Catholic fine art - Queen of Angels *
We read in the Bible (Eccli. 45: 14) that when Aaron was consecrated to the priesthood, a crown of gold was placed upon his miter. The crown had a second fillet of blue lace, a color chosen as the type of Heaven, "an ornament of honor, a work of power, and delightful to the eyes for its beauty." Over this crown was a golden diadem, with the inscription, "Holiness to the Lord." The diadem, a fillet of silk, was two inches wide, sometimes white, sometimes blue, sewn with pearls or other gems and enriched with gold. It may be noted that the diadem, not the crown, was the real insignia of royalty. How applicable to Mary, the Queen of Heaven, is this diadem with its blue fillet, Her own color, the color of the firmament.
One of the loveliest and truest titles of Mary is that of Queen—Mary, by the grace of God is Queen and Empress of the universe. St. Athanasius says: "If the Son is a King, the Mother who begot Him is rightly and truly considered a Queen and Sovereign." And St. Bernardine of Siena: "No sooner had Mary consented to be Mother of the Eternal Word, than She merited by this consent to be made Queen of the world and all creatures." Holy Mother Church has guaranteed that royal title to Her. In the Mass of the Seven Dolors She sings: "Holy Mary, the Queen of Heaven and Mistress of the world, stood by the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ full of sadness;" and in the Communion Verse of the Mass of Our Lady of Mount Carmel: "Most noble Queen of the world, Mary, ever Virgin." Three of the four great Antiphons of Our Lady salute Her as Queen, the Regina Coeli, the Ave Regina Coelorum and the Salve Regina—"Hail, Queen of Heaven, Hail Mistress of Angels!"
So are applied to Her the words of the Psalmist (Ps. 44: 10), "The Queen stood on Thy right hand in gilded clothing, surrounded with variety."
There is a beautiful story about the Regina Coeli. In the year 596, at Easter Time, a terrible pestilence was raging in Rome. Pope St. Gregory urged the people to do penance, and arranged for a procession (see image at right). At dawn he went to the Church of Ara Coeli, and taking a picture of Our Lady, believed to have been painted by St. Luke, he led the procession to St. Peter's followed by the clergy and a great crowd. When the procession was passing the tomb of Hadrian he heard heavenly voices singing the Regina Coeli, and he added to their praises the invocation, Ora pro nobis, Alleluia! At that, an Angel was seen putting his sword back into its scabbard. The plague had ceased. Thenceforth the Castle of Hadrian was known as the Castle of the Holy Angel (Castel Sant'Angelo), and the Image of Our Lady became known as the Salvation of the Roman People (Salus Populi Romani). Being Queen of Heaven, the first title of Her royal prerogatives is "Queen of Angels," an astounding title as we consider the unspeakable beauty and majesty of these sublime creations of God.
Angel means "one going" or "one sent," hence a messenger. The Angels are God's instruments to tell His Will to men, but their essential function is to serve at the throne of God. Daniel (c. 7) gives a magnificent picture of them: "I beheld till thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days sat: His garment was white as snow and the hair of His head like clean wool; His throne like flames of fire: the wheels of it like burning fire: a swift stream of fire issued forth before Him; thousands of thousands ministered to Him and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before Him; the judgment sat and the books were opened." St. Thomas divides the Angels into three hierarchies of three orders each: first, the Seraphim, the Cherubim and the Thrones; second, the Dominations, the Virtues and the Powers; third, the Principalities, the Archangels and the Angels. We cannot go into a detailed study of the Angels—it is enough to say that they were created before man, and that they are a superior creation to man: "Thou hast made him (man) a little less than the angels" (Ps. 8, 6).
The tremendous thought is that Mary is the Queen of Angels; that She, who by nature is inferior to them, is in dignity superior to them, due to the fact that She has the supreme dignity—that of Mother of God. Her close association with Jesus in the Incarnation made Her an associate of the Angels. It was God's way of manifesting His Will to Her. The great messenger of the Annunciation was St. Gabriel. He saluted Her, as the one inferior salutes the one superior. Even St. Gabriel was awed at the beauty of Mary's soul and the dignity which no angel could even hope for. St. Gabriel, "the strength of God," had appeared to the Prophet Daniel, he had appeared to Zachary; they were holy men and pleasing to God, but She was "full of grace," and he knew that while in that little house of Nazareth he was in the very vestibule of Heaven, the very first one to salute the Queen of Angels. We still have that feeling of St. Gabriel's awe every time we repeat his Ave, a feeling like to that of the boy St. Aloysius or little St. Catherine of Siena, climbing the stairs and saying an Ave at every step, or St. Louis of France adding to his other prayers fifty Aves and genuflecting at every one. Say Ave Maria, and you still hear the flutter of St. Gabriel's wings and smell the flowers from the fields of Paradise. But St. Gabriel was not the only angelic visitor to Mary. There were hosts of Angels to wait upon Her, ready to do Her slightest bidding, hovering about Her, in admiration of Her, and in adoration of Her Child. It is not a bit of merely poetic sentiment that makes the artists surround Her with Angels. Where else would they be but with the King of Angels and the Queen of Angels?