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Expanding the Lectionary to Include Our Foremothers in Faith: A Synodal Discernment

Why Expand the Lectionary to Include More of Our Foremothers in Faith?

During all the phases of the synodal process, faith-filled Catholics across the world concurred regarding the pressing need to re-envision women’s roles in the life, ministry, and governance of the Church. In the October 2023 synod synthesis, participants agreed it was “urgent to ensure that women can participate in decision-making processes and assume roles of responsibility in pastoral care and ministry” (Part II, Section 9, m).

It is urgent to ensure that women can participate in decision-making processes and assume roles of responsibility in pastoral care and ministry (Part II, Section 9, m).

Further, synod participants rightly perceived the relationship between women’s full participation in the Church and the language, images, and narratives that represent women in our liturgical life. Thus, synod participants also proposed changes so that liturgical texts, including the lectionary, include “a range of words, images, and narratives that draw more widely on women’s experience” (Part II, Section 9, q).

There is a need to ensure that liturgical texts and Church documents are more attentive to the use of language that takes into equal consideration both men and women, and also includes a range of words, images and narratives that draw more widely on women’s experience (Part II, Section 9, q).

There is something of consequence at stake for women and for the church as a whole in the choice of scripture passages which are heard in the regular Sunday morning assembly. The ways in which we understand and know God are formed within the liturgy of the church. What we pray and sing, as well as the stories we re-tell in public worship form and shape what we believe about God, ourselves, and our relationship to God and to each other.

Thus, we might ask, “Do the passages selected over the three-year cycle help or hinder us in dealing with what it means for women to have a full and equal role in both church and society? Do the lections chosen praise women for being subordinate or cast them as people who brought sin into the world? Are the stories about women which are in the Bible adequately represented in the lectionary, or does the choice of Sunday readings give the impression that the Bible, and thus our salvation history, is even more male-cemtered than it actually is?”

The insights of synod participants regarding the need to be more inclusive of women’s narratives in our lectionary have been noted by other prominent scholars and officials since the Second Vatican Council. They have raised awareness about the omission of women from the lectionary recognizing that, as Pope Benedict XVI stated, “without the generous contribution of many women, the history of Christianity would have developed very differently,” adding that the “female presence in the sphere of the primitive Church” was in no way “secondary.”

In 1993, the Pontifical Biblical Commission asked that lectionary readings be “more abundant, more varied, and more suitable” and in 2008, the participants at the Synod on the Word, in Proposition XVI asked that “an examination be carried out of the Roman Lectionary to see if the current selection and ordering of the readings is truly adequate to the mission of the church in this historical moment.”

The late Sr. Ruth Fox, OSB, in her respected analysis, “Women in the Bible and the Lectionary” wrote,

A careful analysis of the lectionary reveals that a disproportionate number of passages about the women of the Bible have been omitted. Women’s books, women’s experiences and women’s accomplishments have been largely overlooked in the assigned scripture readings that are being proclaimed in our churches on Sundays and weekdays.

Other prestigious Catholic scholars affirm Sr. Fox’s insights and have written extensively about the “woman gaps” in our Catholic lectionary showing how biblical passages that feature women as prophets, leaders, co-workers, apostles, disciples, deacons, patrons, and ministers in the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures are excluded on Sundays and holy days, relegated to weekdays when few will hear the readings, or made optional. In referring to the omission of readings about women in our lectionary, Professor emerita Katherine Tillman of Notre Dame further notes that “if women’s stories are omitted from the readings, they are not likely to appear in homilies.”

While the Church has honored the contributions of women in important ways, there is a lacuna when it comes to proclaiming their stories of faith, courage, and leadership at mass depriving the faithful of the inspirational narratives of our foremothers in faith whose courage, ministry, sacrifice, and tenacity expanded Christianity throughout the world and shaped our tradition in essential ways. These overlooked stories have the effect of silencing the voices of our foremothers in faith whose voices are indispensable in our broken world today.

Resources

Women in the Bible and Lectionary by Sr. Ruth Fox, OSB (text)

Amnesia in the Lectionary by Regina A. Boisclair (audio) (text, Women in Theology)

We Must Restore the Powerful Witness of Women Leaders to the Catholic Lectionary by Sr. Christine Schenk, CSJ (text)

Lectionary Readings that Subordinate Women by FutureChurch (text)

Mary Magdalene: Witness, Leader, Disciple, and Apostle to the Apostles by Sr. Christine Schenk, CSJ (text)

Rereading Biblical Women by Dr. Jamie Waters (video, Boston College)

We Need More Women in the Lectionary by Jean Kelly

Restoring John 20: 1 – 18 to our Easter Sunday Lectionary – (With comparison between U.S. reading and Canadian reading) (text)

Reading the Bible in the Lectionary: Gift and Challenge by Sr. Eileen Schuller, OSU (text) (video)

The Feast of St. Phoebe by Sr. Carolyn Osiek, RSCJ (text) (video)

Women Erased from the Lectionary by Michael Peppard, Ph.D. of Fordham University (video)

Women’s Prophetic Leadership Changed the Face of the Roman Empire by Sr. Christine Schenk, CSJ (text, Vatican News)

It’s Not All About Eve: Rediscovering the Feminine Faces in the Bible by Sr. Christine Schenk, CSJ (text, America Magazine)