At yesterday evening’s devotions we heard about Rita, Queen of Speed, which for those who weren’t present is a ride at Alton Towers, apparently. Today I want to talk about a far greater queen: Our Lady, Queen of Apostles, in whose honour this Mass is celebrated.
In the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, two human beings are mentioned by name, in addition to Jesus Christ himself. They are Pontius Pilate and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many scholars think that the mention of Pilate was added by the early church to ground the events of the faith in a particular time and place; to make it clear that the Incarnation was a real event at a specific time and in a particular place. This is what has been termed the “scandal of particularity,” the fundamentally counter-cultural assertion that God became man in human time. This means that Pilate is not mentioned in the Creeds primarily for any theologically significant reasons, but rather for historical ones.
Which means that the only human being of no apparent significance in the eyes of the non-Christian world to be named in the Creeds is the Blessed Virgin Mary. An honour indeed, but then perhaps not a surprising one for she who has come to be known by the Church as Queen of Apostles.
When Fr Neil came to preach at the College in Mirfield, he told us that during his time at seminary he and his contemporaries would compete with each other to see how many high church prayers they could work into the intercessions each morning. Fr Neil was sure, he said, that such things didn’t go on in the contemporary College of the Resurrection.
Well. I cannot deny it completely. Indeed, one of the favourite pastimes of one or two of us is collecting titles of the Blessed Virgin: Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, for example, particularly appropriate in this Easter season. Or Our Lady, Mother of the Church. Our Lady, Aqueduct of Grace. Our Lady, Hope of Christians. Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Our Lady, Tabernacle of God. There are more titles, of course, each one highlighting a particular aspect of Our Lady’s call to be the Theotokos, the God-bearer, and her subsequent Assumption into glory. But Our Lady, Queen of Apostles is among the most important. And the reason for that is made clear in the readings we have heard this morning.
Honour and devotion is due to Mary and rendered unto her by the Church because of her joyful acceptance of God’s call – what me might describe as her “yes” to God, the result of which was that Christ “became incarnate of the Virgin Mary,” as the Creeds put it. But as the passages from Acts and from St John’s Gospel illustrate, this was not a one-off “yes”, worthy of praise though that would have been. Mary’s response to her vocation was a lifetime spent saying “yes” to God. From the stillness of the infancy narratives, through Simeon’s poignant prophecy at the Presentation in the temple and her quiet faithfulness at the wedding in Cana; during the years of Jesus’ public ministry during which she humbly retreats into the background until the horrific events of the via dolorosa; to Calvary which ends unavoidably in the pain and death of the Cross; through all this Our Lady devotes her entire life to her son, who is God-made-man. And of course, the cross is not the end. It is the hour for which Jesus came, and when the disciples flee, Mary remains beneath the cross, saying “yes” to God still, even as she watches her son dying in agony.
Her reward – and ours – is the foundation of the Church. For this is precisely what many commentators have seen in those most moving of words from the Cross – “Woman, behold your son!” and to the disciple, “behold your Mother.” The beloved disciple represents us, the Church, and from this moment on, Mary the Mother of Christ becomes Mother of us all.
Yet still there is more. Mary rejoices at her son’s Resurrection, and she remains faithful – of course –after his Ascension. And so we arrive in the Upper Room, with the Apostles gathered around Mary, waiting and praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the words of Pope Benedict, “the Apostles stayed together, comforted by Mary’s presence, and after the Ascension they persevered with her in prayerful expectation of Pentecost. Our Lady was a mother and teacher to them, a role that she continues to play for Christians of all times.”
And so we see that a story that began with Mary saying “yes” to the message brought by the angel Gabriel nears its fulfilment in her encouragement of, and prayer for, the apostles; that they too may be obedient to God’s call – prayers which she has poured forth to the Throne of Grace ever since. Truly then, may we say that Our Lady is both Queen of Apostles and Mother of the Church. As Pope Benedict has written, “Every year, at Eastertide, we relive this experience more intensely and perhaps, precisely for this reason, popular tradition has dedicated to Mary the month of May that normally falls between Easter and Pentecost. Consequently, this month … helps us to rediscover the maternal role that she plays in our lives so that we may always be [faithful] disciples and courageous witnesses of the Risen Lord.”
I said a moment ago that this story nears its fulfilment in the upper room. It reaches its climax of course with the Assumption, in which Mary, the unassuming but obedient Jewish girl of whom nobody of note had ever heard until perhaps they heard of the Christian Creeds for the first time, is raised on high and crowned with grace, and so becomes Our Blessed and Glorious Lady, Queen of Apostles and Mother of the Church. May she pray for us, now and always. Amen.
Ian is a final year student at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, and is being made Deacon on 3rd July, to serve the parishes of S Peter and S Leonard, Horbury with S John, Horbury Bridge in the Diocese of Wakefield. We assure him of our prayers.