Brendan Hoban: The New Lectionary…

Time for the Church to start walking the walk     

Western People 9.2.2021

I’m long enough around to remember priests addressing congregations at Mass as ‘My dear brethren’. No priest in his right mind would attempt to do that now.

Then, if someone objected, people would have wondered what the fuss was about. Now it would be taken for granted that such a ‘sexist’ greeting would annoy probably every woman in the congregation and almost every man.

Once ‘man’, ‘men’, ‘brothers’ were accepted as generic terms embracing ‘woman’, ‘women’, ‘sisters’; now almost everyone would take exception to the implied insult.

Not so, it would appear, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, all 22 of them.

In the new lectionary about to be published – that’s the book of scripture readings used at Mass – they’ve just decided to employ the English Standard Version translation which uses ‘men’ as a term for ‘men and women’ and ‘man’ for the whole of ‘humanity’.

This posits three questions. One is what consultation preceded this decision? The depressing answer is none: no priest was asked, no religious, no lay Catholic, no bible scholar, no liturgical expert. None.

The 22 wise and mainly elderly men looked into their hearts and made a conspicuously bad decision. Even the dogs in the street could have told them that – if they’d asked.

Another question is why get excited about this if it just applied to England and Wales? Well, traditionally, the Catholic Churches of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland co-operated for financial and other reasons in publishing liturgical books and their revised editions. Presumably, the England and Wales bishops expect this to continue with the new lectionary, and that Ireland (and Scotland) will simply confirm their usual involvement by accepting the unilateral England (and Wales) decision.

And a third question: is this what is meant by people apparently ‘living on a different planet?’

In as near to exasperation as the English weekly, The Tablet, ever gets, it asked in a recent editorial: ‘What on earth has possessed the bishops of England and Wales?’ What indeed?

More pertinently, what will the Irish bishops do now? Will they consult anyone? Or will they sit in Maynooth, another phalanx of mainly elderly men, and look into their hearts and decide to follow again the dismal, dangerous example of their colleagues on the other side of the Irish sea? Will they compound a problem being visited on the Catholics of England and Wales by regularly and ritually insulting women as they listen to the Word of God being read at Mass – giving them another reason to cut their links with an institution that insists on patronising and disrespecting them to the point of misogyny?

If so, then the words last Tuesday of the new archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Farrell, mean nothing: ‘Leadership in the Church is not about telling people what to do; rather it is about promoting co-responsibility and overcoming the mindset which runs the risk of relegating the baptised to a subordinate role, effectively keeping them on the edges of Church life. That is what we mean by a synodal Church’.

A few years ago I was at a meeting where the embarrassing calamity of the ‘revision’ of the new Missal (in which a Latinate form of English in the Mass was inflicted on English-speaking Catholics) was being discussed. The then archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, told the meeting – by way of explanation of the Irish bishops’ role in the debacle – ‘We took our eye off the ball’. At another meeting, Bishop Martin Drennan of Galway, suggested that the problem with the new Missal was that ‘it wasn’t English’.

Does this mean that this time the Irish bishops will not assent to the use of sexist language in the scripture readings and effectively to set in stone, possibly for generations, a grotesque institutional diminishment of half the Catholics in Ireland and significantly more than half those whose energy and commitment have been at the heart of the history of Irish Catholicism?

Or will they heed the prophetic words, indeed plea of Pope Francis: ‘How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together’? Or, again, the words last week of archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin: ‘Everyone in this diocese – laity, priests and deacons, religious, all who embrace apostolic charisms has something essential to contribute to the future of the faith in Dublin . . . It is how we embrace this mission that is going to make the difference. We can only do this together. Walking together is the way of community.’

Well, we’ll see.

Here’s where real leadership emerges. Not just in talking the talk but in walking the walk. Yes, words matter but only for a while. And if actions don’t follow, once more the hungry sheep will look up and are not fed. And more and more of them will walk away.

The introduction of the new Lectionary – even more so than the new Missal – is one of those moments of truth when we recognise whether words are just words or whether they just mean, as in Alice in Wonderland, what we want them to mean.

It is also a critical point, a watershed moment when women may eventually decide that no matter what the Catholic Church says, disrespect for women is sewn into its institutional seams.

Will we be saying, about our bishops, as English and Welsh Catholics are saying about theirs, what kind of planet are they living on?

Well, we’ll see.











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  1. Phil Greene says:

    Well said Brendan Hoban, thankfully we have priests like you who do live in the real world and are not willing to defend the indefensible.
    Perhaps the reality is that these gentlemen really do prefer only the company of men, and isn’t the CC the perfect place for them so? – at least until priests and religious stand together with lay people and say “ENOUGH of this and other NONSENSE”
    In the meantime, this link (latest Lidl advert in Ireland) powerfully portrays how women in Ireland see themselves, not just in a game, but in all walks of life- I hope it works from this comment post.
    Couldn’t this should be shown after opening prayer in every CC assembly going forward thus bringing the real world to these men and others who live on that other planet.

  2. Barry+McGonigle says:

    Yes Brendan, thank you.
    I wince every time I hear exclusively male gendered liturgy from the altar especially when the majority of those who are to be seen on the altar during mass are likely to be female. Readers, altar-servers, ministers of the eucharist not to mention those who prepare and decorate the sanctuary for the glory of God.

  3. Paddy Ferry says:

    A great article, Brendan. Very well said. When will they ever learn …

  4. Maureen Mulvaney says:

    Brendan well said. What a brilliant article again as you give ue every week. It gives some of us “HOPE” as we continue to hang on by our finger nails! Paddy at #3, you stole my line, “When will they ever learn”… I’d like to go on from there and say, “Where have all our bishops gone…long time passing???

  5. Fr Anthony Clarke says:

    We are still reeling from and stumbling over the archaic new Missal and now our hearts are sinking in to our boots as we await the new lectionary.

    1. martin saunders says:

      The new lectionary is full of inclusive language like MEN for mankind instead of people or perhaps men and women. Victorian language and values on the rise again.

  6. Joe O'Leary says:

    ‘We took our eye off the ball’. But at the time there were thousands upon thousands of us screaming at you day and night about the pastoral and theological disaster represented by the new Missal. There is a new Missal in Japan now and it seems to me that all its alterations are disimprovements and alien to the Japanese language just as the current translation is alien to English. The question is this: what is wrong with a church that can proceed in such a zombified way with no real efforts at communication? In Cork there are hundreds of statues of the BVM in lanes and squares where the faithful gather to recite the Rosary — why can our liturgies not connect with this enduring faith and piety? (I suspect that the Vatican phobia about inclusive language lies behind this looming debacle — and I understand that the NRSV can be irritating on that front — but the issue is much too profound to be deal with by bureaucratic fiat.)

  7. Paddy Ferry says:

    Well said, Joe. So true.

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