As the day breaks on Holy Saturday, Catholics from neighborhoods across the U.S. and throughout the world — mostly women — hurry to church with a particular sense of purpose.
The majority of those I know who participate in this unofficial journey from home to church on this day are Hispanic, largely immigrants. It is the group of Catholics with whom I share more regularly. Catholics from other cultural groups do likewise.
While many other Catholics will have fulfilled their participation in the rituals of Holy Week by attending Mass on Holy Thursday and the services of Good Friday, thus looking forward to the Easter celebrations, these Catholics are not done yet.
One important ritual holds a special place in their hearts, a practice profoundly grounded in the Catholic imagination: to accompany Mary, the mother of Jesus, the day after the death of her son.
For centuries, Catholics have felt a unique closeness to the grieving mother whose son died on a cross, unjustly. The injustice exacerbates her suffering. No mother deserves to undergo the death of a child, much less if the death is unjust. Mary did.
Some Catholic communities remember Mary on this day as Our Lady of Solitude, evoking how she must have felt after losing her child and finding herself not only without her most precious gift, but also more vulnerable than ever as a woman.
The devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, whose feast day is Sept. 15, finds strong echoes on Holy Saturday among Catholics in several Latin American countries. The devotion points to seven moments in the Gospels in which Mary experienced suffering.
Four of these moments are associated with the death of her son: meeting Jesus on his way to Golgotha, the crucifixion, taking her son’s body down from the cross and the burial of Jesus.
I have participated in processions with Hispanic Catholics carrying the image or the statue of Mary portrayed as someone who grieves. I have joined Catholics gathered to say the rosary, engage in meditation and cry with Mary, the mother of Jesus, on Holy Saturday.
I once asked a group of Hispanic Catholics in a parish where I was during the days of Holy Week why they cried. Their answer was poignant: “We cry in solidarity with a mother grieving her dead son. We cry with others like her. Their suffering is ours.”
The experience was vivid. These moments unapologetically mix popular readings of the Scriptures, the best of Catholic devotional life, the spirit of Holy Week, a fusion of human emotions and a sense of critical analysis that one seldom sees at other times of the year.
United in solidarity with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she grieves her dead son, I also find myself compelled to being in solidarity with the many other Marys, Marias and Maries in our society who grieve their children who died or those who are dying.
This holy time provides us with a unique opportunity to stand in solidarity with grieving mothers who lost their children to violence, war, hunger, poverty, drug use, alcoholism, lack of access to quality health care, and inadequate safety nets, among other social realities that fail to affirm life.
This is a time to stand in solidarity with grieving mothers resigned to live separated from their children as they cross borders while knowing that they may not reunite again, mothers who know that their children were abused and will spend the rest of their lives coping with the consequences, mothers whose children are lost in sociopolitical quagmires that rob them of a chance to live with dignity.