As a Bride Adorned for her Husband: On the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin
“The feast of feasts awaits us in Heaven. … I assure you, and I say the same to myself, that our wedding garment has to be woven with our love of God, a love we will have learnt to reap even in the most trivial things we do. It is precisely those who are in love who pay attention to details, even when they’re doing apparently unimportant things.”
ST. JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA
Friends of God, no. 40
In crowning the Blessed Virgin as Queen of heaven and earth, God does more than crown His greatest work of grace in a mere human being. The joy and glory that await her children, “those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus,” is also shone forth (Rev 12:17). Saint Josemaria exhorts us: “It is indeed just that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit should crown the Blessed Virgin as Queen and Lady of all created things. With the daring of a child, join in this celebration in Heaven” (cf. The Forge, no. 285).
Yes, “join in this celebration”! But how? Looking to our Lady glorified in heaven inevitably leads us to contemplate how she arrived there. As both mother and model of the Church, her earthly journey forms a vital pattern that her children must imitate, beautifully alluded to by a prayer of the Breviary which reminds us of our call “to the heavenly marriage feast, to which the Virgin Mary, exemplar of your Church, has preceded us.”
Our Lady’s entire life was really a bride’s response to having been loved first. And how this bride responded is plain: “His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev 19:7-8). Called to the eternal wedding, Mary answered the invitation by reciprocating God’s love for her in a thousand different ways. Our own path to the marriage supper of the Lamb must follow suit: a life of good works undertaken as a response to having been loved.
However—and this is crucial to our perseverance—in following a daily round of prayer and work, we must maintain as the focus of our interior life the joy that is set before us, as Scripture says of our Lord: “Jesus, for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).
If future joy upheld the Lord throughout His passion, then surely it must also inspire us along our own narrow and difficult journey to heaven. People can enthusiastically persevere at insubstantial things—like hobbies—for years without being rightly motivated, but in the end there is always a feeling of emptiness and time wasted—precisely because the motivation of Godly love was lacking. Even spiritual people sometimes follow Christ for the wrong reasons, as the Gospels attest. But Jesus won’t have anyone following Him anywhere unless they first set before themselves the destination of the joyful banquet hall of His wedding feast. It is across the threshold of that dwelling place, and there alone, to which all of our crosses and sufferings must tend.
This is why we should have no hesitation in affirming, along with Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, that God has created us to enjoy Him: “Our destiny is to enjoy God throughout all eternity” (Pastoral Letter, 1 November 1990). The Catechism of the Catholic Church likewise assures us: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life” (CCC 1). This blessedness is our ultimate vocation. God so desires the everlasting happiness of His children that He even sends His Son to issue the invitation: “Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord” (Mt 25:21).
But can we begin to know something of the Lord’s joy is even now? Are we given any hints as to what awaits good and faithful servants?
At the very outset of the Lord’s public ministry, St John the Baptist quite naturally introduced Jesus’ mission by evoking nuptial joy: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full” (Jn 3:29). Our Lord only broadens this wedding theme, making it the keynote image of many of His parables.
Although “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9), yet Jesus often presents images of a wedding celebration to attract us to His unfathomable joy. He speaks of servants awaiting the return of their master from the banquet, or maidens keeping vigil to accompany the bridegroom to the feast, or disciples as guests themselves invited to celebrate the marriage of a king’s son. Jesus reveals His kingdom as something akin to the celebration universally recognized as the most joyful and festive of human life.
Our Lady’s Assumption and Queenship show us plainly that our destiny is not that of passive spectators, looking on as others rejoice when the marriage of the Lamb has come. We ourselves are the bride, because we are the Church whom Christ has loved, for whom He delivered Himself up, and whom He “nourishes and cherishes … because we are members of his body” (cf. Eph 5:25-30). As members of the Lord’s body we “all rejoice together,” united to Him who is our head (cf. 1 Cor 12:26).
Although we understand the language of spousal union and joy, yet how that practically closes the gap between God and my soul may not be so obvious. What is the right application to our spiritual lives? If there is no better way to understand what awaits us at the final coming of Christ’s kingdom than to picture the joyful union of bridegroom and bride, then what should that mean to me when I pray? As I live my daily life? As I try to love those around me?
A relationship with God that may seem far removed from our experience, what Catholic mystical theology generally calls the “unitive” way, is actually the most powerful inspiration for progress in the spiritual life. If we take to heart that God’s love for us has a deeply spousal character, if we linger over the possibilities of this in our prayer, then we will want to “get there” by any means we can.
Contemplating how willing Jesus is to empty Himself for our sake, to be treated shamefully and to die for us, gradually makes the idea of a wedding with such a God the most irresistible thing we can imagine—and the most concrete motive for praying, for loving my neighbor as myself, for loving as Christ has “loved me and given himself for me” (cf. Gal 2:20).
This was Mary’s bridal spirit. Souls like hers, deeply conscious of having been loved first, naturally adopt an attitude of loving response toward daily life. When our approach mirrors that of our Lady, then “trivial” things assume an importance they never seemed to possess before. We see all people and events as parts of God’s providential plan for us, treating them with greater delicacy, gratitude, and purpose.
The Mother of God deliberately lived a most unremarkable life in the eyes of the world. With only several miraculous exceptions, which in any case didn’t make the whole of her life noticeably unusual, her days were mostly quiet and ordinary. But they were busy days, filled with all of the domestic duties you would expect: housekeeping, trips to market, visiting and receiving family and friends.
It might seem unbelievable that someone of the greatest dignity and centrality in world history could live such an inconspicuous life. But she felt no need to draw attention to herself. By her silence, peace of soul, and ready acceptance of God’s will, she demonstrates awareness of God’s goodness and love toward her. People who lack this awareness of being loved can be restless, noisy, attention-seeking, flashy. But our Lady was so united to God that she tasted to the full His promised gift of loving union: “That my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15:11). What more did she need? Do we need more?
While journeying to where Mary awaits us as the first fruits of God’s love for humanity, there will be no shortage of trials, and even of times when we do feel unloved or unlovable. But from her heavenly throne, where she follows our every step, our Lady inspires us to keep the joy of the Lord before us always by staying united to Him who says of the joy of union, “no one will take it from you” (cf. Jn 16:22).
This article was originally published in 2015.
Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he teaches English at St Michael’s Preparatory School, the boarding school operated by the Norbertine Fathers. He also preaches retreats, is chaplain to the cloistered Norbertine Nuns in Tehachapi, California, and serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California (Our Lady of Nareg Eparchy). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.