A couple weeks ago, the only mass that fit into my schedule was the Spanish mass. My Spanish fluency only takes me about as far as reading billboards and headlines, so I was prepared for a mass where I’d have to be “present” without understanding the language. In the past, the missals used had Spanish and English readings side-by-side, but that had changed since the last time I’d come. This time, everything was in Spanish. I read along anyway, thinking that I knew enough Spanish and enough Bible that, between the two, I’d be able to piece together what the readings were.
I was wrong. I couldn’t decipher the first or second readings. But I knew exactly which Gospel reading it was when the time came: the one with Mary and Martha, where Martha complains about Mary not doing enough work.
My Spanish didn’t improve dramatically during the Alleluia or immediately upon standing for the Gospel. Simple process of elimination was all I needed — stories about men in the Bible vastly outnumber those about women, and out of the handful of stories about women, an even smaller selection is culled out to be read at Sunday mass — ever. I really only needed the names to know which reading we were on.
This got me thinking about how we might bring women back to Catholic storytelling at Mass. It’s a bit late to revise the Bible, but I’d read Ruth Fox’s fascinating (and sobering) analysis of the women who are written in but somehow get written out when it comes to Biblical readings at mass. Certainly giving these readings more “altar time” would be a start, but it still wouldn’t begin to correct the gender imbalance in our recorded history, nor would it solve the discrepancy between who most of the Catholic stories are about vs. who does most of the day-to-day work of keeping Catholic parishes viable — the women who teach CCD, clean churches, cook for events, lector for the readings that rarely include any of their own gender.
But it’s important to remember that Catholic history is not finished being written. If we can’t change the Bible (and I don’t think we should, although ongoing studying and searching should ever cease), we can bring women’s stories into the Church in other ways. What about including more stories about women in the homilies, whether they be female saints, sisters, or historical, current, and everyday women who illuminate something about our faith? What about printing more stories about women in our Diocesan newspapers and Catholic magazines — stories about women that acknowledge “women’s issues” are not limited to abortion?
Of course, I don’t have power over sermons, nor what gets published. What I do have power over is my own right and freedom of expression. We all do. Let’s use it to thank those who tell the stories that often get neglected — and to ask for the stories Catholics need to hear to reflect our diverse, complete, multi-gendered reality.