“Queen of Heaven”: a Review
Monday, April 3, 2017
Note to readers in the Washington DC area: On Tuesday our esteemed friend Archbishop Charles J. Chaput will be discussing his new book Strangers in a Strange Land at the Catholic Information Center. Information is available here. Michael Hanby of the John Paul II Institute on Religion and the Family and Mary Eberstadt, our senior research fellow, will also be on the program. Don’t miss it. – Robert Royal
Last October, I reviewed here the Saint Benedict Press/Tan Books video-and-book series, Luke: The Gospel of Mercy. It was a first-rate teaching aid about the Third Gospel and a marvelous adjunct to any church’s Bible-study group. Now Saint Benedict brings us Queen of Heaven: Mary’s Battle for You, an even more vivid, moving, and insightful look into one of the principal tenets of the Catholic faith – often a matter of contention between Catholics and Protestants.
In eight lessons, the series tells the story of our Lady’s essential position in Salvation history: from Eve, our first, failed holy mother to Mary’s own Immaculate Conception, through her status in the Annunciation as the new Ark of the Covenant, to her role as Mother of the Church and of the Americas, and, finally (on the centenary of her appearances at Fatima) to her manifestations at key moments in human history, including her very intimate, ongoing relationship to the faithful through the Rosary.
I deeply love my Protestant friends – my (our) brethren in Christ – but I cannot understand their dismissive attitude towards our Lord’s mother. I wish I could sit with many of them and watch Queen of Heaven and follow the study guide that accompanies it (and is designed to direct group discussion), because I’m sure growing closer to Mary would enrich their faith. It hardly matters if the papacy remains a stumbling block; the very idea of some Methodists and Presbyterians saying the Hail Mary is truly thrilling.
And how satisfying it would be to show them that we venerate but do not worship her. It’s hyperdulia versus latria, veneration not adoration.
Yet watching Queen of Heaven (even writing the title), one well understands why we Catholics seem to place her in equality with God. And she surely does share in divinity: as St. Athanasius wrote (and the Catechism  recalls): “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” If that’s humanity’s destiny, how can it not be more so for THE Woman.
The Immaculate Conception by Tiepolo, 1768 [Prado, Madrid]
Part of what makes Queen of Heaven so good (unlike many other religious video and TV documentaries) and so professional is, in addition to a crisp script by Brian Kennelly and Rick Rontondi, the on-and-off-camera narration of actor Leonardo Defilippis. It’s essential that producers of documentaries never fall victim to the belief that experts, whether they’re theologians or historians, priests or laymen can carry an audience’s attention as well as someone whose voice and delivery match the drama of text and context. Mr. Defilippis is such a pro.
Each of the eight 30-minute Lessons is followed by a 9-minute Spiritual Life segment (sort of, Mary in everyday life) hosted by Father Patrick J. Winslow. He is very good. Unfortunately, the good father is stuck in a sterile plywood set. In Luke: The Gospel of Life, Father Jeffrey Kirby, who played the same role in that series as Father Winslow does here, was outside in some lovely places in Italy. And the “talking heads” of Queen of Heaven are often filmed in more natural settings: some in libraries and chapels, others outdoors, so, it occurs to me that if you can take the cameras to those places, why stick one of your principals a bland box. (The reverse was true in Luke, in which host Paul Thigpen – who is theological advisor and an on-camera expert in Queen – was stuck in in a fake office.)
All the experts interviewed for the Lessons in Queen of Heaven are excellent, but they often become most animated during their Spiritual Life testimonies, from which one concludes: Mary causes joy.
And yet the Lessons have about them – despite the lushness of many of the settings and the glorious artworks (each of which is identified in an accompanying study guide, although not in the videos themselves) – a stark quality, because although Satan hates the Trinity above all, he hates no human or angel more than the Virgin. Thus is she so often depicted in art crushing the serpent under her heel (cf., Gen. 3:15), as in Tiepolo’s “Immaculate Conception.” Thus the series subtitle: Mary’s Battle for You.
Speaking of subtitles, the best is for the chapter/episode on the Annunciation: “The Day Creation Held Its Breath.” As the Last of the Fathers, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, put it:
Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
She said yes, and her fiat echoes in eternity.
In the series’ final episode, “The Consecration” – which follows “Fatima” – the consecration in question is partly John Paul II’s consecration of Russia and the world to our Lady’s the Immaculate Heart (in obedience to our Lady of Fatima’s request), but it’s also about regular Catholics consecrating ourselves to Mary. As David Carollo, executive of the American World Apostolate of Fatima, puts it: “Everything you give to her, she can perfect and purify,” suggesting the procedural reality by which our prayers are purged of selfishness by our Lady, thus making them more pleasing to her Son.
Remember John Paul II’s motto: Totus Tuus.
This from the publisher to me: “The videos that you’re reviewing, and the corresponding workbook, are part of the Group Study edition of Queen of Heaven, which is available now through Saint Benedict Press and is intended for parish use. In May, we are releasing three additional products that are geared more towards individual use: a Queen of Heaven prayer booklet , a trade book, and a DVD boxed set.”