The "joys of eternal life" for which we ask Mary's help to obtain are not meant to be exclusively future and celestial, but something of which we're both able and supposed to have a foretaste here on earth.
Last week we considered the Angelus, one of the most effective of all the spiritual practices in a plan of life to help maintain a sense of God's presence as we ponder in the morning, at midday and in the evening Jesus' incarnation and Mary's faith-filled cooperation in it.
As helpful as that prayer is, however, it traditionally gets supplanted during the Easter Season by another invocation that helps us to contemplate, rather, the Resurrection of Jesus and Mary's response to it.
It's called the Regina Caeli, "Queen of Heaven," taken from the first two words of the twelfth-century prayer.
If in the Angelus we seek to enter into Mary's joy not merely at the coming of the Messiah but of God himself into the world and into our life -- the Angel Gabriel's first word to her, in the original language, was "Rejoice"-- in the Regina Caeli we desire to enter into Mary's joy at her Son's eternal triumph over sin and death.
After the Prayer begins, "Queen of Heaven, Rejoice! Alleluia!," we continue, "For he whom you merited to bear, Alleluia!, has risen as he said, Alleluia!"
It explicitly ties Jesus' incarnation to his Resurrection and focuses on how Mary's unending joy at the Word's becoming flesh would have been happily compounded when that same Son burst forth from the tomb.
As the prayer continues, we beg that Mary will help us enter with her into the fullness of the joy of Jesus' risen life.
We ask her, "Pray for us to God, Alleluia!," remind her once more to "Rejoice and be glad ... for the Lord has truly risen!," and then finish by praying, "O God, who through the Resurrection of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, deigned to give joy to the world, grant, we beseech you, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, his Mother, we may seize the joys of eternal life, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen!"
The "joys of eternal life" for which we ask Mary's help to obtain are not meant to be exclusively future and celestial, but something of which we're both able and supposed to have a foretaste here on earth. As St. Paul reminds us during the Easter Vigil, Jesus' Resurrection is meant to lead us to a "new life" in which we are "alive for God in Christ Jesus." Once we grasp that the Incarnate Word is with us in day-to-day life Risen from the dead, it's hard for us not to seize in the present something of the joy experienced by Mary, by Mary Magdalene, by the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, and by the apostles in the Upper Room -- the joy that already is an embryonic participation in the joy of heaven.
One of the ways that praying the Regina Caeli throughout the Easter Season for more than 25 years has spiritually helped me has been dealing with the various difficulties that come up every day.
If I'm stuck in a traffic jam late for an appointment or have a bad cold, if an apostolic initiative flops or I get some disappointing news, if a parishioner or other loved one has died or gotten a portentous diagnosis, I now generally try to ask, "How would I respond to if today were the day Jesus rose from the dead?"
Merely relating the experience to Jesus' resurrection invariably changes my mood as the trough of the setback is overwhelmingly eclipsed by the peak of the realization that Jesus has in fact risen from the dead, is with me, and is involved.
When I pray the words, "For he whom you have merited to bear has risen as he said!," two realities spring to mind. The first is my own connection with the Word made flesh. Even though I haven't given birth to him, I have received the same Jesus within that Mary bore in her womb, and that is incredible cause of daily joy. The second is that Jesus rose "as he said," a reminder to me that Jesus always fulfills his promises. Just as he has arisen on the third day, so he will keep his word to be with us always until the end of time and to prepare for us a place in his Father's house.
Praying the Regina Caeli, pondering Mary's joy, and asking for the grace to seize that joy even now alters the way we approach life. Pope Francis wrote in his paradigmatic apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" that many Catholics live as if they're perpetually returning from a funeral, as if life is one long Lent. Praying the Regina Caeli at dawn, around noon, at 6 in the evening -- and, for those who pray Night Prayer, before they go to bed, as the Regina Caeli is the Marian antiphon that is normally used throughout the Easter Season to conclude Compline -- can help Catholics live as if they're perpetually returning from the empty tomb, as if life is one long Emmaus journey with Jesus.
The other thing I really love about the Regina Caeli is that it is normally chanted, rather than merely recited, something that adds to the sense of Easter joy with which it is prayed. The tune is simple enough that even kids in Kindergarten can pick it up and beautiful enough that adults with refined musical tastes can sing it several times a day each Easter season without tiring of it. Most Church missalettes and hymnals will have a copy of the tune, in Latin and English. For those who don't read music, YouTube has many free tutorial sing-a-longs to help you learn.
The Prayer of the Regina Caeli assists us to remember each day of the Easter Season, "This is the day the Lord has made: let us rejoice and be glad in it!" I would urge you to make it part of your plan of life throughout the Easter Season so that, through Mary's intercession, you might seize and experience, even now, something of the joys of eternal life!
Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.