Choices That Convey That Women Are Optional

There is no shortage of strong and independent women in the Bible. Even in the Hebrew Scriptures, viewed by many as presenting a low view of women, there are numerous stories of courageous women, women who take strong leadership roles and women with independent personalities.

What we hear proclaimed at Catholic Masses however, is not the entire Bible, but only those portions selected for inclusion in the Lectionary (the book from which Mass readings are taken). Thus, choices have to be made about what to include and what to exclude from the Lectionary. And those choices – intentionally or not – convey a message.

What is excluded from the Lectionary conveys to women that they are not important. The Lectionary gives short shrift to many stories of women, including strong women with important accomplishments in our faith history—they are either ignored completely or included only on weekdays and never on Sunday. So we hear nothing ever of Deborah, a prophet and judge of Israel; the Lectionary completely ignores her song of victory. The strong, brave, faith-filled figures of Ruth and Naomi appear only in two weekday readings in every three-year cycle. Courageous Esther gets only one weekday reading. Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection is only one of two possibilities in each cycle for Easter morning, despite the fact that she was the first to see the risen Christ.

In addition, and I was reminded of this in the Gospel reading for this past Sunday, the Lectionary makes stories of women (or portions of their stories) included in Gospel passages optional, such that they may be excised to shorten a lengthy Mass reading. Thus, the story of Anna the Prophetess is often excised from the Gospel for the feast of the Presentation. Similarly, Jesus’ healing of the woman with a hemorrhage – such an important image regarding what it says about Jesus attitude toward the taboos that existed at the time – is part of a long passage involving the healing of Jairus’ daughter and is often excised, keeping the focus on the portion of the passage relating to Jairus. In the example of last Sunday, in which Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman, the portion where she goes off from her encounter with Jesus – transformed by that encounter – and evangelizes the people of her town is optional. Thus, in the version I heard Sunday morning, we are told simply that many of the Samaritans in the town began to believe in Jesus, rather than that many began to believe in him because of the testimony of the woman.

The examples could go on and on, but they all convey that women are optional and that their stories are less important than those of men. I am not suggesting that is the intention, but the perception created is one that should be of concern.


3 thoughts on “Choices That Convey That Women Are Optional

  1. Messaging is precious, What would the ‘Father’ and his Son have added to the discussions in the US, much less all nations and in Rome about inclusion, women and more?

    Susan, thank you for the ‘gentle’ reminder of the power of words spoken, written, and whispered in prayer. . .

    “Lectionary – New Edition for U.S.

    Lectionary. The Lectionary (book of lessons) is the collection of Scripture readings for the Mass. Together with the altar missal (also called the Sacramentary) it forms the Missale Romanum (Roman Missal), the Church’s official term for the liturgical books used at Mass.

    Lectionary for the United States. The Lectionary that was in use in the United States for three decades until 2002 took its texts from the New American Bible, the translation approved by the bishops in 1970 to replace the Confraternity Edition of the Douai-Rheims Bible. In the 1980s it was decided to revise this translation, both to restore some traditional phrasing and to include inclusive language. Toward that end a Revised New Testament was completed in 1986 and Revised Psalms in 1991. In 1992 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (then called the National Conference of Catholic Bishops) approved and sent to Rome a new Sunday Lectionary using the Revised NAB New Testament and Psalms.

    In 1994 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith informed the Congregation for Divine Worship that the new Lectionary could not be confirmed for use in the liturgy because of inclusive language references to God, the Persons of the Trinity and man, where this term has an anthropological and theological significance. Working with the American Bishops these Roman Congregations produced a Revised NAB Lectionary without the problematic terms. The use of the Sunday and Feast Day edition of this new lectionary began in 1998. The weekday volumes came out in 2002. As of Pentecost 2002, the only approved Lectionary for the United States is this revised NAB Lectionary.

    The Inclusive Language Issue. During the process of revising the lectionary some in the Church wanted to use feminine terms for God (“vertical” inclusive language). The US Bishops rejected this, but did agree to the use of “horizontal” inclusive language, that is, to replace masculine nouns and pronouns referring to human individuals generically (man, brother, he, him), or, to the human race collectively (man, mankind), with more inclusive terms. The Holy See, however, rejected most inclusive language, especially where the references had philosophical and theological significance. Examples of such texts are Psalm 1, where “happy the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked” was translated “happy the one,” or Psalm 22, where “I am worm and no man” was rendered “I am a worm and no mortal.” Such uses of man have deep anthropological significance with respect to Adam (man) and messianic significance referring prophetically to Christ (the New Adam and Son of Man).
    What Rome has permitted is some mild inclusive language in cases where a mixed group of individuals (as opposed to an all male group like the apostles) is meant. Language is convention, and where in the past it was convention to say brethren or brothers in speaking to a mixed group the convention today would be ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters or some other inclusive set of words.

    There is much in the new Lectionary for which to be thankful. Familiar expressions such as “full of grace” have returned and on the whole the translation appears to be an improvement over the previous one. However, at the present time there is no Bible which exactly corresponds with the Lectionary since it is a line by line revision of the Mass readings from the revised edition of the New American Bible submitted by the Bishops to Rome.

    EWTN’s Mass. Until 2002 there were three Scripture texts that were approved for use in the Mass in the United States: the NAB, the Jerusalem Bible and the Revised Standard – Catholic Edition. The Mass broadcast by EWTN used the Jerusalem Bible from its inception in 1991 until 2002. The Daily Roman Missal, a lay missal produced by Scepter Publishing, contained this JB text, as well as Latin and English on facing pages, greatly helping our viewers follow the Mass. Since 2002 this previously published edition, of course, no longer contains the proper lectionary texts. However, The Daily Roman Missal. New Revised Edition does, and is published by Scepter, Our Sunday Visitor and the Midwest Theological Forum. It can be obtained through EWTN’s Religious Catalogue.”

    – EWTN

  2. Okay, I’ll say it out loud and directly — IT IS QUITE INTENTIONAL! It is the crippling consequence of patriarchy and clericalism. Blind guides! And the Gospel truth is that we men need the voice/stories of women every bit as much as women. Given the source of their omission, perhaps we need them more!

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