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Mary Magdalene Goes to the Synod: Raising Awareness about Women Omitted from the Lectionary

Mary Magdalene is a saint for our times.  Her vision, courage, ministry, and faith are a model for all Catholics, but especially Catholic women who are excluded in the life, ministry, and governance of the Church is so many ways.

FutureChurch’s “Mary Magalene Goes to the Synod” project seeks to build synodal dialogue and discernment around the need to expand the lectionary so that more of our foremothers in faith are represented in the Sunday readings.

The Synod Synthesis calls the entire Church to dialogue and discernment with a particular, “urgent” focus on the role of women in the Church.

Proposal “q” in Part II, Section 9 entitled, “Women in the Life and Mission of the Church” asks that liturgical texts be more inclusive of women’s narratives.

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 (q).

As the faithful work together to bring forth a synodal church, we urge renewed dialogue and discernment that will lead to an expansion of the lectionary, especially the Sunday lectionary, so that the inspiring stories of our foremothers in faith will be better represented and proclaimed to all Catholics.

Supporting Synod Synthesis Convergences 

Expanding the lectionary to include more stories of our foremothers in faith is one critically important way to address some of the concerns voiced in the Synod Synthesis.

Many women expressed deep gratitude for the work of priests and bishops. They also spoke of a Church that wounds. Clericalism, a chauvinist mentality and inappropriate expressions of authority continue to scar the face of the Church and damage its communion. A profound spiritual conversion is needed as the foundation for any effective structural change (Part II, Section 9, f).

Further synod participants acknowledged:

Women make up most of those in our pews and are often the first missionaries of the faith in the family. Consecrated women, both in contemplative and apostolic life, are a fundamental and distinctive gift, sign and witness in our midst. The long history of women missionaries, saints, theologians and mystics is also a powerful source of nourishment and inspiration for women and men today (Part II, Section 9, d).

Thus they proposed:

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 (q).

 Working to Raise Awareness and Expand the Lectionary

While Church texts have honored the contributions of early Christian women, there is a lacuna when it comes to proclaiming their inspirational stories at the Eucharist, especially on Sundays. Therefore, Catholics who hear the Word of God at Sunday Mass, are deprived of the “Good News” of the faith, courage, sacrifice, and ministry of our foremothers in faith, a precious offering for Catholic women and girls, as well as Catholic men and boys.

In light of the Second Vatican Council, prestigious Catholic scholars such as Sr. Carolyn Osiek, RSCJ[i], Sr. Ruth Fox, OSB[ii], Michael Peppard, Ph.D.[iii], Regina Bosclair, Ph.D.[iv], Sr. Eileen Schuller, OSU[v], Sr. Christine Schenk, CSJ[vi] and others have written about the “woman gaps” in our Catholic lectionary noting that many of the biblical passages that feature our foremothers in faith who served as prophets, leaders, co-workers, apostles, disciples, deacons, patrons, and ministers in both the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament are not proclaimed on Sundays and Holy Days.

Prominent omissions to consider

Below is a sampling of the foundational stories about our foremothers in faith that are missing in the Sunday Lectionary or consigned to weekdays where most Catholics do not hear them.  Scholarly articles listed at the end of this page offer a more comprehensive understanding of the ways the lectionary could be expanded to offer more stories of women’s faith, courage, leadership, and ministry in the Early Church and in the First/Old Testament.

The Story of Mary Magdalene’s proclamation of the Resurrection is never heard on Easter Sunday 

Easter is the most holy celebration of the year. Yet, when Catholics gather for Mass on Easter Sunday, they do not hear the full story of the Resurrection.[i]  They do not hear the inspiring story of Mary Magdalene’s witness of the Risen Christ or Christ’s commission to Mary Magdalene to proclaim the Resurrection to the other disciples. Only John 20: 1 – 9 is proclaimed eclipsing her faith filled actions. John 20: 11 – 18 is not proclaimed until the Tuesday after Easter when few Catholics hear it.  And finally, John 20:10 is omitted on both Easter Sunday and Easter Tuesday, part of the pericope that makes it clear that Mary Magdalene alone remained at the empty tomb while the others went home.

In 2016, Pope Francis raised the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast day with the official title, “Apostle of the Apostles”, and yet, Catholics do not know her story because they do not hear it on Easter Sunday.  Thus, are deprived of one of the most important moments in Christian history.

The Eleven Women St. Paul names in Romans 16 whose faith stories are not heard on Sunday

Pope Benedict XVI[ii] noted that St. Paul worked closely with women leaders such as Phoebe, Junia, Lydia and Prisca. Unfortunately, Romans 16, a passage that names 11 women and identifies some as deacons, apostles and co-workers, is never proclaimed on a Sunday. As a result, most Catholics never hear about prominent women who carried out important ministries alongside Paul.

Courageous Women of the Hebrew Testament

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 (Lectionary #389, Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I) 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.

Our Request for the Synod Participants 

In the lead up and during the October 2024 Synod on Synodality we are requesting that synod participants:

  • Dialogue about the women omitted from our Sunday lectionary as part of the discernment process in the lead up to the synod gathering.  This effort will raise awareness about the women omitted, and allow the whole Church to discern its importance as one way we can bring women into authentic co-partnership.
  • Recommend that action be taken to make the lectionary more inclusive so that all Catholics, but especially women and girls will see themselves more clearly in the life, faith, leadership, and ministry of the Church and be inspired to be ministers of the Gospel for our world today.
  • Propose the possibility of a supplemental lectionary or another interim step until the main lectionary can be updated to be more inclusive.

Important Scholarly Resources

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

Amnesia in the Lectionary by Dr. Regina A. Boisclair (audio) (text from her chapter in Women in Theology)

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

Dialogue and Discern in Your Parish, Diocese, Community!

Want to raise awareness about the “women gaps” in the lectionary in your parish?

Here are some ideas.

  1. Sign our Petition requesting that all of John 20: 1 – 18 be proclaimed on Easter Sunday.
  2.  Gather people at your parish/community and read and discuss this resource.
  3. Contact your delegate
  4. Write or call your bishop, and ask for a meeting to dialogue about the women missing from the lectionary with ideas of how to make our foremothers in faith more visible during our Sunday Eucharist and throughout the liturgical year.

 

 

 

 


Sources for this page

[i] USCCB Lectionary reading for Easter Sunday:  https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/033124.cfm

John 20: 1 – 9

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

USCCB Lectionary Reading:  https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/040224.cfm

John 20: 11-18 is read on Tuesday in the Octave of Easter when few Catholics hear it.

Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and then reported what he had told her.

John 20:10 which shows the actions of the male disciples leaving is never read.

10 Then the disciples returned home.

[ii] https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/audiences/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20070214.html

[i] This is an example of Sr. Carolyn Osiek’s scholarship on Phoebe from Romans 16: 1-2 at https://www.catholicwomenpreach.org/preaching/09032021.

[ii] Sr. Ruth Fox, OSB on “Women in the Bible and Lectionary” at https://futurechurch.org/women-in-church-leadership/celebrating-women-witnesses/women-in-the-bible-and-the-lectionary-by-ruth-fox-osb/.

[iii] Michael Peppard, Ph.D. from Fordham University speaks about the women who are not represented in the lectionary at https://futurechurch.org/women-in-church-leadership/women-erased-from-the-lectionary-with-michael-peppard-ph-d/

[iv] Dr. Regina Bosclair speaks about the women missing from the Lectionary at https://futurechurch.org/women-in-church-leadership/women-missing-from-the-lectionary-with-regina-boisclair-ph-d/  She has written a foundational chapter on the topic,  “Amensia in the Lectionary.”

[v] Sr. Eileen Schuller, OSU on “Reading the Bible in the Lectionary” for Boston College at https://www.bc.edu/bc-web/schools/stm/sites/encore/main/2022/reading-the-bible-in-the-lectionary.html

[vi] Schenk,  Christine CSj “The Prophetic Leaders of Women” – 4 part series in L’Osservatore Romano at https://www.osservatoreromano.va/en/news/2024-01/ing-004/the-prophetic-leadership-of-women.html

Other useful resources

https://futurechurch.org/women-in-church-leadership/celebrating-women-witnesses/women-in-the-bible-and-the-lectionary-by-ruth-fox-osb/

https://www.ncronline.org/opinion/signs-times/reforming-catholic-liturgy-should-be-updating-software

https://uscatholic.org/articles/201903/we-need-more-women-in-the-lectionary/

https://www.thesacredbraid.com/2016/07/22/a-non-traditional-blessing/

https://futurechurch.org/women-in-church-leadership/mary-of-magdala/hidden-sisters-recovering-the-stories-of-our-foremothers-in-faith/