As someone who regularly invites non-Catholic Christians to Mass with me I sometimes get this response afterward: “I love that the priest wears a dress and does the dishes, but why is he always a man?”
Joan Chittister writes:
“The major problem of eucharistic theology in our century is not that people do not understand and value the meaning of Eucharist. The problem is that they do.
The Eucharist, every child learns young, is the sign of Christian community, the very heart of it, in fact. And who would deny the bond, the depth, the electrical force that welds us together in it? Here, we know, is the linkage between us and the Christ, between us and the Gospel, between us and the Tradition that links us to Jesus himself and so to the world around us. No, what the Eucharist is meant to be is not what’s in doubt.
I’ve been hearing from Catholics in various quarters about how they called attention to and honored the contributions of women in the Catholic church on Sept. 26. Here’s a note that Penny at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Sacramento, CA, sent to her friends and parish staff who attend the noon Mass:
I will not be at noon mass this Sunday, 09/26/10. I am abstaining from mass in solidarity with other Catholic women-the women of Ireland, who are stunned by the pervasiveness of the abuse in Ireland; the women who minister in other parishes throughout the world who are not valued and respected as we are at St Francis; the sisters who are investigated because of their implementation of the gospels and loyalty to Christ above rules; and, the women who hear the call to priesthood and are vilified by the hierarchy and equated with sexual abusers.
I have spent significant time in prayer to discern whether i would participate in this symbolic action. My decision to join in solidarity with these women has nothing to do with my respect and appreciation of … the staff at St Francis. I love each of them for who they are and the gifts they so generously share with us. It is because of the many ways they acknowledge the wisdom and sincerity of the feminine that I feel a strong need to stand strong and straight (because its impossible for me to stand tall) with the oppressed women of the Catholic church.
I will be praying with and for all of you on Sunday. Please remember me in your prayers, also.
Thanks, Penny. I look forward to hearing more reports from the field.
I’ve been hearing from Catholics in various quarters about how they called attention to and honored the contributions of women in the Catholic church on Sept. 26. Here’s a note from Nancy at St. Lucy’s Catholic Church in Syracuse, NY:
At St. Lucy’s we elected to do it a little differently on the 26th because we have a priest who supports the participation of women & has been preaching about this for a long time. So a big crowd of women & many men do not go to be seated until after Father Jim processed. He turned around at the altar, raised his arms & asked, “Where are all the people? Where are our women?” Then the crowd processed in, with green ribbons tied around our arms (& also Jim’s) to show solidarity with “Our Irish prophet Jennifer.”
One of our organizers, Rachel Guido-DeVries, went to the altar & spoke about what we were doing & why. Women did all the readings at Mass, read the Gospel & gave the homily on the 26th, as well as choosing songs for the Mass about the contribution of women & doing an addition reading by Joan Chittister. This was all done with full support of our pastor & other leaders in our parish. It was especially moving to participate in giving Communion.
I hope many who participated in some way on the 26th will be in Milwaukee for Call to Action in early November & perhaps we can meet up there.
Thanks, Nancy. I look forward to hearing more reports from the field.
“Women are no longer happy to be second-class citizens.”–Jennifer Sleeman
On Tuesday, the Irish Times ran an op-ed by Jennifer Sleeman, the Irish woman who has launched Sept. 26 as the “Sunday Without Women” in support of respectful recognition of women in the Catholic Church. (See my interview with Sleeman.)
Women (and men) around the world (check out the map) are preparing for Sunday.
Marie from Portland, OR, articulated the intent well: “Our goal is equality for women to hold positions of decision-making on all levels in the church. We want dignity and respect for women who work for parishes, schools, and archdiocesan offices. There are many stories of womens’ gifts and skills not being respected and taken seriously.”
Sept. 26 is an opportunity for faithful Catholics and those who care for us and our church to enter into prayerful dialogue about shared authority, the celibate priesthood, church teaching, lived experience, and “the sense of the faithful.” Read Jennifer Sleeman’s commentary below:
I did not have a Catholic childhood and I have been amazed, talking to Irish friends, at how their early experience of religion was one of fear: fear of God and fear of the church. There were rules, and you broke them at your peril. Maybe I was lucky.
I embraced Catholicism in my 20s. My husband was Catholic and I saw he got great comfort from it. Then I met a wonderful priest who gave me instruction and received me into the church.
I lived happily with my decision. However, with the horrifying sexual abuse revelations, cracks began to appear for me, and I started wondering and talking to other people about the church in the reality of the 21st century.
I had often questioned the fact that only men could be ordained. There was also the rule of celibacy. I discovered that many women and men were also concerned and working towards having their voices heard.
It seemed there were organizations and people protesting all over the place, and the idea came to me of a boycott of Mass for one Sunday (September 26th) to draw all these voices together. Let empty pews give the powers-that-be in the church the message that women are no longer happy to be second-class citizens.
The support for the equality of women in the church has been massive: lovely letters and cards, and phone calls have come from Ireland, Australia, the US and Canada, from men and women.
Neighbours and strangers have come up to me in the street to congratulate me and tell me I have “hit a spot”. It is time for the focus to move from me to anyone and everyone who realizes the church needs to change, and what they can do to bring this about.
There are those who support women priests but would not miss Mass. They have other ideas to get the message across.
There have been a few angry letters, and some of them have been more in sorrow – that people would boycott Sunday Mass. I understand. Many of my friends have said they support me – but they could not miss Mass.
Others have come up with different ideas to reveal their dissatisfaction to the hierarchy. I hope they carry these ideas out.
One compelling reason for the ordination of women is the shortage of priests. The average age of priests in Ireland is 65, and as far as I know very few young men are entering the seminaries.
Already there must be tired, lonely and aging men celebrating Masses, attending to weddings, funerals and Baptisms, with no time or energy for visiting their parishioners – or indeed for themselves. There are wonderful priests out there ministering with courage and compassion, some of whom have given me their support. They are heroic, but how long can they last?
There are nuns doing demanding and sometimes difficult work, brilliantly. Why is the church so afraid of women, and especially their ordination? They constitute half the population of the world and at least 60 per cent of Mass-goers. They minister very well in other churches, for example in the Church of Ireland.
I see celibacy as another way of keeping women out. Is the fear that the church might become gentler, more in touch with the reality of family life in the 21st century, a safer haven for the scared? I think the church has changed since children grew up in fear – and I hope it has the courage to change again.
My hope is that empty pews on September 26th will move the hearts and minds of those in charge, that change will happen, and that the church will emerge invigorated by the equality of all.
In the wake of Pope Benedict’s elevation of John Cardinal Newman to the position of “blessed” and as we approach Sunday, it’s worth recalling what Newman was most known for:
Church teaching, he argued cannot be a top-down enterprise, a one-way street. It must be the result of a conspiratio, literally a breathing together of the faithful and the bishops. It is the first responsibility of the episcopacy and papacy, he said, to listen carefully before teaching doctrine (see “Robert McClory’s article).
Eric Stoner over at Waging Nonviolence has a good post on the Sept. 26 “Sunday Without Women” event offering critique and support. Read it here.
… In general, I think this is a great idea. Given that the church is such a large institution though, to have a real effect a boycott like this would likely need to include millions of Catholics. They would also need to be outspoken about their reasons for not going to church, otherwise the Vatican might not make the connection.
And although it would be difficult, the boycott would need to be an indefinite. Staying away from church for one Mass will be easily ignored. That said, this one-day action could prove to be an important first step towards building a larger movement for change in the Catholic Church. …
Hi Megan– Thanks so very much for posting on the Sept 26: Sunday Without Women. I’m getting more and more comments at my blog everyday from women around the world who are standing up for women’s justice in the Catholic church.
I had a brief email interview with Jennifer Sleeman this week. She’s seeing lots of support bubbling up. The great thing is that women are coming up with all kinds of creative ideas. Many have decided to go to Mass on Saturday night in order to participate fully in the weekly liturgy. But will join with other women (and men) on Sunday morning during regular Mass time to pray together for the Holy Spirit and Mary and the women saints to intercede for the male Catholic hierarchy to receive new wisdom on an egalitarian model of Catholicism.
In Europe and the UK, men and some women decided to attend Mass but are wearing green armbands to signify their protest. In Portland, Oregon, several churches are banding together for a public prayer witness.
Jennifer Sleeman’s call was to “boycott Mass,” in part because she wanted to avoid any protest that would disrupt the liturgy. And I think she has a valid point there.
Keep the conversation going. Peace and All Good–
Jennifer Sleeman, an 80-year-old Catholic convert from Clonakilty in Cork, Ireland, is calling on Catholic women to “join your sisters on Sunday, September 26th. On that one day, boycott Mass. Stay at home and pray for change. We are the majority. We may have been protesting individually but unremarked on, but together we have strength and our absence, the empty pews, will be noticed.”
Men are also welcome to participate in the boycott, she said. “It’s not just about Mná na h-Éireann[Women of Ireland]. But it’s for them, because they are frustrated.” This invitation is now being spread to the faithful women of the Catholic church across the world.
(If you want to learn about the map of women boycotting on Sunday, Sept. 26, then go here.)
I love the fact that she uses the Gaelic phrase Mná na h-Éireann. It’s a phrase that carries great cultural weight referencing the critical role of women in the Irish liberation struggle.
Sleemen notes: “I am not a cradle Catholic. I chose to join as an adult [54 years ago] helped by meeting a wonderful priest … but I now wonder did I do the right thing? … Somehow I have grown up but the church has not.”
“Whatever change you long for, recognition, ordination, the end of celibacy, which is another means of keeping women out, join with your sisters and let the hierarchy know by your absence that the days of an exclusively male-dominated church are over.”
Of the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church, she said: “I find I belong to an organization that seems caught in a time warp, run by old celibate men divorced from the realities of life, with a lonely priesthood struggling with the burden of celibacy where rules and regulations have more weight than the original message of community and love.”
She said: “Some of the grandchildren go through the rites of sacraments, but seldom, if ever, visit a church afterwards. Some of my children are actively looking for a meaningful spiritual life, but they do not find it in the Catholic Church — I must except my eldest son who is a monk in Glenstal Abbey, another place that helps me keep some shreds of faith.”
You can read the whole article here. Or the article in the Irish Times here. There were two comments posted on the article that I particularly liked:
Well, hats off to Granny. It’s true women are treated as second class citizens. More women should support Jennifer & boycott Sunday Mass for a few weeks. Maybe it will wake up the Vatican to start doing the right thing instead of giving lip service. Come on Ladies show the church your not just a bunch of dumb sheep. The church seems to forget God created Women also. Ladies – hit them in the pocketbook. that’s where it will hurt!! Time to weed the chaff from the wheat.
Why not go back to the HEDGEROW MASS, when we had to endure anti-Catholicism by the Brits.
I think “hedgerow Masses” are a great idea! This is the equivalent of the house-church movement in the United States or the base community movement in Latin America and SE Asia. Are there priests who are willing to serve these communities? My guess is that there are.
I finally picked up a copy of Hymn of the Universe by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). I’ve been poking around de Chardin for years, but never actually reading him. He was a French Jesuit, paleontologist, biologist, philosopher, mystic and poet. All the stuff I like!
Here’s a quote from the opening section titled “The Mass on the World,” written while de Chardin was on a scientific expedition in the Ordos desert in Inner Mongolia and celebrates Mass alone at dawn:
One by one, Lord, I see and I love all those whom you have given me to sustain and charm my life. One by one also I number all those who make up that other beloved family which has gradually surrounded me, its unity fashioned out of the most disparate elements, with affinities of the heart, of scientific research and of thought. And again one by one–more vaguely it is true, yet all-inclusively–I call before me the whole vast anonymous army of living humanity; those who surround me and support me though I do not know them; those who come, and those who go; above all, those who in office, laboratory, and factory, through their vision of truth or despite their error, truly believe in the progress of earthly reality and who today will take up again their impassioned pursuit of the light.
Annie Dillard also has a wonderful book called For the Time Being that plays with excerpts from de Chardin’s diaries and writings.