Hail, Queen of Peace
by Katie Prejean McGrady
I had a statue of Mary on a shelf in my bedroom when I was growing up. Clad in her signature blue with her eyes cast downward and hands reaching down, I’d often ask my mom why Mary was so sad. She’d always tell me she wasn’t sad, just peaceful. But still, that statue and her closed eyes and empty face always made me a little uncomfortable. Why did peacefulness have to be depicted with what I considered to be sad eyes and idle hands? Why did Mary have to look so defeated?
I think that statue, and my perception of how she looked based on that one image, is what kept me from investing in devotion to Mary until later in life. I wasn’t interested in a peaceful woman. I wanted a role model that was powerful, fierce, memorable, and who did something.
I didn’t need an eyes-to-the-floor woman who seemed sad and bored.
A New Vision of Mary
While studying in Rome, I was wandering through the Basilica of St. Mary Major one afternoon and I stumbled upon this statue of Our Lady.
I immediately fell in love with it. Her hand is raised up, as if to offer a high five or demand we pay attention to her. The squirmy, almost sassy toddler Jesus with curly hair is clearly trying to wiggle his way out of her arms. The flowing robes that looked like silk are even carved into the marble. Everything about the statue screamed fierce, powerful, passionate, capable, and beautifully feminine.
Even more powerful, something linked this image of Mary to the statue in my childhood bedroom: her eyes were cast down as if she was looking upon a crowd of people delivering a message that demanded to be heard. I didn’t immediately assume she was just a sad, demure woman. I instantly saw passion in that downward gaze, power in that raised hand, protection as she held baby Jesus, and importance as she sat upon the throne.
I needed to know what this statue was called. Imagine my surprise when I translated the words “Ave Regina Pacis” carved into the bottom of the statue: “Hail, Queen of Peace.” This was Our Lady, the Queen of Peace.
There it was again: peaceful Mary. But I no longer thought of her peacefulness as sad, idle, downtrodden, alone, or afraid. Instead, she was a mother at peace—calling for and bringing peace.
This statue of Our Lady, Queen of Peace, was commissioned by Pope Benedict XV during World War I and was placed in Santa Maria Maggiore (Our Lady’s Basilica) at the conclusion of the war. Her arm is stretched out, calling for peace to end the horrendous bloodshed of this first global war. Her eyes are cast down, filled with sadness at the loss of so many lives. She clings to the child Jesus, waiting to let him loose into a world in desperate need of his presence.
In just a few minutes of standing there staring at this statue, my perception of Our Lady changed, as if she herself was wrapping her mantle around my shoulders. My resistance to getting to know her began to fade. I stood there soaking in the image, thinking about the beauty and power of the statue.
I bought a postcard at the gift shop with a picture of the statue and decided to also grab a small wooden rosary. I still carry that rosary with me, more than a decade later. Every time I pray with it, I’m reminded of this image of Our Lady tucked against a wall in a basilica in Rome, depicting a woman I once ignored, but who swept me up in her loving arms to bring me ever closer to the heart of Her Son simply by stretching out her hand and casting her eyes downward.
A Woman with Many Names
Mary, the very Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, goes by many names. She’s the virgin, immaculately conceived without sin; the Theotokos, the God-bearer, assumed into heaven body and soul; Mother of the Church; and the Lady we ask to be with us at the very hour of our death. And yet, despite her prominence and importance within the Church, many of us have held her at arm’s length because we either misunderstand, misinterpret, or are disinterested in her.
But Mary, her role in the life of the Church, and her role our own lives, cannot be understated. The mother of the Savior, who said yes to the very invitation of God to give birth to Jesus, doesn’t stand idly by with her hands folded and her eyes cast down, a statuesque figure that can be tossed aside. She sits atop a throne, holding her Son close, arms outstretched, calling down peace—the peace only Jesus brings—to be with us.
As the team was planning Ave Explores, we brainstormed a lot of topics we’d like to cover, but something became very obvious to all of us: if we want to take a look at how to live our Catholic faith every day in an honest, real, personal, and relevant way, then who better to help us live and explore the everyday expressions of that faith than Mary?
This edition of Ave Explores will challenge you to welcome Mary into your life more deeply. Articles, podcasts, and videos will address everything from Church documents about Mary to devotions, and from consecration to Mary’s role in pop culture.
In the same way I was once captivated by a statue of our Blessed Mother in a basilica in Rome, we hope Ave Explores will capture your attention and engender a deeper love of Mary in your heart.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.
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