Crowning of our Lady of Schoenstatt as Queen of the United States of America
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
DOCUMENTATION. Talk given by Fr. Gerold M. Langsch, Schoenstatt Father, on September 9, 2002, in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Rev. Bishop Leonard Olivier, Rev. Fathers, Deacon, dear members of the Schoenstatt family, my dear Brothers and Sisters,
Most of us here present have participated at some time or other at a solemn May crowning in a parish, a familiar exciting ritual, much desired by the first communion girls in their white dresses. Or we heard about the Holy Father crowning a statue of the Blessed Virgin in Fatima at the anniversary of his assassination attempt. But - may I ask - how often have you and I crowned her personally, not in a general, generic way so-to-speak, but with a real intention in mind, with deep personal inner participation when you had a great need? Then you waited for the outcome and returned to her to give thanks for the grace or favor received? That happens rather seldom for many of us. In Schoenstatt, our founder, Fr. Joseph Kentenich, reminded us of this beautiful practice of the Church. He wanted to bring it back to life again for all of us.
Why do we crown here today?
Now then, why do we crown the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary here at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on this day today? Why, where, when.
When? In this hour, in this solemn celebration this afternoon, you and I are preparing to offer to our dearest Blessed Mother as the patroness of the United States of America, a crown, prepared on a personal and communal level. On this day today, because of September 11, 2001. We want to answer the terrorist attack on our nation in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on that fateful day last year. It is our personal conviction as Christians, as members of the Schoenstatt family and as citizens of this great country, that we should answer it with a powerful act of faith and reparation, to answer it with a crowning of the patroness of our country. In doing so, we give ourselves more completely to her in order to draw her with her powerful intercession onto the battlefield of our time.
Where? Here in the Crypt of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States. A place hollowed by the love, devotion and dedication of the faithful and of all the bishops of the United States who dedicated our country to her under this title in 1846. United with the many others who will do the same during these days around September 11, we crown her in this our National Cathedral in the Nation’s Capital, as representatives of the Church and of our society to express what we all feel deep down inside.
Yes, what do we feel deep down inside? Why do we crown her? We all felt our utter helplessness as a nation against such terrible attacks; we felt threatened as a Western civilization; we still feel threatened in our freedom; we are not sure about our future. Peace is not as certain anymore as it was before. We certainly understand the efforts our president makes with his new Department of Homeland Security, with his fight against terrorism on a worldwide scale. All the political and military options are valuable. But do they bring about the true peace and security, or a reconciliation between individuals and nations we all long for?
Our nation was built on the foundation of faith and trust in God. From the beginning, Mary played a major role in the lives of its citizens. But, you may ask yourself, why crown her? We all say the rosary at times, make pilgrimages, and strive to lead a holier life. Isn’t that enough? Yes, it is. A coronation of an image or statue is only an outward sign of an inner attitude; a very small and insignificant ritual act performed by childlike human beings believing they could exercise some power over their mighty God. Yet, if God would not have promised to help us through the intercession of his beloved saints, we could do nothing to change the fate of the world. But this exactly he did. He promised to change the fate of the world, if we repent, lead a holy life and show our love to Him and others in genuine acts, in deeds of faith. A ritual like our crowning today presents us with this specific challenge: show me that you love me - in your life, in your actions as noble, royal children of the Queen.
The theology of crowning
Allow me to give you a little bit of history, a few thoughts from a theology of crowning.
I will always remember one of Fr. Kentenich’s sayings: "If we crown the Blessed Mother … it does not mean that she is Queen of the world because we crown her; rather, we crown her because she is Queen." In other words, we only acknowledge what God had done for her: at the side of the King she is the Queen.
Under the heading "Queen" we read in the Dictionary of Mary. (See pg. 281-289) The title of Queen was given to Mary by Christian Tradition from the beginning of the 4th century as an indication of her preeminence and power. Together with other royal titles it entered progressively into the usage of the people of God and eventually found expression in the Liturgy of the Hours (Hail Holy Queen, Queen of Heaven rejoice…), in popular piety (Litany of the Blessed Virgin, 15th mystery of the Rosary…), and in Christian iconography which frequently depicts Mary’s coronation.
Attribution of the title of Queen became a common and accepted practice within the Church, to the point that Pius XII, in 1954, instituted the liturgical Feast of the Queenship of Mary. On that occasion also the Pope issued the principal document of the Magisterium concerning the royal dignity of Mary, the Encyclical Ad coeli Reginam (Oct. 11, 1954).
The teaching of the Magisterium at that time was largely based on two biblical texts from the gospel of Luke. "The words of the angel Gabriel predicting that the Son of Mary would reign forever" (Lk 1:32f) and "the words of Elizabeth, who greeted Mary with reverence and called her ‘the mother of my Lord’". These texts show "clearly that because of her Son’s royal dignity, she [Mary] possessed a greatness and an excellence that set her apart."
Testimonies of the Fathers are almost innumerable, and the encyclical cites the most important ones. So, the theological argument for the two royal titles of Mary is based on the Divine Motherhood and her association with the work of the Redeemer. "The royalty of Mary is a participation in the royal dignity of Jesus Christ, but in a limited and analogical way." It includes three aspects or functions:
a) A preeminence, or primacy of excellence, because the Blessed Virgin "surpasses in dignity all creation", according to the words of St. Germanus.
b) A royal power, which authorizes her to distribute the fruits of the Redemption.
c) An inexhaustible efficacy of intercession with her Son and the Father: "Mary has been made Queen of heaven and earth by God, Pius XII explains, exalted above all the choirs of Angels and all the Saints. Standing at the right hand of her only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, she pleads strongly for us with a mother’s prayers, and what she seeks she finds, nor can she ask in vain." (See pg. 395, in: Our Lady, Papal Teachings)
The Post-Vatican II Liturgy elaborated on these ideas. They found a beautiful expression in the Office for the Feast of the Birth of Mary (Sept.8) as well as in the Solemnity of her Assumption and the Feast of her Queenship on August 22. It culminated however, in a special Marian Rite promulgated by the Church on March 25, 1981: The rite for Crowning an Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This particular Liturgy provides a biblical basis for Mary’s Queenship, rooting it (together with Christ’s Kingship) in the Paschal Mystery, Christ’s self-offering, death, and resurrection. This Paschal Mystery is prolonged in the members of Christ, especially in Mary His Mother and perfect Follower. Her Passover is the Assumption, the moment of her final configuration to Christ. Her Queenship is one of love and service, not pomp and power, just as Christ’s Kingdom is: "My Kingdom does not belong to this world" (Jn 18:36); "the Son of Man has come not to be served by others but to serve, to give his own life as a ransom for the many" (Mt 20:20).
The rite thus pinpoints four reasons why Mary deserves to be Queen: She is a) the Mother of the Son of God and the Messianic King; b) the loving Associate of the Redeemer; c) the perfect Follower or Disciple of Christ; and d) the most excellent Member of the Church.
Painting the image of Mary as a Queen must, of course, be harmonized with the legitimate demands of our modern mentality. We find it realized in the leadership of prominent persons who embody our values and influence the direction of our social or personal life. The early Christians saw in the King an absolute and indisputable point of reference. Proclaiming Jesus "universal King" was equivalent to saying that all persons find in Him alone the true answer to the question of their own identity.
In like manner, Mary is Queen by exercising a role of leadership toward the People of God. Thanks to her prestige, her excellence as first Christian and type of the Church, she represents a necessary point of reference for the faithful. In her they can find the secret to their own royal identity as children of God and the model for giving the Lord an ever-greater place in their life.
Crowning history in Schoenstatt
Exactly in this context we may locate the spirituality of the Schoenstatt movement.
Listening again to Fr. Kentenich’s words: "When we crown her picture and proclaim her Queen, we simply conclude what our faith tells us about Mary and her position in the plan of salvation. We give our believing, ready yes to the plan and will of God…. Thus our coronation act is nothing else but a special, original and deep form of realizing our covenant of love with the Blessed Mother." … And he continues: "The Mother of God is Queen by right of inheritance; by right of conquest and by right of election."
When we look into the history of the Schoenstatt family, we find the year 1939 as the occasion for the first crowning. At that time National Socialism threatened the entire Christian order. Schoenstatt felt like David before the giant Goliath. Our founder recognized the hidden powers at work. In times like these when the diabolic forces war against the divine, like we experience it now again, our Lady’s role must be placed even more into the foreground. That was his conviction. As Queen crowned with the stars, she can best fight against the diabolic powers. Therefore, we proclaimed her our Queen; we offered her a crown in order to withstand the destructive influences. The crown expressed our total surrender and our complete trust in her.
This coronation was not a mere symbolic act that was done once and then remained in the memory of the people as a sentimental act. No, the coronation deeply seized the human heart; it became a power to transform people. The deepest effect of crowning our Lady was felt only when the persons who crowned her freed themselves from earthly chains and surrendered their all to their Queen. In this manner the way for her reigning power was prepared and she could take over. Therefore the coronation of our Blessed Mother always has to be accompanied by serious striving for the highest. The greater the dangers and the distress around us, the more we have to plead with Our Lady to take care and to open our hearts for her activity in us.
Then, throughout the history of Schoenstatt, our founder led us to crown our Lady time and again. He crowned her in Dachau as bread-mother or later in thanksgiving after the war. In 1946 he said: "For me it is the most important demand: Crown the Blessed Mother and you will see that our Christian society will be saved!"
Over the years it has become a common practice among the members of the Schoenstatt family to prepare themselves for a crowning in their homes and home shrines. In a carefully formulated prayer they express their needs together with their gratitude. Again, the crown stands for their willingness in their striving to lead a holy life.
And so, throughout the many years of our history various reasons for crowning developed:
September 11 and the crowning
Coming from this angle, we now understand why our invitation flyer lists three reasons for our crowning ceremony here today. This act shows our deep conviction that Mary must again become more active in the life of our entire nation:
I said, Mary must become more active in the life of our entire nation. Yes, she will help us and guide us, but we must do our part, too. As we take a closer look, the threats are not only coming from the outside. We as a people ourselves are undermining the moral fiber of our nation also.
Peace: God is a God of peace but how can this peace reign over our world, if I decide to wage war against my neighbor? True peace begins with me, with you, with each one of us. That’s why we pray in our Crowning prayer: "Let there be peace in every heart, a peace that flows from one to another, to friend and stranger alike." – On a practical level I’d like to suggest that all of us should commit as many ‘random acts of kindness’ as we possibly can.
Abortion: Likewise, laws will not end the practice of abortion; it must be the change of heart within to accept each new life as a gift of God. This change alone will bring an end to the scourge of abortion.
A moral renewal from within: And, thirdly, to renew the moral fiber of our nation is not only the task of the Blessed Mother alone. No, it depends on each one of us. To bring about true fatherhood, or to halt the deterioration of the family structure; to overcome the crises within the Church in our country – all of these can only be accomplished through a serious effort to live a holier life; to act with honesty and to show obedience to the law of God and the laws of this country. Mary will lead us in this struggle as our powerful Queen – but nothing without us! She depends on our earnest cooperation with the grace of God.
What a powerful program! This simple little gesture here today of putting a crown of silver or gold on an image of our dear Mother Thrice Admirable and Queen of Schoenstatt, turns into a program of renewal for our nation, for our Church and for each individual family. Mary leads the way by challenging us: live up to your Christian principles! Change your ways! Act in a Christ-like manner!
Then our Lord can become again the ruler of the new Christian social order; then heaven can become a little more present here in America. Amen.
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