I suppose it was inevitable, but on the eve of Pope Francis’s historic consecration a new conspiracy theory has popped up. It has been championed by the usual suspects in an apparent attempt to disrupt what promises to be a historic and unifying moment of prayer and solidarity for the Church, praying for peace and an end to the war and violence in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion last month. This act of consecration will entrust all the peoples of the world, but especially those of Russia and Ukraine, to Mary’s Immaculate Heart.
I was unaware of this latest development when I read a puzzling tweet from Tyler, Texas Bishop Joseph Strickland, in which he wrote that “we must pay special attention to Mary’s titles like Queen of Heaven. There are questions about some translations in other languages. We must ensure that all translations are accurate & honor Mary, Queen of Heaven.”
As we join Pope Francis in the Consecration Prayer on March 25, we must pay special attention to Mary’s titles like Queen of Heaven. There are questions about some translations in other languages. We must ensure that all translations are accurate & honor Mary, Queen of Heaven.
— Bishop J. Strickland (@Bishopoftyler) March 24, 2022
Many observers didn’t know what to make of this, guessing that he was advocating for others to be scrupulous in their attention to using the exact words of the consecration prayer. Sadly, the truth is much more bizarre, ignorant, and malicious. It wasn’t until I read a blog post by Fatima scholar Kevin Symonds that I understood the context.
Symonds writes in his post: “I am hearing some chatter about a line in tomorrow’s consecration prayer. The chatter is that people are thinking the line might be referring to the Andean deity ‘Pachamama.'”
That’s right, folks. The rumor seems to have started with Ann Barnhardt, a firebrand blogger and one of the earliest “Benedict is still pope” advocates, who wrote a post pointing out that while one passage in the English translation of the prayer refers to Mary as “Queen of Heaven,” in other languages, a different phrase is used. The full English clause is, “Queen of Heaven, restore God’s peace to the world.” In Italian, the equivalent passage reads, “Tu, ‘terra del Cielo’, riporta la concordia di Dio nel mondo,” which translates in English to “You, ‘land of Heaven’, bring God’s peace (concord) back to the world.”
You can compare the many translations on the Vatican website, or you can trust the reports of those who have already done the legwork—the English is unique in using the term “Queen” while the other languages use terms meaning “Land” or “Earth.” What to make of this? Well, Ann Barnhardt believes she has reached the only rational conclusion:
What “terra del Cielo” literally means is “the land in the sky”… AND GUESS WHO GOES BY THAT TITLE??? Yup. The Pachamama demon. The “land in the sky” is one of the Pachademon’s “domains”, and “tierra del cielo” is a Pachamama title. It is “wenu mapu” in the Mapuche language and religion.
Naturally, Taylor Marshall dedicated an entire episode of his YouTube program to this “discovery,” and the narrative clearly reached Bishop Strickland, whose tweet is clearly a veiled reference to this conspiracy theory. It seems to have done the rounds of the Catholic fringe, none of whom apparently bothered to check and see whether “land of heaven” has any Marian significance in the Catholic tradition. In fact, it does. Of course it does.
Vatican Press Secretary Andrea Tornielli wrote an article on March 23 explaining the meanings of the terms in the consecration prayer, including “Earth of Heaven”:
You, “Earth of Heaven,” restore God’s peace to the world. The expression “Earth of Heaven” is taken from a Byzantine-Slavic monastic hymn, and it poetically signifies the union of heaven and earth that we can contemplate in Mary assumed bodily into Heaven.
Symonds goes much deeper into the history of the term:
Referring to Our Lady as the “land of Heaven,” while a bit foreign to us in the English-speaking world, is actually quite theologically rich and deeply steeped in the history of Catholic thinking on Our Lady.
There are, I suspect, many different theological perspectives one can discuss to talk about the imagery of Our Lady as the “land of Heaven.” As I am more influenced by some Eastern theology and the writings of St. Louis de Montfort, I’d like to present some considerations from that angle.
Symonds then provides excerpts from de Montfort, a prayer from the Eastern Christian tradition, the Akathist to the Theotokos, and a 2005 reflection by Cardinal Ravasi on the use of this term in his Breviario laico. Do read the entire article.
Indeed, an internet search for the Latin phrase (terra coeli) yields numerous examples of the phrase used in the Western tradition as well.
Obviously the rumor is complete nonsense, but this last-second hysteria has deceived some Catholics, including at least one bishop.
So why is the English translation different? My hunch is that because the term “Land of Heaven” or “Earth of Heaven,” especially in a Marian context, is completely foreign to most English speakers (as the recent controversy demonstrates), they opted for a more dynamic translation. Rather than insert a confusing term, the English translators chose to use a more common Marian title that ends with “of Heaven”—Queen of Heaven. (Let’s hope that no one catches on that some people believe “Queen of Heaven” to be pagan as well.)
On a related note, I am quoted in an article by Molly Olmstead of Slate on the history of Fatima conspiracy theories (this latest one not included). It gives a fairly thorough overview of the ins and outs of this ongoing saga.
Have a blessed Feast of the Annunciation, and remember to join with Pope Francis and the bishops of the world in prayer for the consecration later today!
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.