Since late July, I have been living at the seminary and school of theology where I work. Being the only woman in residence at the moment, I’ve noticed as presiders make adjustment to their language to recognize my presence. After one or two awkward instances of presiders speaking only to the “brethren,” “brothers and sisters” now has become more standard. I appreciate the effort, and recognize it as a good practice for those ultimately heading to parish work. The language with which we speak to our community is important.
The move has also provided me opportunity to get reacquainted with the 1975 English translation of the breviary. While I am accustomed to our monastic office, which includes settings of antiphons and prayers written by our sisters, the Roman breviary prayers seemingly were not translated with much awareness of how they might be heard by the women of the worshiping community. While we can argue the merits of more or less gendered translations of Scripture texts, my primary concern here is the intercessions.
While Tuesday Week 1 Morning Prayer intercessions open with “Beloved brothers and sisters, we share a heavenly calling,” Tuesday Evening Prayer does not seem so concerned to include the sisters in “You made captive our captivity, -to our brothers who are enduring bodily or spiritual chains, grant the freedom of the sons of God.” Wednesday Morning Prayer the next day does not get much better, with intercessions opening with, “Let us give thanks to Christ and offer him continual praise, for he sanctifies us and calls us his brothers: Lord, help your brothers grow in holiness.” While Thursday Evening Prayer opens with an inclusive call to “Look kindly on your children, Lord,” by the following Sunday Evening Prayer (Week 2), we are praying “As the day draws to a close, Sun of Justice, we invoke your name upon the whole human race, so that all men may enjoy your never failing light.” While at some point historically “all men” might be heard as “all people,” in this day and age, I would venture to guess that most women don’t hear themselves referenced in the phrase. While the Latin for “brothers” or “brethren” may be inclusive, in English it most clearly is not. In a day and age when the Church is trying to reiterate the value of the distinctiveness of both male and female, this bears attention.
Pastorally speaking, these translations matter. If a woman wants to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, what message does she get when tripping over so much masculine language? Even if it was in fact intended to be inclusive, I, for one, am left having to make a disrupted double-take every time, asking myself whether I was supposed to be included or not. Women know only too well that in other instances of Church life, use of masculine language is most clearly meant to refer only to chromosomal men. If the Church has good, non-sexist reasons for reserving ordination to men, then it also has a duty to making sure that women are granted their due dignity in other areas of Church life. The translations of intercessions meant for all would be one.
I understand a new translation of the Liturgy of the Hours is due from ICEL perhaps in 2022. Here is hoping that the committee will consider the presence of women among the worshiping community.