenship of Mary? To answer that question, let us turn to the Scripture readings for this feast day, beginning with the our first reading from the prophet Isaiah. Centuries before the birth of Christ, at a difficult point in the history of the Jewish people, Isaiah foretold the coming of the Messiah-King: “A child is born to us [he said], a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6-7)… This Messiah would be in the royal line of David, and his reign would have no end.
Isaiah’s prophecy came to fulfillment in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Moments ago, we listened to the Gospel account of the Annunciation. We listened as the Angel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph, a descendant of the house of David. This young woman was already radiant in prayer and holiness, and persevered by God from all stain of sin. Thus, Gabriel addressed her as “full of grace” and added, “The Lord is with you.” Mary was naturally troubled by the Angel’s greeting, because, in her humility, she did not presume to think of herself as great in God’s eyes. Then it was that the Angel told her that she would conceive and bear a son, the Son of God Most High, the One who would inherit David’s throne, the One whose Kingdom would never end. This Child Mary would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Child who is Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace! Trusting in God’s promises, Mary responded, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” In her readiness to put her entire life at the service of God’s plan of redemption, the seeds of Mary’s immortal greatness, indeed her Queenship, are revealed.
From that moment on, Mary was joined inseparably to her Son, to her Son whose Kingdom was not of this world. She lived the Beatitudes before her Son preached the Sermon on the Mount (L. Bouyer). She became Jesus’ first and best disciple, who absorbed and exemplified his teaching. In her sinless heart, Mary stored the episodes, the mysteries of her Son’s life, yet watched with a mother’s anxiety as the storm clouds gathered round him. Nonetheless, this intrepid woman of faith followed her Son to the foot of the Cross, and more than anyone else, she shared in the sacrifice of the King of Love, the Shepherd whose death destroyed our death and whose rising restored our life. What St. Paul says of every Christian applies, therefore, preeminently to Mary, “If we have died with Christ, we shall also live with him, if we persevere, we shall also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:11; cf. Rom. 6:8). Mary, who followed Christ unreservedly on earth, now reigns with her Son in heaven. Indeed, she is the first disciple to share in Jesus’ victory over sin and death, a victory we hope to share in at the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:20-27).
Mary and Us
When we think about Mary – about her freedom from sin, her divine motherhood, her closeness to Jesus, her blessed Assumption, and her glorious Queenship – we may feel that she is far removed from us in this vale of tears. We may ask, what does her unique life and vocation, have to do with us? Happily, the answer to that question is, “plenty”, for the divine favors Mary received are directed towards us and our salvation. Indeed, Mary is like a “prototype” of the redeemed person, in other words, what God accomplished in her in a unique and primary way, he also wants to accomplish in each of us, in you and me. And from her glorious place in heaven, Mary encourages us to say “yes” to God’s plan for our lives, just as she did, so long ago.
Unlike Mary, we were not preserved from all stain of sin, nor were we called to her unique role in salvation history. Nonetheless, her radiant motherhood and fervent discipleship open the door for us to find forgiveness of our sins, to acquire the beauty of virtue and holiness, and to discover the wisdom and courage to be the Lord’s disciples in today’s world. By her unique and unparalleled participation in the Death and Resurrection of Christ, Mary helps you and me to share in the Lord’s victory over sin, but not just in general. Rather, she helps us to overcome the sins that are specific to our lives, the sins that hinder us in our discipleship and in our witness to Jesus in the world. Rising above those sins, we begin to share in the glory of the Resurrection: we acquire self-mastery, true purity of heart, and a newfound ability to give ourselves to others in love and in service. All this is the substance of Mary’s Queenship – this is why she reigns in heaven – and it is Mary’s fervent prayer that we too will one day reign with her …
All of which brings us back to the question of why it is important and appropriate that the magnificent Cathedral Church of this, the nation’s oldest Archdiocese, be named in honor of “Mary, Our Queen” – for Mary is Queen of Heaven and Earth. In these challenging times, we who strive to follow the Lord as members of his Church, need to possess heavenly virtue coupled with loving concern for the world we live in. With our eyes fixed on heaven where Mary is reigning with Christ our God, we must join our voices together in venerating the Mother of the Divine King and in ardently begging her prayers … her prayers for our own conversion from sin, for a deliverance from the coronavirus pandemic, for a genuine renewal of family life, for an abundance of new members in the Church’s life and the return of the many Catholics who no longer practice the Faith, for true justice and peace in our local communities, our nation, and beyond, as well as for a true cleansing and renewal of the Church and we who are its members. The Queenship of Mary epitomizes the light of truth and love that should be shining brightly throughout every corner of this Archdiocese and in every corner of our hearts … a light that overcomes the darkness of sin … a light that brings warmth and joy, a light that shines most brightly in heaven, where Mary exalted with her Son Jesus, who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.