Last weekend, a couple of activist organizations encouraged women to dress up in “Handmaid’s Tale” costumes and interrupt Catholic Masses in protest of the Catholic Church’s pro-life stance and the draft decision from the Supreme Court for Dobbs v. Jackson, written by Justice Samuel Alito, a Catholic.
It struck me as ironic that women use this costume to protest the supposed oppression of women by a Church who reveres the most famous handmaid as Queen of Heaven and Earth. It also made me reflect on the accessory (if you will) that I wear day and night in honor of that handmaid.
I wear a brown scapular, a sacramental that Mary herself gave to St. Simon Stock in 1251 in Aylesford, England, in her apparition as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Our Lady of Mount Carmel told St. Simon that anyone who died wearing the brown scapular would be saved. I’ve been wearing one since I consecrated myself to Mary in 2018, and last year, I committed fully to the devotion by asking my pastor to enroll me in the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular.
No one can see my scapular (except when it comes loose through movement or, more often, when my daughter pulls it out and starts playing with and trying to eat it!). But, I always know it’s there. It’s my reminder that the Mother of God is my mother as well, that I am under the protection of her and her son, and that I have in her the best example of the gifts and responsibilities of womanhood.
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord,” Mary told the archangel Gabriel. “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary was given a choice: to follow God’s will or to go her own way. She freely chose to align her own will with God’s, no matter the cost, and she received the great gift of motherhood (always, always a blessing)—of the Son of God, no less.
In his 1995 “Letter to Women,” Pope St. John Paul II—that great advocate of women—wrote:
The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the “feminine genius” and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38). Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth. Putting herself at God’s service, she also put herself at the service of others: a service of love. Precisely through this service Mary was able to experience in her life a mysterious, but authentic “reign”. It is not by chance that she is invoked as “Queen of heaven and earth”. The entire community of believers thus invokes her; many nations and peoples call upon her as their “Queen”. For her, “to reign” is to serve! Her service is “to reign”!
So, then, the handmaid is not some weak, passive woman who is trod on by “the patriarchy.” The handmaid is the penultimate example of servant leadership, surpassed only by Jesus on the cross (though we know that Mary was also “pierced” in his passion). It’s a title I aspire to and an honor I would treasure.
Do you have your own handmaid’s garment? Maybe it’s a scapular, maybe it’s a miraculous medal, maybe it’s a crucifix. Maybe it’s your wedding ring, a sacramental that reminds you that you and your husband are meant to be a reflection and a sign of the love of the Trinity. Whatever it is, may it always remind you of your role as a handmaid, which also means deeply beloved daughter of God.