A joyous observance of the 236th anniversary of the founding of the City of Los Angeles will commence at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown Los Angeles. Archbishop José H. Gomez will preside over a special votive Mass honoring Mary as Our Lady of the Angels, who is, with St. Vibiana and St. Patrick, patroness of the city and the archdiocese.
At 4:15 p.m. the 7th annual Grand Marian Procession will begin at the cathedral on Temple Street. A dazzling array of banners and flags will mix with color guards and bagpipers displaying flamboyant attire, along with members of the Knights of Columbus, Knights of Peter Claver, Order of Malta, Order of St. Lazarus, Order of St. Gregory and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher. The procession will end where this vast metropolis began, at the tiny church on what is now Main Street: La Placita de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles (the Plaza of Our Lady Queen of Angels).
The actual full name of the city of Los Angeles is open to conjecture — there are some 15 variants. A few years ago the respected Los Angeles historian Doyce B. Nunis Jr., who spent 43 years as editor of the Southern California Quarterly for the Historical Society of Southern California, opted for El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles, the name found on the first handwritten map in 1785.
His good friend, Msgr. Francis Weber, the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s distinguished archivist emeritus, is convinced that the city’s correct original name is El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula, or “the town of Our Lady of the Angels of Porciuncula.” He bases his opinion on the diary of Fray Juan Crespi, an associate of St. Junípero Serra, who named the river he found on July 31, 1769, after the Franciscan feast day on Aug. 2 honoring Mary under that title. Msgr. Weber believes the word “Reyna” (Queen) is an interpolation. The settlement itself began on Aug. 26, 1781.
To people thinking of Mary as the humble maiden of Nazareth, the title “queen” may seem too imposing, too grandiose. Still, the usage has a solidly biblical foundation. When Queen Bathsheba came to ask a favor of her son, King Solomon, he bowed to her and sat her on a throne at his right hand, telling her to ask any favor, “for I can refuse you nothing” (1 Kings 2:19, 20). This is seen a type of Mary’s relationship with Jesus.
The kings of Judah had many wives; Solomon is said to have had 700. The Gebirah, the most influential woman at court, interceding for others with her son, the king’s chief counselor, was always his mother. Indeed, Gebirah is Hebrew for “Great Lady” or “Queen Mother” of the king in the line of David. Several are mentioned in the Old Testament.
Within this context, the archangel Gabriel told Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. … The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father … and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).
Upon her Assumption, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars” (Revelation 12:1). With Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16), high priest of the heavenly liturgy (Hebrews 8:1), Mary took her place beside her divine son. As Gemirah of the heavenly court, she intercedes for all his earthly subjects, while even cherubim and seraphim subject to her, the Queen of Angels.
(A splendidly concise study of Holy Scripture regarding the role of the queen mother in the kingdom of Judah, and Mary’s role in the kingdom of heaven is found here: www.agapebiblestudy.com/documents/Mary The Queen Mother of the New Davidic Kingdom.htm.)
“Queen of Angels” is found among similar titles in the beautiful Litany of Loreto: “Queen of Apostles,” “Queen of Martyrs,” “Queen of Peace,” “Queen conceived without original sin,” etc. These titles are depicted in stained glass in the transept of Our Mother of Good Counsel Church on Vermont Avenue in Hollywood, created by the late liturgical artists Isabel and Edith Piczek in their stylish, distinctive manner.
In addition to the cathedral and La Placita Church, the majestic appellation “Queen of Angels” and its sister title — “Our Lady of the Angels” — are found throughout the Southland:
› Queen of Angels Hospital, the building still looming over the Hollywood Freeway at Benton Way, was the city’s premiere medical center during the 20th century. It doubled as Mercy General Hospital on the old “Adventures of Superman” TV series. The hospital closed in 1989, but continues today as QueensCare Family Clinics in Hollywood.
› The Queen of Angels Foundation, “a purely devotional society dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels,” keeps members abreast of devotional and liturgical events within the city: www.thequeenofangels.com.
› At Queen of Angels Church in Santa Clarita, the traditional Latin Mass is celebrated on Sundays and weekdays: www.queenofangelscatholicchurch.org.
› Our Lady Queen of Angels, the archdiocesan junior seminary in Mission Hills, closed in 1994. The campus became Bishop Alemany High School.
› Queen of Angels Academy for girls in Compton was established in 1995, but closed in 2001. The campus becoming St. Albert the Great Middle School.
› St. Mary of the Angels, an Anglo-Catholic (High Anglican) parish in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, is a superb little jewel box of a church built by Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin: www.stmaryoftheangels.org.
It’s a pleasure to recall the honor paid Mary in the final chapter of the 2nd Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, §59, in which Mary was exalted as “Queen of the universe,” and the event on Aug. 26 is an effort to bring back a healthy devotion to the Blessed Virgin once so prevalent in Los Angeles.
Sean M. Wright is a member of the RCIA team at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Santa Clarita. He presents workshops and enrichment courses on Catholic topics at parishes throughout the archdiocese.