Women in the Holy Week Story
Q: Being that Holy Week is upon us, I was wondering if you can expand on the role of women in the Holy Week story.
A: The Holy Week narrative has some of the richest moments to unpack on womanhood, our varied individual vocations and the role of women in the Church that we can each take to reflect upon in our own stages in life.
While it can be assumed that women are present throughout the Holy Week sequence: following Jesus as King into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to cooking the Last Supper meal and serving it in the upper room. There are three specific women – Mary the mother of God, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene – who stayed with our Lord through these moments and beyond, remaining by his side through his passion and at the foot of the cross after all others left him. In exchange for this love, they are rewarded with being the first to see him in his glorified form and the first messengers of the fullness of the gospels – that all is made known and revealed in Christ through the cross and the resurrection.
In reflecting on these three women named Mary, we begin to clearly see that God himself first appeared biblically to women in three unique and very relatable vocations to us: motherhood, married and single life. And, in these vocations we find women are united as one through our Lord on the cross and as the first carriers of the fullness of the Word to the world.
While Mary the Mother of God holds a particularly special role in that she embodies all feminine vocations: from mother and wife to consecrated virgin. At the foot of the cross, she is Mary the Mother of Jesus. Her identity is fully 100% the mother of Our Lord.
And as a mother in this moment, she knows that she has to bare the pain of her son’s suffering – to let him pursue his vocation from the Father, which is the cross. She knows also that she has a choice: she could act selfishly calling out for Jesus to get off the cross and save himself as the others are doing or she can bare this pain silently giving him strength with her prayers and with her eyes. In her heart, she knows how much her son loves her and that at hearing his mother’s words crying out to end this he may honor her wish and come down. At the very least, she knows such an action would only increase his suffering. She chooses to pray and love him with her presence and her quiet personal cross of letting him go. Her soul, which proclaimed the greatness of the Lord in the Magnificat, proclaims it even louder as it is pierced in the silent suffering she is choosing for love of her child and love of God.
While Jesus has the greatest of gifts planned to honor his Mother for all eternity, he makes her the Mother of the Church in this moment in giving her John. “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your Mother.” Mary knows she is being given another son to love, to prepare and to eventually let go of. She knows that she is being entrusted with the Church – the last remaining of the 12 Apostles he had chosen.
As many of you reading this know very personally as mothers, a mother’s vocation is not only knowing she needs to let each of her children pursue their path given to them by the Father, no matter what may befall them. It is supporting them in prayer and in the process, hoping that the Father will return them in greater ways than could ever be expected. This is a mother’s cross – letting her children go, praying and having faith that they will return even beyond the veil of death. And for this great gift to the Church and to the Father of all, Mary is rewarded, being made one of the first women to see our Lord resurrected and glorified. She is made the Queen of the Apostles, the Angels and of all Heaven and Earth – the Mother of the Church.
Another woman at the foot of the cross is Mary the wife of Clopas. I never thought very much of Clopas or his wife Mary until a couple years ago, but she plays a significant role. The Bible makes a point to make it known that she is a wife, though at the cross as far as we know, her husband isn’t present despite the great danger and risk she is personally taking in accompanying Our Lady and Our Lord among the Roman guard and the accusers of Christ to the foot of the cross. We do not know if Clopas abandoned Our Lord as the Apostles did, we don’t know if he was simply out doing something else, but we know that he most likely was not with his wife as she pursued our Lord to the very end.
And we can reasonably assume this, being that the two disciples walking to Emmaus days after the Crucifixion are Clopas and another, who is most likely his wife, in a heated conversation about the events that have just occurred in Jerusalem. It is highly unlikely that Clopas would be leaving Jerusalem at such a tense time for the followers of Christ without his wife. She came to my attention after listening Dr. Tim Gray discuss this moment during a talk he gave at the Catholic prayer breakfast in Orange County a couple years ago. He highlighted that he believes it to be a married couple on the road to Emmaus as the original meaning of the word for the conversation they are having about the events in Jerusalem in the Bible, is best translated as a type of fighting reserved for couples. And, if they are arguing, there has to be a reason for it – suffering, hurt, abandonment, stress, fear, anxiety, worry, and uncertainty – all the things that underlie arguments among couples.
And yet, in this conversation, a man appears and journeys with them in their conversation and in their marriage – listening to them and assisting them in making sense of everything through breaking open the Word. And all things become clear to them in the breaking of the bread, the Word made Flesh. Our Lord appeared to them in his resurrected form, but became known in word and in sacrament – showing himself fully glorified and elevated in the Eucharist. He gave a great number of gifts to Mary for her love and fidelity to him to the very end – the gift of his resurrected presence and private instruction to her and her husband and most importantly his healing presence to her and her husband in their marriage through the unity of the most Holy Eucharist.
Finally, we have Mary Magdalene, a single follower of Christ who was free to follow him and his Mother without concern for safety or family as she was entirely his. She remained vigilant alongside Our Lady at the foot of the cross and at the Tomb as he was laid to rest and on Sunday morning as the first to visit the tomb to pay her respects.
When she discovers the tomb empty, she is heartbroken and wont let go, looking for our Lord everywhere because she is entirely at His service. She even says to the Apostles and to Our Lord when he appears to her in a hidden form, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When he reveals himself to her, she cries out “Teacher” and he begins to instruct her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Mary then becomes the first messenger of the resurrection to the Apostles of the Church while being given the gift of community. Her mission is no longer to hold on to the body of Our Lord but to enter into the mystical unity of the Church. To live out her call to total surrender to Our Lord in the community of the Church, sharing her intuition with the Apostles and preparing them for their mission.
In the Easter narrative, each woman is given the gift of experiencing our resurrected Lord in gratitude for their unwavering loyalty – they then become the first messengers of the Good news. This is the feminine genius – the courage that is born in the heart to stay by the side of those who are suffering and the intuitive revelation of our Lord’s plans for his Church and for our families.
May God bless you in this final week of Lent as we reflect upon our womanhood and the love in which the Lord has shown each of us within our individual vocations and stage of life.
Katherine Meeks is the West Coast Director of Endow residing in Los Angeles with her husband Matt, and son Ralph.