By Luke Lancaster
Most people in our society have no idea why Catholics focus on Mary so much. It seems like worship to them. However, this is because they do not have an ancient and biblical understanding of the "queen mother." The role of queen mother was particularly common in ancient near eastern kingdoms (See Egypt's "Great Lady" mentioned in 1 Kings 11:19). Israel was no exception to this. In fact, every king had a queen mother, and if Jesus is the latest king of Israel, then Mary would be our queen.
We see Israel enacting this position of "queen mother" in 1 Kings 2. Saul and David were previous kings, and the next king, Solomon, made sure that Israel became like its neighbors. When his mother Bathsheba entered his palace one day, Solomon "rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king's mother, and she sat on his right" (1 Kings 2:19). The king of Israel had given his mother a seat at his right hand, the privileged position of authority.
This position given to Bathsheba involved being an intermediary between the subjects and the king. For it would be difficult for Joe-six-pack to get a meeting with the king. So, one man named Adonijah requested Bathsheba to take a request of his to the king. He wanted to marry Abishag the Shunammite, and she asked king Solomon on behalf of Adonijah.
She said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, 'Make your request, my mother, for I will not refuse you.' She said, 'Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah your brother as his wife'” (1 Kings 2:20-21). This request was not a good request, so the king denied it, but it shows the relationship of trust between the king and the queen.
Seemingly every king after Solomon had a queen mother. Throughout the rest of the book of 1 Kings and throughout 2 Kings, there are successive kings mentioned. However, the queen mother is mentioned after the king's name. For example, "Now Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city that the Lord had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there. His mother's name was Naamah the Ammonite" (1 Kings 14:21). If there was not a queen mother, then "Naamah the Ammonite" would not have been mentioned.
Throughout the Old Testament we see existence of this position of queen mother. For example, Jeremiah the prophet was told by God, "Say to the king and the queen mother: 'Take a lowly seat, for your beautiful crown has come down from your head'" (Jer. 13:18). The king and queen wore crowns on their heads. 2 Kings 10:13 says, "we came down to visit the royal princes and the sons of the queen mother." Everybody knew about her. She was a member of the royal palace, "Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself and his mother and his servants and his officials and his palace officials" (2 Kings 24:12). The king is addressed in the Psalms, "at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir" (Ps. 45:9). Just as Bathsheba sat at the right hand of the king, so also the other queens sat at his right hand.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the kings of Israel are listed in succession down to Jesus Christ, establishing His royal ancestry. He is heir to the throne. When the angel Gabriel meets Mary, he proclaims that her son, "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 1:32-33). Now, if Jesus is the next king, then it would follow that Mary would be His queen mother.
The visitation of Mary to Elizabeth portrays this reality of Mary as queen. For Elizabeth said to Mary, "And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me" (Lk. 1:43). The king was addressed with the title "my Lord," so if Mary is the mother of the king, then she would be the queen. Dr. Edward Sri says, "This title is charged with great queenly significance. In the royal court language of the ancient Near East, the title “Mother of my Lord” was used to address the queen mother of the reigning king (who himself was addressed as “my Lord”; cf., 2 Sam. 24:21)."
Mary herself understood Elizabeth loud and clear. She responds, "he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate" (Lk. 1:52). The powerful kings and queens have been removed from their thrones and humble Mary and her Son Jesus are being exalted to their positions.
When the wise-men/magi were searching for the "king of the Jews" (Matt. 2:2), they found the Holy Family in the stable at Nazareth. They saw "the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him" (Matt. 2:11). Notice the emphasis. The new King was with His mother. Of course, Joseph would have been right there presumably. He was of the royal, Davidic dynasty. But the emphasis was on the king and the queen.
According to Dr. Edward Sri, multiple scholars point this scene out as indicating Mary is being portrayed as the queen. For the near eastern Magi would have been very familiar with the position of queen mother. Sri quotes Biblical scholar Raymond Brown as saying, "Since the magi story puts so much emphasis on homage paid to a Davidic king in Bethlehem of Judah, ‘the child with his mother’ might evoke the peculiar importance given to the queen mother (gebirah, ‘the Great Lady’) of a newborn or newly installed king in the Davidic dynasty."
Dr. Vincent Branick says that Israel's role of queen mother, "would explain the interest Matthew has in Mary being with the child as the nobles of the East reverence the new king, a scene where Joseph is not even mentioned." Scholar Bastero de Eleizalde says, "In the act of adoration of the magi, St. Matthew, a good expert on the Davidic traditions, thinking of the readers of his gospel, does not omit the significant detail of showing ‘the child with Mary, his mother.’ In this way, he associates and confirms Mary as the gebirah [queen mother] of the messianic kingdom. Moreover, it is she who enthrones and presents the king-Messiah to the adoration of the magi, exercising one of the specific missions of the gebirah."
It is rather natural, then, for St. John to see in Heaven a "woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Revelation 12:1). This is a queen. And the queen he would have been caring for since Jesus left him in charge of her (John 19). This is Mary, the queen mother of Israel. She is the one who literally gives birth to the Messiah, the "male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron" (Rev. 12:5, cf. Ps. 2:7).
As we have seen, Mary is our queen-mother. This is why we pay so much attention to her. Mary holds the distinguished position of sitting at the right hand of Jesus (Ps. 45:9), crowned as royal (Jer. 13:18). Catholics do not worship Mary, rather, they see her in context of her magnificent title: Queen Mother.