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The Women Apostles, The Women Disciples

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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/09/01 05:42:40 (permalink)
the first person in the Bible to have women mentioned in his geneology - Jesus
 
the first person to express belief in Jesus - a woman - Martha or the Samaritan woman
 
the people who best understood Jesus's message = women
 
the person who converted Jesus = a woman - the Syro-Phonecian woman
 
the people who did not run away from Jesus while he died = women
 
 
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/09/23 16:43:26 (permalink)


Today, September 23 is the feast day of early Christian martyr St. Thecla of Iconium.
 
The Greek Eastern Church reveres her as Protomartyr Among Women and Equal to the Apostles.  She was co worker with St. Paul. 
post edited by Sophie - 2007/09/23 16:46:35
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/09/23 16:44:30 (permalink)
From NewAdvent.org

Thecla of Iconium

The reputed pupil of the Apostle Paul, who is the heroine of the apocryphal "Acta Pauli et Theclae" (cf. APOCRYPHA). Our knowledge of her is derived exclusively from these Acts, which appeared about 180.

According to this narrative Thecla was a virgin of Iconium who was converted to Christianity and led to dedicate herself to perpetual virginity by the preaching of the Apostle Paul. Miraculously saved from death at the stake to which she had been condemned, she went with St. Paul to Antioch in Pisidia where she was thrown to the wild beasts and was again saved from death by a miracle. After this she went to Myra where the Apostle was, and finally to Seleucia where she died. With the consent of St. Paul she had acted as a "female Apostle" in proclaiming the Gospel.

Notwithstanding the purely legendary character of the entire story, it is not impossible that it is connected with an historical person. It is easy to believe that a virgin of this name who was a native of Iconium was actually converted by St. Paul and then, like many other women of the Apostolic and later times, laboured in the work of Christian missions (cf. Harnack, "Die Mission und die Ausbreitung des Christentums in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten", 2nd ed., I, 295; II, 58). In the Eastern Church the wide circulation of the Acts led to a great veneration of Thecla. She was called "Apostle and protomartyr among women". Her veneration was especially great in a number of Oriental cities, as Seleucia where she was buried, Iconium, and Nicomedia. Her cult appeared very early also in Western Europe, particularly in those districts where the Gallican Liturgy prevailed; there is direct proof of this in the fourth century. Her name is given with various topographical comments (Nicomedia, Seleucia, Asia) on several days in the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum". Thus Thecla is mentioned in this martyrology on 22 February, 25 February, 12 September, 23 September, and 17 November ("Mart. Hieron.". ed. de Rossi-Duchesne, 24, 36, 120, 124, 144). It seems certain that on all these dates, and probably also on 20 and 21 December, the same St. Thecla, the pupil of St. Paul, is meant. In Bede's Martyrology (cf. Quentin, "Martyrologes historiques du moyen âge", 93) her name is mentioned with a brief notice taken from the Acts on 23 September, the same date as that on which her feast is given in the present Roman Martyrology. The Greek Church celebrates her feast on 24 September and gives her the title of "Protomartyr among women and equal to the Apostles" (cf. Nilles, "Calendarium utriusque ecclesiae", I, 283 sq.).

See bibliography of APOCRYPHA; HOLZHEY, Die Thecla-Akten, ihre Verbreitung u. Beurteilung in der Kirche (Munich, 1905).
post edited by Sophie - 2007/09/23 16:49:47
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/09/23 16:50:04 (permalink)
St. Thecla

Legendary saint who is told to have heard St. Paul preach from her window and so became Christian. Her fiancee was angered by this and had the authorities imprison St. Paul. St. Thecla visited him in secret but was caught. They were sentenced to die by fire, but rain fell and put it out.

Later on St. Thecla followed St. Paul dressed as a boy. They moved into a house in Antioch where a young man called Alexander fell in love with her. When she refused him he had her revealed and arrested. She was thrown to the wild beasts, but one of the lions defended her. St. Thecla was then thrown into the sea but was once again rescued.

Eventually St. Thecla became a recluse, and died as such in Seleucia.


Orthodox nameday:  September 24

 
 
St. Thecla
Equal to the Apostles
 
http://www.in2greece.com/english/saints/thecla.htm
post edited by Sophie - 2007/09/23 16:53:05
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/09/23 16:56:36 (permalink)
from wikipedia.org:

The Acts of Paul and Thecla (Acta Pauli et Theclae) is an apocryphal story of St Paul's influence on a young virgin named Thecla. It is one of the writings of the New Testament Apocrypha.

It was probably written in the second century. The discovery of a Coptic text of the Acts of Paul containing the Thecla narrative[1] suggests that the abrupt opening of the Acts of Paul and Thecla is due to its being an excerpt of that larger work.[2] It is attested as early as Tertullian, De bapistero 17:5 (c 190), who inveighed against its use in the advocacy of a woman's right to preach and to baptize. Tertullian states that these Acts were written in honour of St Paul, by a presbyter of Asia, whose fraud was identified, and he was degraded from his office, at a date about AD 160. Many surviving versions of the Acts of Paul and Thecla in Greek, and some in Coptic, as well as references to the work among Church fathers show that it was widely disseminated. In the Eastern Church, the wide circulation of the Acts of Paul and Thecla in Greek, Syriac and Armenian is evidence of the veneration of Thecla of Iconium. There are also Latin, Coptic and Ethiopic versions, sometimes differing widely from the Greek. "In the Ethiopic, with the omission of Thecla's admitted claim to preach and to baptize, half the point of the story in lost."[3]

The author sets this story about Paul into the framework of the Book of Acts, but this text is ideologically different from the New Testament portrayal of Paul. The extravagant praise of virginity, however, was a running thread in mainstream Early Christianity.

Here, Paul is described as travelling to Iconium, proclaiming "the word of God about abstinence and the resurrection". Paul is given a full physical description that may reflect oral tradition: in the Syriac text "he was a man of middling size, and his hair was scanty, and his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were projecting, and he had large eyes[4] and his eyebrows met, and his nose was somewhat long, and he was full of grace and mercy; at one time he seemed like a man, and at another time he seemed like an angel.". Paul gave his sermons in the house of Onesiphorus in a series of beatitudes, by which Thecla, a young noble virgin, listened to Paul's "discourse on virginity" from her window in an adjacent house. She listened, enraptured, without moving for days. Thecla's mother and fiancée, Thamyris, became concerned that Thecla will follow Paul's demand "that one must fear only one God and live in chastity", and they formed a mob to drag Paul to the governor, who imprisoned the apostle.
Thecla bribed a guard to gain entrance to the prison, and sat at Paul's feet all night listening to his teaching and "kissing his bonds". When her family found her, both she and Paul were again brought before the governor. At her mother's request, Paul was sentenced to scourging and expulsion, and Thecla to be killed by burned at the stake, that "all the women who have been taught by this man may be afraid." Stripped naked, Thecla was put on the fire, but she was saved by a miraculous storm which God sent to put out the flames.

Reunited, Paul and Thecla then traveled to Pisidian Antioch, where a nobleman named Alexander desired Thecla and offered Paul money for her. Paul claimed not to know her, and Alexander then attempted to take Thecla by force. Thecla fought him off, assaulting him in the process, to the amusement of the townspeople. Alexander dragged her before the governor for assaulting a nobleman and, despite the protests of the city's women, Thecla was sentenced to be eaten by wild beasts. To ensure that her virtue was intact at her death, a Queen Tryphaena, took her into protective custody overnight.

Thecla was tied to a fierce lioness, and paraded through the city. She was then stripped and thrown to beasts, which were provided by Alexander. The women of the city again protested against the injustice. Thecla was protected from death, first by the lioness who fought off the other beasts, and then by a series of miracles (during which she appeared to baptize herself), until finally the women of the city and Queen Tryphaena intervened. Thecla returned to Paul unharmed.

One ending describes Thecla as dwelling in a cave for the next 72 years, then traveling to Rome to be buried with Paul.
post edited by Sophie - 2007/09/23 17:00:49
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/09/23 16:58:01 (permalink)
 
 
 
 
Thecla a Feminist?
 
Tertullian (160-230) complains that some Christians in Alexandria were using the example of Thecla to legitimize women's roles of teaching and baptizing in the church (De Baptismo 17). This in itself is significant for reconstructing the 2nd-century struggles against women in positions of authority, notably among Gnostic and Montanist Christians. Some modern scholars even suggest the Acts of Paul and Thecla as a proto-feminist text. In their reading, Thecla is abused by men and their world, and yet refuses to conform to its expectations, marriage patterns, and dress code.

She boldly asserts her independence, receiving support from many women. However, many contemporary male-centred assumptions are also evident in the text: women are portrayed as driven by lust— a common stereotype— and Thecla’s mentor is a man, Paul.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_Paul_and_Thecla
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/09/23 17:06:42 (permalink)
The Acts of Thecla: A Pauline Tradition Linked to Women
by Nancy A. Carter


A Contemporary Icon
of Saint Thecla

Women, Paul and Early Christianity

The Acts of Paul and Thecla is part of a Pauline tradition that provided apostolic blessing for women's leadership roles in the church. Although the events related in the Acts are legendary, a real Thecla may have lived in Asia Minor. Like many stories about Jesus and the Apostles, originally her tales were told orally. The content of the book, with its wealth of women characters, most of whom support each other (including a lioness who protects Thecla!), suggests Thecla's adventures were popular in women's circles. 

An orthodox Christian, probably from Asia Minor, penned the Acts of Thecla between 160-190. The book circulated in several languages, including Greek, Coptic, Ethiopic, and Armenian. The Syrian and Armenian churches included the Acts of Thecla in their early biblical canons. It is now a part of the Christian apocrypha

The extant manuscripts reflect masculine editing that probably de-emphasized Paul's support of women's leadership. No longer present are references to Thecla's baptizing others, which were most likely in the earliest stories. Even so, the Acts of Thecla includes a story about Thecla baptizing herself with Paul's blessing! Later Paul commissions her to return to her home town Iconium to teach and evangelize.

A Women's Tradition
 
Although Thecla's adventures were popular, particularly in Asia Minor, the stories angered some of the church's best known opponents to women's leadership. The African church father Tertullian (160-230) complained that some Christians were using the example of Thecla to legitimate women's roles of teaching and baptizing in the church (On Baptism 17). 

The controversy among different Christian groups about women's roles is reflected in the Bible. For example, 1 Timothy 4:7 warned, "Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives tales." Quite possibly "old wives tales" alludes to stories told by women that supported female leadership roles.24 

By the turn of the first century, the landscape and expectations of the church had changed. Paul and other church leaders had believed that the end of the world was coming soon, in their lifetime. For this reason, certain institutions, such as marriage, were de-emphasized in order to prepare for the Christ's return. Christians were preparing for a different kind of "marriage"-- to the Heavenly Bridegroom. Now Christian leadership realized that the time of Jesus' return could not be known and that they needed to approach life differently. 

The Pastoral Epistles, I & II Timothy and Titus, rejected ascetic values like those embodied by Thecla and the women prophets in Corinth. I Timothy (100 -110 C.E.) proclaimed that teachings which forbade marriage and demanded abstinence from certain foods came from "deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (4:1-3). In the Acts of Paul, those who became Christian also chose chastity. Paul and Thecla were vegetarians and teetotalers, perhaps because of a cultural belief that meat and alcohol inflamed sexual passion. The author of I Timothy instructed, "No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (5:23). 29 

In the second century, the women's ascetic movement had become too strong for the taste some of the male leadership. In stark contrast to the letters of Paul, I Timothy declared that women would not be saved by living chaste lives but rather through bearing children (2:15). Paul had proposed in his first letter to the Corinthians (7:9) that it was better to marry than "burn" ("be aflame with passion," NRSV); he preferred but did not insist that Christians choose sexual continence. Calvin Roetzel observes that "in spite of Paul's preference for celibacy as a divine gift (I Cor. 7:7), scholars have paid surprisingly little attention to this historical datum of the apostle's life."30 

Both the Pastoral Epistles and the Acts of Paul and Thecla drew upon material in Paul's letters and other sources. In reality, Paul certainly did not teach that women must birth children in order to be saved; neither did he insist that women remain virgins or cease sexual activity in marriage in order to be saved. "The only passages in the Acts of Thecla which explicitly condemn marriage (the Encratite heresy) are 2:16 and 4:2, and it will be noted that the speaker is not Paul himself but his accuser attributing this view to the Apostle" [Pachomius Library Notes]. In this instance, the noncanonical writing is truer to Paul's teaching than the canonical one.

The Power of Thecla and Her Story

In the Early Church

Without a doubt, Thecla and Paul were key symbols for the ideals of early Christian ascetic movements, especially in Egypt, Syria, and Armenia. Obviously the women's ascetic movement did not end, even though the Pastoral Epistles declared women's salvation was bearing children.
 
Christian ascetic practices by both men and women continue to this day.

The power of Thecla's story spread throughout early Christianity. Following are just a few illustrations. Several early church fathers from both the East and West praised Thecla as a model of feminine chastity. She became "venerated from the shores of the Caspian almost to the shores of the Atlantic. In the fourth century a church in Antioch of Syria was dedicated to Thecla. Another church in Eschamiadzin, Iberia, from the fifth century has a wall design showing Paul preaching to her. In Egypt [are several examples of art]. In Rome, scholars found a sarcophagus graced by a relief portraying Paul and Thecla traveling together in a boat."49 At least three places claim her burial place: Meryemlik [Ayatekla], Turkey; Maalula, Syria; and Rome, Italy. 

Tradition says that Thecla traveled with Paul to Spain. Another apocryphal Acts which mentions Thecla is the Acts of Xanthippe, Polyxena, and Rebecca (c. 270). Some women in Spain hear Paul's preaching and leave their husbands to follow him.


In the Modern Church

Called "Equal to the Apostles," Thecla is especially revered in the Eastern church. In Maalula, Syria, the Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Thecla, built near a cave said to be the martyr's, the nuns and novices continue in her tradition, which included care of orphans and assisting those who were poor. Santa Tecla (Spanish for "Saint Thecla") is the patron saint of Tarragona, Spain

In the early 1980s, interest in the Acts of Thecla revived in Christian scholarship, particularly though not exclusively among women scholars. Whereas Thecla's virginity was her most praised aspect by early church fathers such as Methodius (c. 300), some modern writings emphasize how sexual continence provided a means for early Christian women take leadership in the church. 

In modern times, virginity is viewed as a conservative value but, in early Christianity, abstention from sex empowered women in new ways. They became the "feminists" of their day, no longer participating in the traditional hierarchy of the household where the patriarch was in charge and woman's primary role was childbearing. For example, one way the ascetic women prophets in Corinth celebrated their new life in Christ was through ecstatic prayer and prophesy. In Christ there was no male or female; all were of equal status. 

Today the figure of Thecla is seen as reflecting primarily traditional values that the post-apostolic church encouraged in women, including prayer and contemplation, but also challenging opposition to women's leadership in other aspects of early Christian life. For example, Margaret Y. MacDonald says, "Even if Thecla's life is purely fictional, it remains significant that in second-century Pauline circles, a woman could be depicted as a teacher and evangelist in her own right.... Moreover, her story sheds light on how women who chose to remain unmarried or who dissolved engagements and marriages to unbelievers may have contributed to growing hostility between early Christian groups and Greco-Roman society."66 Gail Corrington Streete observes that some women in the Christian apocryphal literature are given "a place in the line of apostolic authority" in that they exercise leadership even when male apostles are not present, such as Thecla. She, with Paul's blessing, baptized herself and was commissioned as a missionary in her own right."67 

 
The Acts of Paul and Thecla
The Read the Short Book


Learn More About Thecla

Notes and Credits

*Nancy A. Carter (ncarter@gbgm-umc.org) has an M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where she won the Hitchcock Award in Church History. Her Ph.D. is in literary studies (literature and theology) from American University in Washington, D.C. She has authored books for church laity including Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Who Do You Say That I Am?, a spiritual growth study for United Methodist Women written with Bishop Leontine T. C. Kelly.

  This web page was originally written in January, 2000.

  1 [Return] Dennis Ronald MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983), pp.57-77.
  2 [Return] MacDonald, pp.57-77.
  For more information about the ascetic movement and early Christian beliefs about the body and spirituality, consult the very readable book by Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988). Brown speaks of the association of eating meat and drinking wine with sex on pp. 92-93. He describes the
Encratites and Tatian on pp. 92-101.
  3 [Return] Calvin Roetzel, Paul: The Man and the Myth (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), p. 135.
  4 [Return] MacDonald, pp. 92-93.
  5 [Return] Margaret Y. MacDonald, "Rereading Paul" in Women & Christian Origins, edited by Ross Shepard Kraemer and Mary Rose D'Angelo (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 250.
  6 [Return] Gail Corrington Street, "Women as Sources of Redemption and Knowledge" in Women & Christian Origins, edited by Ross Shepard Kraemer and Mary Rose D'Angelo (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 346.

  All biblical quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission.

  Disclaimer: Some links jump to outside sites for further information on Corinthians, the Bible, Paul, and other resources. Links do not constitute an endorsement by the Women's Division of the information on other web sites. External web sites offer us diverse perspectives; afford us an opportunity to compare them to United Methodist positions; and, encourage us to critically analyze the issues raised by the Corinthians web pages.

http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/corinthians/theclabackground.stm
post edited by Sophie - 2007/09/23 17:13:32
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/09/23 20:05:07 (permalink)
Dear friends,

Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss the story of Saint Thecla with Dr. Wijngaards.  As one of the women deacons venerated in the Byzantine canon, she gathers much interest. 

Thecla's story belongs to the devotional literature that sprang up in the Early Church to fulfil the legitimate needs of believers that went beyond the bare points of faith. While the facts in the story quite possibly may be the stuff of legend, there is no doubt that they are likely constructed around some historical kernel.

The current interest of this kind of story (as is pointed out in the above article by Nancy Carter) is that Thecla functioned as a counter-heroine, much like Mary of Magdala did in the Middle Ages. Thecla's story belongs to the strand of hidden tradition, Latent Tradition, that revealed how ordinary believers recognised the true potential of women before the official Church did.

Dr. Wijngaards shares that while some writers  make a lot of this kind of material - no doubt rightly so -- on our website, while recording these examples of Latent Tradition, we prefer to move more cautiously when arguing our case. We do not want to give the impression that our evidence is based on legends.

Our strongest evidence, in order to convince the hard core theological opponents in the Church, is factual: e.g. the fact of cultural prejudice against women skewing the perceptions of Church leaders in the past (which makes the so-called traditional view invalid and not part of Tradition), the true meaning of Scripture, the rites of ordaining women deacons, and so on. A direct source for Thecla's story can be found in the apocryphal book, The Acts of Paul and Thecla.
 
If you have any questions, please let me know.
 
with love and blessings,
~Sophie~
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/09/23 20:12:17 (permalink)

 
Thecla the Protomartyr
and Equal-to-the-Apostles
 
Thecla was from the city of Iconium. When she was eighteen years of age, she was instructed in the Faith of Christ and the hope of the resurrection by the Apostle Paul, whom also she followed, forsaking her betrothed and espousing a life of virginity for the sake of the Heavenly Bridegroom. Having preached Christ in various cities and suffered many things, she reposed in Seleucia of Cilicia at the age of 90.
 
http://www.goarch.org/en/chapel/saints.asp?contentid=216
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/10/17 18:46:51 (permalink)
Modeling Mary: Images of Theotokos  






Madonna of Port Lligat, Dali 1949


The cult of Mary is a surprisingly late development in Christianity. Though central to Roman Catholicism and highly valued among many Anglicans, Marian devotion did not flower until the fourth century CE. Accompanied by a visual feast of Marian art and symbols, these two lectures will deconstruct and reconstruct the image of Mary, exploring historical and cultural forces that influenced the rise of veneration of the mother of Jesus and the meaning of Mary for contemporary seekers.


When:


Wednesdays November 7 and 14, 2007
6:30 to 8 PM
McGehee Conference Room
Christ Church Cathedral
Houston, Texas

Admission:  Free
 
Presenter:


Pamela Stockton is currently President of Brigid's Place and editor of the Women's Journal. In 2006 she completed a Master of Theological Studies degree and Women's Studies Certificate at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. 


Brigid’s Place, Christ Church (Episcopal)Cathedral,
1117 Texas Avenue
Houston, Texas
77002
Telephone: 713.590.3333
Web address:
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/10/19 17:15:08 (permalink)
Jesus had many women apostles and disciples.  Paul names 24 Women Apostles and says they are "forever written in the Book of Life."  Women are very necessary for the church and ought to be ordained as deacons and priests.
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/10/19 17:18:30 (permalink)
and bishops and cardinals and popes!!!
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/10/19 19:54:18 (permalink)
28 women apostles and disciples are named in the New Testament, an even higher number than 24.  God has a sense of humour because that is more than twice the "12" men number.  God and Jesus loved the women and show no prejudice against women at all.  Time the church did the same and ordained the women too as well as men.
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/10/23 03:54:21 (permalink)
 
 
 
 
 
 
Saint Mary Salome
Feastday: October 22
1st century

One of the “Three Marys” who served Christ, Mary Salome was the mother of Saint James the Great, Saint John, and was the wife of Zebedee. She witnessed the Crucifixion and was among the women who were at the burial place on the day of the Resurrection.
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/11/22 22:41:37 (permalink)
Women in the Bible and the Lectionary
by Ruth Fox, OSB

At the conclusion of a four-hour presentation I recently gave on "Women of the Bible," one of the participants exclaimed, "I never knew Jesus had women disciples!" She was puzzled as to why she had never heard this before, since she had been a devout, church-going Catholic for all her 35 years. She heard the Sunday scripture readings and listened to homilies week after week, yet her admission confirmed once again that the revisions of the lectionary mandated by the Second Vatican Council suffer a serious flaw.

The revision of the lectionary was mandated by the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: "The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God's word" (#51). In 1969, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship promulgated a new order of readings for use at Mass. From this directive, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States authorized the publication of a new lectionary for use in our churches effective Palm Sunday, 1970.

Thus many more books and passages of the Bible were made available to Catholics through the scripture readings at Sunday and daily Mass. Homilies based on the readings were to illustrate the relevance of these passages to the daily Christian life, and for more than 25 years, pastors, liturgists and Catholics in the pews have been rejoicing at this increased exposure to the word of God. The widely-held assumption has been that the lectionary faithfully presents the essence of the Bible, with the omission of only a few troubling or gory passages.

This satisfying assumption has recently been controverted by shocking evidence to the contrary. 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. I hope to illustrate how some of the lectionary's readings are used to reinforce what some believe to be the weaknesses or proper roles of women. Then I will make a cursory review of the imbalance of the saints recognized in the lectionary. Finally, I will offer some suggestions for liturgists and presiders to rectify the deficiencies.

First Testament Women

A survey of the lectionary reveals that the account of the two brave midwives, Shiphrah and Puah of the Book of Exodus, is omitted entirely from the lectionary. 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 excising the story of these valiant women who put their own lives at risk by defying the pharaoh's law of death in order to uphold God's law of life.

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.

The Book of Ruth gains only two weekday readings (#423, Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I, and #424, Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I). The first is the famous "Wherever you go" passage that shows her devotion to her mother-in-law, and the second is the passage that exalts her bearing of a son for her husband Boaz.

Huldah the prophet, who made history in 2 Kings 22, is excised from weekday reading #373 (Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II). This woman, a seventh century BCE contemporary of Jeremiah and one of the few women or men literally labelled a prophet, was consulted by King Josiah, the reformer. When an old scroll (now thought to probably have been the original form of Deuteronomy) was found in the temple by the priest, Hilkiah, the king ordered, "Go, consult the LORD for me, for the people, for all Judah, about the stipulations of this book that has been found...." (2 Kings 22:13) The royal delegation took the scroll not to Jeremiah but to Huldah, who verified the authenticity of the scroll and, as a prophet, spoke God's warnings to the king. The verses referring to Huldah (verses 15-19) are neatly sliced out of the middle of the lectionary passage (2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3) .

Esther, a great heroine in a time of oppression, is proclaimed only in a Lenten weekday reading (#228) that records her prayer appealing to God for strength. No account of the bravery with which she saved her people from annihilation is given anywhere in the lectionary. Three other passages from the Book of Esther are found in the lectionary (in the Common of Saints, #737; and in Masses for Various Occasions, #821, #876), but not only might these passages never be used in the parish, all three are accounts of the prayer of Esther's uncle, Mordecai.

Judith, another heroine who jeopardizes her life for her people, is recalled in just two passages: Judith 13:18, 19, 20 (lectionary #709) is an optional responsorial psalm for the Common of the Blessed Virgin ("You are the highest honor of our race"), and lectionary #737, in the Common of Saints (Judith 8:2- 8), praises the recluse Judith's asceticism and physical beauty; it is recommended for proclamation on the memorials of saints who were widows. Judith's initiative, determination and great courage in saving her nation are nowhere presented in the lectionary.

The heroism of the Maccabee brothers is recounted on the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (#157), but the passage stops short of the tribute paid to their mother, who encouraged their bravery. Although the mother's valor is recognized in the Bible as "most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance" (2 Maccabees 7:20), she is actually remembered by the church only on Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time (#499) and only in Year I! The sons and their brave mother are again separated in the Common of Martyrs (lectionary #713.2 and #713.3 deal with the sons, while #713.4 deals with the mother).

Second Testament Women

Two of the most obvious exclusions of women from Second Testament scriptures are found in different readings from the daily lectionary. In the continuous reading from Romans, verses one and two of chapter 16 are omitted from lectionary #490 (Saturday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time, Year I): "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deaconess [the Greek word is "deacon;" the revised NAB uses "minister"] of the church of Cenchrae. Please welcome her in the Lord, as saints should. If she needs help in anything, give it to her, for she herself has been of help to many, including myself." Thus churchgoers will never hear in our liturgy of Phoebe, a woman who was a deacon. Another overt omission of a verse about women's spiritual influence is made in 2 Timothy 1:1-12, which is assigned to Wednesday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II. Lectionary #355 neatly excises verses 4 and 5, including: "I find myself thinking of your sincere faith--faith which first belonged to your grandmother Lois and to your mother Eunice."

There are also noteworthy omissions of women from the assigned gospel passages. It seems incredible that the Magnificat, the beautiful and revolutionary song of Mary in Luke 1:46 - 56, is never proclaimed on a Sunday; it is found on a weekday before Christmas (#199) and on two feast days of Mary, the Visitation (#572) and the Assumption (#622). But by not assigning it to a Sunday, the lectionary seems willing to risk that not many Catholics will hear this marvelous song of praise attributed to Mary.

The Gospel of Luke is the only one that narrates Jesus' healing of a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years (Luke 13:10-17); yet this pericope is assigned to Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time (#479). Although Jesus recognizes her with the unusual status of "daughter of Abraham," this touching story of her faith and Jesus' breaking of the Sabbath law in the synagogue to heal a woman is not proclaimed on any Sunday.

It is well known that Jesus' women disciples, led by Mary Magdalene, according to all the gospels were the first witnesses to the resurrection. Easter Sunday's gospel in the U.S. lectionary (#43), however, stops just at the point of the beautiful story of Jesus' appearance to Mary Magdalene in the garden and his important commission to her: "Go to my brothers and tell them..." (John 20:17; the newer Canadian lectionary rectifies this problem by adding verses 10--18.) In fact, this appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene does not rate any Sunday of the Easter season but is assigned to Easter Tuesday (#262) and is used again on the saint's memorial (always a weekday, never a Sunday) in July (#603). Peter and John's race to the tomb in John 20:1 -9 (#43), though, is retold every Easter Sunday, and Jesus' appearance to Thomas in John 20:19-31 (#44) is read on the Second Sunday of Easter every year.

While it is only natural that the gospels for the Sundays of Easter should proclaim the appearances of the risen Lord, the gospels assigned to the fourth through the seventh Sundays of Easter use excerpts from the prayer of Christ at the Last Supper, ignoring Christ's appearance to and dialogue with Mary Magdalene in John 20:11-18 for Sunday proclamation. Similarly, the gospel for Easter Monday (#261) gives Matthew's account of the women finding Christ risen (Matthew 28:8-15). Whereas Matthew 28:1-10 is read at the Easter Vigil in Year A, Matthew 28:8-15 would make an excellent follow-up Sunday gospel--but is relegated to Monday. The first reading for each of the Sundays of Easter is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. The selections focus on the sermons and activities of Peter, Paul, Barnabas and Stephen. The women leaders found in the Acts of the Apostles--Tabitha, Lydia and Priscilla--are given second place in the weekday readings of the Easter Season.

Making Women Optional


Throughout the lectionary, some of the assigned gospel passages that are quite lengthy have optional cutoff points to make the readings shorter and supposedly more acceptable to the Sunday assembly. The presider is authorized to read the whole passage or to cut it short. Several of these passages set aside by parentheses as optional and expendable relate the experiences of women.

February 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, is assigned the passage from Luke 2:22-40. When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, they were met by Simeon and the prophet Anna, both of whom recognized the infant as the Savior. In the lectionary (#524), the verses about the prophet Anna may be omitted. This same gospel is read on the Sunday after Christmas in Year B (#17), but both Simeon and Anna are considered optional here. The prophet Anna might never appear to witness to Jesus in our churches.

Jesus' healing of a woman with a hemorrhage is significant for Jesus' disregard for the taboos against women (speaking to a woman in public, being touched by a woman or being made unclean by the touch of a bleeding woman). Yet this miracle with all its implications can be sliced out of the gospel (Mark 5:21-43) in the optional short reading for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B (#99). If the presider decides not to read it in Year B, it is never heard by the Sunday assembly. Matthew's and Mark's complete versions of this story may be heard on a weekday (Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, every year, #324; and Monday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time, every year, #383), but Luke's version is omitted altogether in Year C.

The Gospel of Matthew is used for the passion reading on Palm Sunday, Year A (#38). Although this passion account begins with the anointing of Jesus on the head by a woman, the lectionary omits these verses (26:6-13). The optional short version of this reading also concludes just before the mention of the faithful women who had followed Jesus to Jerusalem from Galilee. The gospel reading for Wednesday of Holy Week (#260) begins again with Matthew 26:14, repeating the story from Sunday of the betrayal by Judas and excluding again the anointing by a woman.

For Year B. the Palm Sunday passion reading is from Mark (#38). Only the optional long version includes the anointing of Jesus on the head by a woman and the witness of the women at the cross. Thus the role of Jesus' women disciples is again excluded for those who might hear only the short version.

In the Gospel of John, the anointing of Jesus is performed by Mary of Bethany at a banquet served by her sister Martha. This version of the anointing story (John 12: l-8) is read only on a weekday, on Monday of Holy Week (#258). It is not included in the reading of the passion on Good Friday, which is taken from the Gospel of John.

One might ask: Is any account of the anointing of Jesus by a woman familiar to Catholics? Of course, the sinful and penitent woman of Luke 7:36 - 50, who washes Jesus' feet with her tears, is presented on the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year C (#94) and every year on Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time (#446); but the lectionary does not give us the same familiarity with Mark's and Matthew's versions, in which a woman--not identified as a sinner--assumes the role of a prophet in anointing Jesus on the head. It is to this woman that Jesus promised (in vain?), "I assure you, wherever the good news is proclaimed throughout the world, what she did will be spoken of as her memorial." (Matthew 26:13).

Luke's gospel also includes a passage (8:1-3) that notes some of Jesus' women disciples: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and others who go unnamed. These three short verses are attached to Luke 7:36-50 when it is read on the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year C (#94). But why? By association with the woman in Luke 7:37, are the women named in Luke 8:2-4 also assumed to be sinful? These verses are marked as optional, but if they are omitted, Joanna and Susanna may go unknown except for a weekday mention (Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time, every year, #447).

One of the few feminine images of God in the gospels, "the reign of God is like yeast which a woman took...,"(Matthew 13:33) is optional on the only Sunday it appears (the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, #107). Matthew's and Luke's parables with this image plus the parable of the mustard seed are found on weekdays (Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time, lectionary #401, and Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time, lectionary #480). Probably only few Sunday homilies present the image of a bakerwoman God to balance the image of the farmer God.

When women are not overlooked or rendered optional in the lectionary, sometimes passages containing positive references to them are left out while those containing negative references are retained. Take, for example, Exodus 15:20-21, in which Miriam (sister of Moses and Aaron) is identified as a prophet and leads a liturgy of thanksgiving after the crossing of the sea; this passage is omitted from the lectionary. These verses could easily have been attached to the Easter Vigil reading (#42) that exalts the role of Moses, particularly in light of modern scholarship that has pretty much proven that the older scriptural tradition is that of Miriam leading the liturgy of thanksgiving. The account of Moses leading the song of victory was added later, borrowing from the Miriam story. Miriam's weaker side, however, is revealed later, in the story of her envy and punishment with leprosy (Numbers 12:1-13) in a weekday reading (Tuesday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I, #408).

Another disturbing tendency is the editing of texts according to gender stereotypes. One of the most convincing examples of this is the editing of Proverbs 31 for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (#158). The lectionary omits verses 14-18 and 21-29, which praise the woman's initiative, business acumen, dignity and wisdom: "Like merchant ships she secures her provisions from afar....She picks out a field to purchase; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She is girt about with strength....She makes garments and sells them....She is clothed with strength and dignity." The lectionary does, however, include the passages that praise the woman for serving her husband and being his "unfailing prize." The gospel for this same day is Matthew 25:14-30, which is about the three servants who are given silver pieces. Only with the reading of the complete passage of the industrious woman will listeners be able to find a connection to the industrious male servant of the gospel.

The tragedy of the sacrifice of the daughter of Jephthah is read on Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I (#422). Her father, having made a rash vow to sacrifice "whoever comes out of the doors of my house to me when I return in triumph" (Judges 11:31), felt obligated to fulfill his brazen promise. The lectionary augments the tragedy by succeeding this reading with the response "Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will" and Psalm 40. Does this imply that God approved of Jephthah's impulsive vow or that parents have unlimited, life-threatening authority over their children? Victims of violence should surely never be expected to sing "Here am I, Lord" on the table of sacrifice. Those who sing this song may well ask, Where is the God who rescued the son Isaac from his father but did not rescue the daughter from her father?

On Holy Family Sunday, the Sunday after Christmas, one would hope to find readings portraying the family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus as a model for contemporary families. The first reading from Sirach does refer to respect for mothers as well as fathers (Sirach 3:4, see lectionary #17), but the responsorial psalm that follows, Psalm 128, is addressed to men and reflects the psalmist's view of the ideal role of women: "Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home." The second reading clearly puts the family relationships in similar perspective: "You who are wives, be submissive to your husbands" (Colossians 3:18). Credit must be given to the U.S. bishops, who requested and received permission from the Vatican in June,1992, to omit that verse and the following three verses from public reading. A similar permission was requested and received to shorten Ephesians 5:21 -32 to omit "Wives should be submissive to their husbands..." on the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (lectionary #123), on Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II (lectionary #480), and at weddings (lectionary #775). One wonders if liturgists and pastors are aware of these permissions: See the Newsletter of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, June, 1992.

The first reading on Pentecost Sunday (#64) is Acts 2:1-11. The opening verse as given in the Bible (NAB) reads: "When the day of pentecost came, it found them gathered in one place" (emphasis added). Those who were gathered are named in Acts 1 as the eleven and "some women in their company, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers." In the lectionary, the opening sentence is interpreted and modified to read "When the day of Pentecost came it found the brethren gathered in one place" (emphasis added). Although "brethren" theoretically may be an inclusive noun, it is not heard as such in this selection. Have homilists revealed that Mary and other women received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost along with the men?

The Calendar of Saints


An important part of our Catholic liturgical experience is the remembrance and celebration of the holy men and women who have been faithful to Christ unto death. From the time of the early martyrs, liturgical tradition has brought the saints to our attention for veneration, inspiration and encouragement. The 1970 lectionary, of course, follows the revised calendar. But the revised sanctoral cycle has an unbalanced ratio of 144 male saints to 28 female saints. (The U.S. bishops have since added 10 men and 7 women to the roster.) The month of June alone brings 19 men before the church for veneration, and no women! Days in the sanctoral cycle are ranked in the descending order of solemnity, feast, memorial and optional memorial. Celebrations in honor of Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul are given the status of solemnities. Feasts also are assigned to these five again, as well as to 14 more men. The highest rank in the calendar that any woman besides Mary has achieved is that of memorial. Even though Mary Magdalene has been recognized through the centuries as "apostle to the apostles" (see John Paul II, "On The Dignity and Vocation of Women," # 16), she ranks below the Twelve in the liturgy.

Further study of the lectionary reveals that 42 male saints have at least one proper reading assigned for their day, while only 8 female saints (not counting Mary) have a special reading. Of these, only Mary Magdalene, Theresa of the Child Jesus and Anne (who shares a memorial with Joachim) are assigned a proper first reading and gospel. Memorials without proper readings may use readings from the appropriate set of "common" readings (Common of Martyrs, Common of Saints and so on). However, for days ranked below feasts--which include all the memorials of women--liturgical guidelines recommend the use of the daily continuous readings from the lectionary.

Memorials of both men and women saints use both the Common of Martyrs and the Common of Saints. But only memorials of men use the Common of Pastors and the Common of Doctors. Furthermore, only memorials of women are assigned to the Common of Virgins, even though many of the male saints are in fact virgins, too (i.e. celibate or vowed religious).

The memorials of the only two women ever named "doctors" of the church--Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila--each do have proper first readings, but the gospel is chosen not from the Common of Doctors but from the Common of Virgins (for both Catherine and Teresa) or the Common of Saints/ Religious (for Teresa)!

Women and men who are looking for spiritual nourishment from the stories of our ancestors, both male and female, are finding that the diet is very meager at the table of the liturgy. Invaluable Manifestations

The rationale used for choosing the scripture texts for the lectionary is found in the introduction to the lectionary, especially in #7 and #8. Omitted passages are those of lesser importance; they contain serious literary, critical or exegetical problems; they will not be understood by the faithful; they are not essential to the meaning of the text; they have lesser spiritual value; they have little pastoral worth; and they contain truly difficult questions. Certainly all of us would agree that not all passages of the Bible are suitable for public reading in the liturgy; and an analysis of the lectionary similar to mine would reveal than many stories of men also are omitted. But given the already limited focus on women in the Bible, it would seem that lectionary editors would begin to choose to be more inclusive of women - if they wished the liturgy to speak to women. But it is not just a matter of speaking to women. Just as men are held up as spiritual models for women (how many sermons have we heard on the faith of Peter?), so, too, men's spirituality is enriched and aided with feminine patterns of holiness.

Since Vatican II we have been reminded again and again that "the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, # 10). The liturgy is meant to be a source of holiness and a celebration of union with God for all God's people. If liturgy is to be authentic, then, it must speak to the experience of women as well as men. Because "sacred scripture is of paramount importance in the celebration of the Liturgy" (CSL #24), the scripture readings should represent the totality of salvation history and human experience. Because the homily is to be drawn mainly from the scripture readings, it follows that if the readings overlook women or present negative stereotypes, homilies will also. The full history of God's intervention in the lives of women and men needs to be made known if the celebration of the liturgy is to "pertain to the whole body of the church." (CSL #26).

Pope John Paul II has himself called for the recogtnition and appreciation of the historical gifts of women: "The church asks at the same time that these invaluable 'manifestations of the Spirit,' which with great generosity are poured forth upon the 'daughters' of the eternal Jerusalem, may be attentively recognized and appreciated so that they may return for the common good of the church and of humanity, especially in our times." (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women #31).

Reprinted from the May/June issue of LITURGY 90, © 1996,
Archdiocese of Chicago. All rights reserved. Liturgy Training
Publications, 1800 N. Hermitage Ave., Chicago IL 60622-1101.
1-800-933-1800.

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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/11/22 22:43:14 (permalink)
Practical suggestions for liturgists and presiders
by Ruth Fox, OSB

A revised lectionary was recently approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and sent to Rome for confirmation. However, the Vatican has withdrawn its initial confirmation of one translation (the New Revised Standard version) and has ordered a reworking of another (the Revised New American Bible) because of the use of inclusive language. My understanding is that there were no substantial changes in the selections of readings in this forthcoming lectionary, so we can anticipate little change in the content even when or if the revision is approved. There are, however, some actions that presiders and liturgists can take to use the lectionary to its maximum potential and correct some of the deficiencies noted above.

1. Choose to read the long versions of the gospel whenever a short version is provided. If that will seem to make Mass too long, perhaps something else could be shortened, such as the homily.

2. At the beginning of Mass, the commentator or presider could call attention to verses that have been omitted from the lectionary readings. This information also could be supplied in the bulletin.

3. Preach on the full biblical text, paying special attention to the omitted verses.

4. Include the omitted verses in the assigned reading, either by retyping the full passage and inserting it in the lectionary or by reading the complete passage from the Bible itself -- the Bible was used for proclamation before the lectionary ever came into being. (For more on the legality of adding verses to the lections, watch for the forthcoming book from canonist John Huels, More Disputed Questions on the Liturgy to be published this fall by Liturgy Training Publications.)

5. Use scripture passages about women that are neglected by the lectionary on other occasions in parish life -- on evenings of formation or reflection, or for the commissioning of ministers, for example. For catechists, Anna the prophet, Priscilla and Acquila, Lydia, Lois and Eunice; for musicians, Miriam or Judith leading the singing with tambourines; for lectors, Huldah, the prophet; for ministers of hospitality, the women who welcome prophets in 1 Kings 17 or 2 Kings 4; for ministers of communion, Martha's confession in John 11.

6. Use the Magnificat or portions of Esther's and Judith's prayers to open or close parish meetings until people come to learn them by heart.

7. For communal anointings of the sick, add an extra reading from Mark or Matthew on the woman anointing Jesus on the head to prepare him for his passion; or refer to it in the homily.

8. At funeral vigils for women, use the full reading from Proverbs 31.

9. For pro-life rallies, use Exodus 1:8-22, including the omitted verses 14 - 21 on the midwives.

10. Celebrate all the optional memorials of women saints throughout the year.



Reprinted from the May/June issue of LITURGY 90, © 1996,
Archdiocese of Chicago. All rights reserved. Liturgy Training
Publications, 1800 N. Hermitage Ave., Chicago IL 60622-1101.
1-800-933-1800.

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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/12/21 13:06:45 (permalink)
Women are chosen by Jesus as his Disciples and his Apostles.  The Women Apostles are highly praised by Jesus----look at John 4 how much Jesus praises the Samaritan woman to his astonished male disciples, all is new in Jesus in the new religion Jesus and God give us---  Paul goes on to name over 28 Women Apostles, many named in Romans 16 especially.
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2007/12/21 13:27:12 (permalink)
In looking at the icon of Mary Magdalene holding the egg, it has occurred to me that this may be a pictoral symbol of a great truth, the fertility of Mary Magdalene .
 
The fact she was Jesus's wife and mother of the mysterious child "beloved disciple' who ran way naked, the child's loin cloth fell off as he ran away at Jesus's arrest--book of Mark--Jesus tells Mary to care for this son,  Here is your mother, here is your son, are the last words Jesus speaks to his mother, and his wife and his child.
  The church wanted celibacy and to deny women and to promote the divinity of Jesus yet Jesus is BOTH fully divine and fully human.  The church hid the fact Jesus was married and had a son, yet it was too important to leave tnis out of the bible completely so it is still there in the New Testament.
 
Like a wife,like kin, Mary Magdalene is allowed to prepare Jesus's body for burial and allowed to stay with him at Cruxifixion.  Who but a wife gets such a duty and such permission?  She travels with Jesus from the start of his ministery to the Resurrection.  A wife travels with her husband and St. Paul later states he too has a right to a Christian wife just like the other disciples, apostles had this right.
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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2008/02/09 19:52:23 (permalink)
 






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RE: The Women Apostles, the Women Disciples 2008/03/07 15:44:34 (permalink)
COMMENTARY
The glass ceiling, political and otherwise
By Phyllis Zagano
The Prairie Messenger
March 5, 2008

In a way, you’d hope Hillary Clinton would win just so we could all just grow up about women in leadership.

For all the words that are pushed around about the equality and dignity of women, we are still a long way from forgetting about gender when we look at qualifications.

Religions are among the biggest offenders. So, when Pope Benedict XVI decried what he called “a macho mentality” at a mid-winter meeting of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Laity, things seemed to be looking up.

After all, in Rome “macho” means something. When he was speaking “on the dignity of women” to mark the 20th anniversary of John Paul II’s apostolic letter of the same name, Benedict pointed out that Christianity “recognizes and proclaims the equal dignity and responsibility of women with respect to men.”

Up to a point. Met any women bishops lately?

Christianity has Bishop Brigid of Kildare in its historical — or legendary — coffers, depending on what you want to believe. They say she was ordained bishop by Bishop Mel in the fifth century, if even by mistake. As the story goes, Mel read the wrong rites and consecrated her a bishop instead of an abbess. No one said it didn’t take.

Beginning in the late 12th century, abbesses of the Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria near Burgos, Spain, exercised the authority of a bishop for about 500 years. Other territorial monasteries — in France, Italy and Germany — were the same. That stab at equality fell away as diocesan bishops asserted authority over abbeys’ territories, especially those lead by women.

Women’s leadership hasn’t completely disappeared from Catholicism. Worldwide, thousands of Catholic religious congregations, orders and monasteries are headed by women — as many as 400 in the United States alone. But these are all-woman operations; their leaders are not part of official church leadership.

So why not have a woman in charge? Why not have women bishops? After all, the pope said Christianity “recognizes and proclaims the equal dignity and responsibility of women with respect to men.”

The fact is, there is still a lot of traction against recognizing that dignity. It is not just about ordination, except that in many churches — especially Catholicism — only the ordained hold true jurisdictional authority and sacramental power.

Other Christian denominations have loosened up a bit. The Episcopal Church elected a woman, Katharine Jefferts Shori, as presiding bishop in 2006. And the Baptist General Convention of Texas elected Joy Fenner president last fall.

Jefferts Shori leads 2.4 million Episcopalians, and Fenner leads the largest state Baptist Convention in the US, with 5,700 congregations and 2.3 million members. That’s a lot of people to agree to put a woman in charge.
Which is exactly the point.

Catholicism retains its medieval traction against women’s leadership, but denies its ancient practice of electing bishops. The argument that a woman cannot be ordained a bishop comes hard upon the modern change from consecrating bishops to ordaining them. That shift seems to nail shut the loophole that let Brigid of Kildare become a bishop. But what would happen if Catholics had open elections? Could a Catholic woman be elected — and consecrated — as bishop?

It would help a lot, because if Catholicism does not give up its “macho mentality” and better announce “the equal dignity and responsibility of women with respect to men,” it may soon find itself with lots of leaders, but fewer and fewer followers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Zagano is senior research associate-in- residence at Hofstra University and author of several books in Catholic Studies.
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