TODAY, Whitsunday or Pentecost is one of the great feast days of the year in the Christian calendar, after Easter and Christmas. We reach the culmination of the Easter season, celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus and on his blessed Mother Mary. One of the great Eastertide images of Our Lady is of her being with the disciples in the Upper Room, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Our Lady helps us understand both the Easter season and Whitsunday more deeply, and this is being emphasised by a change to the Church’s calendar which comes into force this year. We have been thinking during the Easter season about the Church, and one of the final acts of the Second Vatican Council just over fifty years ago was to proclaim Mary to be the Mother of the Church: accordingly Pope Francis has established next Monday, Whit Monday, as a special memorial of Our Lady, Mother of the Church, and we will be observing this for the first time this year. The Council did not produce a document about Mary, which surprised some people at the time; instead she is given a whole chapter in the document about the Church, and this is helpful. Mary is our Mother because she is the Mother of the Church, present with the disciples at the Church’s beginning when the Holy Spirit came upon them all. Therefore our love for Mary as our Mother, if it is authentic, has to inspire us to show a deeper love for the Church, a deeper sense of loyalty to her and to her teachings.

Devotion to Our Lady in the Easter season, and on WhitSunday, is accompanied by another idea peculiar to the month of May, which is of course mostly in the Easter season (depending on the date of Easter each year). This is devotion to Our Lady as Queen. On Friday in our school, as happens every year, one of the children crowned the statue of the Blessed Mother in the school grounds with a ringlet of flowers, after hundreds of the children had each laid flowers at the foot of the statue. This traditional act of love, accompanied by the singing of traditional hymns (‘Queen of the angels and Queen of the May’) and the recitation of the rosary, is one of the annual highlights of parish life here and of the life of the school.

When we use the language of ‘queen-ship’ of Our Lady we are doing several things. In the first place we are making a statement that she is at the centre of our lives as Catholic Christians. She is always close to her Son, and always close to his disciples – those in the Upper Room as the Holy Spirit came, and ourselves. She is praying for us, she is with us on our Christian journey; she is also an example and a role model for our lives as we seek to be more attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Remember what she says to the servants at John’s account of the wedding at Cana in Galilee: ‘Do what-ever he tells you.’ This is Mary’s message for all of us, to follow the teachings of Jesus and of his Church.

Secondly we are saying something about the idea of being a queen. We don’t appropriate the trappings of earthly rulers and put them on Mary – we change what the idea means. If God incarnate had wanted to be born of a queen or a princess in a palace he would have done so: instead, he is born of a humble and poor woman, a member of an oppressed people. In her life on earth Our Lady knows nothing of earthly power and riches; much of her life is marked by fear and sadness. The Church repeatedly points out that she ‘stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord’ (as Blessed Paul VI put it) – we should never try to make her into an earthly queen. Her place in our lives as a friend and a role model overturns the world’s false ideas of power, wealth and prestige; she challenges empty celebrity culture. When we venerate her as our true Queen, we’re proclaiming that all our values are different; and Mary offers us the path to true joy, in faithfulness to God. When she receives the Holy Spirit alongside the disciples at Pentecost, all of us as her children, receiving the same Spirit, are given a renewed sense of identity as Christians.