Today we celebrate the Memorial of the Queenship of Mary. Pope Pius XII established this memorial in 1954, yet the roots of Mary’s queenship can be found in Scripture. At the Annunciation, Gabriel told Mary that her Son would sit on the throne of David and reign forever. At the Visitation, Elizabeth referred to Mary as “the mother of my Lord.” Since Mary is the Mother of Jesus – the King of Kings – she is by association a queen, and as noted in the Old Testament, the Mother of the King holds a prestigious place in the King’s court.
The Church Fathers acknowledged Mary’s queenship as early as the fourth century. St. Ephraim called her “Lady” and “Queen” and this was echoed by the other fathers. Medieval hymns beginning in the eleventh century lauded Mary as queen, singing her praises as “Hail, Queen of Heaven,” and “Hail, Holy Queen.” The rosary celebrates Mary’s queenship, as does many of the titles given her in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Memorial of the Queenship of Mary is a logical followup to the Solemnity of the Assumption and is celebrated on its octave. This is fitting, since the Church teaches that Mary, as Queen of Heaven, received her crown after being assumed into heaven following the end of her earthly life.
But, why do we call the Queenship of Mary a memorial and the Assumption a solemnity? So, what is a memorial, anyway?
Catholics commonly use the word “feast” for any special celebration, and that is not quite correct. There are three basic categories of celebrations: memorials, solemnities, and feasts.
Solemnities are the highest degree and are usually reserved for the most important mysteries of our faith. That includes Easter, Pentecost, the Immaculate Conception, principal titles of our Lord (such as Christ the King and the Sacred Heart of Jesus), and some saints of particular importance in salvation history (such as Sts. Peter and Paul and St. John the Baptist).
Solemnities have the same elements as a Sunday: three readings, prayer of the faithful, the Creed, and the Gloria. They also have prayer formulas exclusive to the day: entrance antiphon, opening prayer, prayer over the gifts, Communion antiphon, and prayers after Communion. Some solemnities are Holy Days of Obligation, and that varies by country.
Solemnities are celebrated if they fall on a Sunday of Ordinary Time or Christmastide. They’re usually transferred to the following Monday if they fall on a Sunday of Advent, Lent, or Easter, or during Holy Week or the Easter Octave.
Feasts honor a mystery or title of Jesus or Mary, or of saints who are particularly important (Apostles or Evangelists, for example).
Feasts usually have some proper prayers but only two readings and the Gloria. Certain feasts, such as the Transfiguration and Exaltation of the Holy Cross, are celebrated when they fall on a Sunday, on which occasion they have three readings, the Gloria, and Creed.
Memorials are usually of saints but also can celebrate some aspect of Jesus or Mary, such as the Holy Name of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Queenship of Mary. Some memorials are obligatory and some are optional, but their liturgical elements remain the same. Memorials have special opening prayers and some have readings suitable for the saint being celebrated. Usually, the readings of the day are used so as not to interrupt the continuous cycle of daily readings.
All of these classifications vary by geographical location and are determined by the bishops’ conference.
There you have it: the difference between a solemnity, feast, and memorial. So, what is a memorial, anyway? Well, today it’s an opportunity to celebrate our Blessed Mother as Queen – of heaven, of our lives, and of our hearts. Hail, Holy Queen!
How will you honor Mary’s Queenship today?