By Jem Sullivan, Ph.D.
Mary, Queen of Heaven, Master of the Saint Lucy Legend, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
The Church begins each new calendar year by honoring Mary, Mother of God. An exquisite 15th century painting titled Mary, Queen of Heaven invites our contemplation on the Mother of God in her relationship to the Blessed Trinity. Painted by an artist known simply as the Master of the Saint Lucy Legend, this visual homily also invites our imitation of Mary in this new year. We are inspired to grow, like Mary, in union with the divine family of the Blessed Trinity through our participation in the Eucharist. From her Immaculate Conception to her Assumption and crowning as Queen of Heaven, Mary was the sinless dwelling place of the Trinity.
Clothed in gold-trimmed robes of red and dark blue, Mary’s serene, haloed face is framed by delicate locks of wavy hair. Her hands are folded in a gesture of prayer as she ponders the mystery of her divine Son. The Mother of God is surrounded by a host of angels playing musical instruments in a heavenly orchestral choir, suspended over a distant landscape. The movements of the winged angels, dressed in flowing, colorful robes, lead our eyes around the painting. One can almost hear the trumpets, lutes and harps of the angels echoing a heavenly music that appears to carry Mary aloft. Two singing angels carry books with musical notes and lyrics of a setting of the Marian hymn Ave Regina Caelorum, giving the painting its title.
The full orchestra of angels play before the Blessed Trinity — God the Father, Jesus the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit, represented in the form of a dove. As the Holy Spirit hovers over the entire sacred scene as at the dawn of creation, we see God the Father and his divine Son Jesus hold a crown over Mary, queen of the heavenly court of angels and saints.
God chose Mary from all eternity to bear his divine Son Jesus into the world. In preserving Mary from Original Sin in her Immaculate Conception, God entrusted his Son to Mary’s sinless body. The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary at the Annunciation, making her the dwelling place of the Incarnation of God in the world. Jesus took human flesh from the Virgin Mary and gave us his mother as our mother in faith. In the Eucharist, Jesus draws close to us in the supreme gift of his Body and Blood so that we might live in Him — just as Mary did and does now, and for all eternity!
Mary was united singularly to the Blessed Trinity from her Immaculate Conception to her glorious reign in heaven. This serene image gives a glimpse of the heavenly liturgy and invites our participation in the Church’s blessed hymn of Eucharistic praise with our mother in faith, the Mother of God, to whom we entrust this new year.
Dr. Jem Sullivan is associate professor of catechetics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.