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Hidden Sisters: Recovering the Stories of Our Foremothers in Faith

Did you know that when you go to Mass on Easter Sunday, you do not hear the story of Mary Magdalene’s Apostolic witness?  John 20: 1 – 9 tells us about Peter and the other disciple, but we don’t learn about Mary Magadalene’s encounter with the Risen Christ and her apostolic witness to the others (John 20: 11-18) until the Tuesday after Easter when few Catholics hear it. Did you know that the scripture passage that tells us that Phoebe served a deacon is never heard?  Did you know that we never hear the first testament stories of Shiprah and Puah, the brave midwives who risked their lives to save the infant Moses?  Did you know that even though they have been made optional, passages that exhort women to be submissive are still proclaimed?

There is no doubt that the passages and stories we hear proclaimed each Sunday and on holy days have a profound impact on our faith lives.  We are stirred and shaped by those accounts of prophetic love.

But what happens if we do not hear important narratives?  What if crucial stories of our foremothers in faith are left out?  And, most importantly, how would the inclusion of those stories expand our religious imagination and enrich our faith lives?

According to Ruth Fox, OSB:

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. In this article I will point out some of the significant biblical passages about women that are omitted altogether, are relegated to weekdays, where only a small number of churchgoers will hear them, or are designated as optional.

She also notes that, “some of the lectionary’s readings are used to reinforce what some believe to be the weaknesses or proper roles of women.”  In other words, the patriarchal view of women which is harmful and has been shown to put women at risk of violence.

Learn more and take action

Below you will find a number of readings that are useful and ways to take action so that we can raise awareness in Rome and at home and to advocate for expanding the Lectionary so that the stories of our foremothers in faith are included.

Why Reading All of John 20: 1 – 18 on Easter Sunday Matters

Currently, the Standard Roman Catholic Lectionary calls for only the first half of John’s resurrection narrative (John 20:1-9) on Easter Sunday morning. Verse 10 is never read and the rest of the narrative (verses 11-18) is not read on any Sunday — but instead is read on Easter Tuesday. Years ago, the days of Easter Week were holy days of obligation, and so all Catholics would have heard John 20:11-18 on Easter Tuesday. Yet, because Easter Tuesday is no longer a holy day of obligation, the vast majority of Roman Catholics never hear John’s full resurrection narrative as told in 20:1-18 and never hear the story of Mary of Magdala’s witness of Jesus’ resurrection nor Jesus commissioning her to deliver the news of his resurrection to the community.

In Canada, the entire narrative is read on Easter Sunday. In 1992 the Canadian Catholic Bishops updated their lectionary to include John’s full resurrection story. This amendment restored the story of the Apostle to the Apostles to
its prominent role in the lectionary. Thus Canadian Catholics hear the whole story and learn from Jesus’ example of inclusive ministry and his faith in the leadership of women.

Importance of John 20:10-18

For centuries, Mary Magdalene has been misidentified as a repentant prostitute, thus damaging and diminishing her role as an early and important leader in the historical memory of the Church. The truth is that Mary of Magdala is expressly identified as one of the women who refused to leave Jesus during his crucifixion and death on the cross, in contrast to the male disciples who are depicted as scattering and even denying Jesus. All four Gospels explicitly point out that Mary was present at the tomb on Easter morning and in John’s account she is the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus.

John 20:10-18 is significant because it makes clear that only Mary Magdalene was in the garden with Jesus and that she was directly commissioned as the primary apostolic witness to the community. It is John’s account of Jesus’ inclusive model of leadership that most strikingly and without reservation portrays Mary Magdalene, a woman, as the primary witness of the resurrected Jesus and the first one commissioned by him to “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ (Jn 20:14-17).”

Take Action to Restore John 20: 1 – 18 to our Easter Sunday Proclamation

Easter Gospel Restoration Project

Learn More About Our Hidden Sisters




Take Action to Expand Our Lectionary to Include Crucial Stories of Our Foremothers in Faith