Regina Caeli

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Queen of Heaven Rejoice!
O Queen of heaven rejoice! alleluia:
For He whom thou didst merit to bear, alleluia,
Hath arisen as he said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
Because the Lord is truly risen, alleluia.

This is the Regina Caeli, the great Marian antiphon for Easter, and, when it is first sung at the celebration of the Easter vigil, we will be reminded of the preeminence of Our Lady’s faith. She is the first to rejoice in the Easter mystery, not because She sees the empty tomb, but because She is certain, without need of seeing that sign, that what the Lord has promised will come to pass.

The Regina Caeli is about the victory of Our Lady’s faith. There is a tradition that the antiphon was composed, after a manner, by St. Gregory the Great, when in 596 Rome was ravaged by a plague, and he in response turned in confidence to Our Lady. St. Gregory organized a procession through the streets of Rome, which began at the ancient Church of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli on the capitoline hill, where He took into the procession an ancient Icon of Our Lady, said to be painted by St. Luke. As he passed the Tomb of Hadrian, as it was then called, he heard angels sing the first three lines of the Regina Caeli. He responded with the fourth line: Pray for us to God! The plague was ended, the Tomb of Hadrian was renamed Castle Santa’ Angelo (The Castle of the Angel), and the Regina Caeli was inscribed on the ceiling of the Church of the Ara Coeli. The same ceiling, centuries later, would be gilded and paneled in commemoration of the Victory of the Christian forces over the Ottoman Turks at the Bay of Lepanto on October 7, 1571. St. Pius V at the time instituted the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, because it was through Her intercession, obtained by praying the Rosary, that led to victory. The Queen of Heaven is Our Lady of Victory, and She is always victorious because of Her faith.

He has arisen, as he said, the angel tells the holy women who come to anoint the body of Jesus, as a kind of rebuke for their lack of faith (Matt. 28:6). The Regina Caeli includes these words, not as a rebuke of Our Lady, but, on the contrary, as an acknowledgment of Her faith in what the Lord had promised. She is not asked: Tell us, Mary: say what thou didst see upon the way? That question is put to the Magdalen in the 11th c. Hymn Victimae Paschali Laudes. Our Lady has no need to answer as does the Madgalen: The tomb the Living did enclose; I saw Christ’s glory as He rose! On the contrary, Our Lady is called Regina Caeli, Queen of Heaven, and is exhorted to rejoice and be glad, because She knows that the Lord is risen, as he said. She had no need to see the empty tomb.

The Immaculate is rightly called Queen, in part, because She earned the title at the foot of the Cross. Our Lord is King by right and by conquest: by right because he is God; by conquest because He is victorious over sin and death through His redemptive sacrifice. So Our Lady is Queen by right, because of Her Divine Motherhood, and by conquest, because of Her unique participation in the redemption of Her Son. This is the teaching of Pius XII in his encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam, To the Queen of Heaven. There he quotes Suarez, directly linking Her queenship to the Cross:

Just as Christ, because He redeemed us, is our Lord and king by a special title, so the Blessed Virgin also (is our queen), on account of the unique manner in which she assisted in our redemption, by giving of her own substance, by freely offering Him for us, by her singular desire and petition for, and active interest in, our salvation.”

This assistance of the Blessed Virgin in our redemption is called the Coredemption, and it helps us to understand her absence from the tomb on Easter morning. Nowhere in the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection is our Lady mentioned. All the stories there are about the movement of Our Lord’s other disciples from a lack of faith to belief in what Our Lord had promised. But the faith of Our Lady that was strong enough to lead Her to the Cross, was also strong enough to wait patiently for what she knew was about to happen. The words of Our Lord to St. Thomas after the latter’s final acceptance of Our Lord’s Resurrection are perfectly applied to Our Lady: Blessed are those who have not seen but still believe.

The Immaculate is blessed because She has no need to see the sign in order to believe, but since She does believe, She sees the Risen Christ in a unique way. While Our Lady’s absence from the Resurrection accounts are obvious, tradition has provided us with a account of Our Lady’s Easter morning which is perfectly consistent with those scriptures. As a reward for Her complete faith, which led Her to the Cross and kept Her from going to the tomb, Mary is the first to see Jesus on Easter Morning. Instead of Her going to Him, He comes to Her. Franciscans from of old have prayed the Crown, that is the Rosary of Our Lady’s Seven Joys. The Sixth Joy is “Mary Rejoices as Our Lord Appears to Her on Easter Morning.” This tradition is implicit in the Regina Caeli, and it is found elsewhere in art and spirituality. For example the Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden produced a wonderful depiction of “Christ appears to Mary” (photo above) for an altar piece in which this panel is set to the right of a matching panel of the pietá . This pairing seems to indicate that Our Lady rejoices as Queen of Heaven in the Resurrection, because She Coredemptrix. Another instance tradition occurs within The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. There the saint includes a meditation on “How Christ Our Lord Appeared to Our Lady” after the Resurrection.

The Immaculate Virgin who didst merit to bear Jesus in Her womb, through Her Immaculate Conception and Her immaculate faith, also merited to rejoice in the Resurrection of Jesus above all His other disciples. This She did through Her faith in Christ unto the Cross and beyond the darkness of the tomb. May our faith lead us to the same joy.

(My article, reprinted from Missio Immaculatae International)

One thought on “Regina Caeli

  1. Pingback: Regina Caeli, He has Risen as he Said | Air Maria

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