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Women in Church Leadership

The Missing Women

Most Catholics, including Catholic bishops and priests, do not realize that many important stories of our foremothers in faith are excluded from our lectionary.  For instance, the full story of Mary Magdalene’s Easter proclamation of the Risen Christ is NEVER heard on Easter Sunday (John 20: 1 – 18).  Thus, Catholics are deprived of learning about the gifts, grace, courage, and ministry of women such as Mary Magdalene whose memorial was raised to a feast day in 2016 and is officially known as the “Apostle of the Apostles.”  Others left out include Phoebe the diakonos, Junia, Prisca, Shiprah, Puah and many more First and Second Testament women. 

As we head towards the 2024 Synod, help us to share the Good News that women have been integral to shaping our Christian tradition and their inspirational stories should be included in our lectionary!

A Quick Chart of Women Omitted, Made Optional, or Heard Only on Weekdays

FutureChurch has created a sample chart of some of the women in the Bible who are omitted, made optional, or only heard on weekdays in the lectionary. 


Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday

When Catholics gather to celebrate Easter Sunday, we do not hear the risen Jesus commissioning to Mary Magdalene, “But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Nor do we hear her witness to her confused brothers and sisters of the risen Christ, “I have seen the Lord.” That is because the full account, John 20: 1 – 18, is not proclaimed. Only John 20: 1 – 9 is proclaimed on Easter Sunday, eclipsing Mary Magdalene’s faith-filled actions. The rest of the story, John 20: 11 – 18, is proclaimed on Tuesday of the Octave of Easter when few Catholics hear it. And John 20:10, the passage about the male disciples going home is omitted altogether. In 2016, Pope Francis officially raised the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast day naming her the “Apostle of the Apostles.” And yet, Catholics do not know this story because we do not hear it on Easter. 

Phoebe the Diakonos

Catholics never hear about Phoebe, in our lectionary cycle.  Yet, in Romans 16: 1-2, Paul writes, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, diakonos of the church of Cenchrae, so that you will receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the holy ones, and assist her in whatever way she may ask you, because she has been a prostatis of many and of me, too.” Paul is introducing Phoebe to people who do not know her, the Christian believers in Rome.  First, he calls her “our sister,” meaning a believer in Christ and a member of the Christian community.  Second, he calls Phoebe diakonos a word connoting both service and authority.  When speaking of the beginnings of the diaconate, most will think about Stephen and his six friends in Acts.  In spite of our tradition of interpreting this scene as origin of the diaconate, in fact, none of them is ever called a deacon. The only person in the New Testament who by name is called a deacon of a local church– is a woman. Yet, that passage is excluded from the lectionary.  

Lydia, Prisca, Junia, and more

Catholics do not learn about Lydia, the first European convert and head of her household where Paul stayed in Philippi (Acts: 16 -15, 40). Tabitha, who was devoted to good works from Acts 9:36 – 42) is not proclaimed. Prisca, a coworker of Paul (Romans 16:3-4) is left out. Junia, “prominent among the apostles” (Romans 16:7) continues to be unknown. Euodia and Syntyche, co-workers of Paul (Philippians 4:2-3) are invisible. Eunice and Lois, who passed their faith onto Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5) remain anonymous. And showing what God can do through girls and young women, Phillip’s four prophetic daughters are tragically hidden from view (Acts: 21:10).

Shiprah and Puah

The story of two brave Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, is deleted from the lectionary reading describing the enslavement of Israel. The weekday reading of Exodus 1:8-22 skips from verse 14 to verse 22, thus eliminating the story of these valiant women who put their own lives at risk to uphold God’s law of life.

Paul’s Co-Workers in Romans 16

In Chapter 16: 1-16 of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he names women who worked alongside him in the critical phase of spreading the Gospel to the Gentile world.  None of these women co-workers are included in the lectionary.

  1. Phoebe  16:1-2
  2. Prisca  16:3-5a
  3. Mary 16:6
  4. Junia  16:7 15
  5. Persis 16:12
  6. Tryphaena  16:12
  7. Tryphosa  16:12
  8. Rufus’s mother  16:13
  9. Julia  16:15
  10. Nereus’s sister  16:15
  11. Olympas 16:15

Seven of the women are described in terms of their ministry (Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis). By comparison, only three men are described in terms of their ministry (Aquila, Andronicus, Urbanus), and two of these men are ministering alongside a female partner (Aquila with Prisca, Andronicus with Junia). These are numbers worth remembering.

It is apparent that women were active in significant ministries in the church at Rome. It is also apparent that Paul has no problem with these women. Rather, he affirms them and their ministries. Did Paul make a point of affirming these women in an effort to ease tensions caused by some Roman Christians who had a problem with ministering women?

Deborah the Judge

Deborah, named a prophet and judge of Israel and recognized as a mother of Israel, also is passed over in the lectionary. As prophet and judge, Deborah advised her people, planned a military strategy against the Canaanites, appointed a general and then led the victorious battle. Deborah’s song of victory in Judges 5:1-31 is considered to be one of the most ancient extant compositions of the Bible, but it is not used in the lectionary. Although Gideon, Jotham, and Jephthah from the Book of Judges find their way into the weekday lectionary, Deborah is left standing outside the gate.