Bridget on Mary — and then some …
Dr. Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP, author of eighteen books including Living Gospel Equality Now: Loving in the Heart of God, Praying with Women of the Bible, and Praying with Visionary Women, is the dean of the Doctor of Ministry Program for Global Ministries University. On July 31, 2006, Bishop Bridget Mary was ordained a Roman Catholic priest, one of the first twelve women in the United States, and a bishop on April 19, 2010. Bridget Mary currently serves as a spiritual leader of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests and is a member of the leadership circle of Mary, Mother of Jesus inclusive community in Sarasota, Florida. Her blog about the movement is http://bridgetmarys.blogspot.com/
The following is an interview with Bridget Mary Meehan on the role of Mary in the Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement.
By Carol Ann Breyer
Asking Bridget Mary Meehan about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is like asking Julian Assange about Wikileaks! The answer is a free fall of information –in this case from Scripture, tradition, archeology, art, legend, scholarship, and apocrypha – past and present. So it is understandable that a few straightforward questions of her resulted in a barrage of pages from books, articles, discussions, talks, homilies, and general conversation pieces, both spoken and published.
The actual interview opened with a simple inquiry about the community she formed as a house church in her winter home, Sarasota, shortly after her ordination in 2006 on the “Good Ship Three Rivers” in Pittsburgh.
Q: What is the significance of the dedication of your newly formed community to Mary, the Mother of Jesus?
A. Roman Catholic Women Priests are visible reminders that women are equal images of God and therefore are worthy to preside at liturgy. Our naming of this congregation calls upon an age-old devotion of the Catholic Church to “Mary as Priest.” This statement can be borne out by the beautiful mosaic in Rome where Mary is depicted standing beside St. Praxedis, that basilica’s patron, and Bishop Theodora. The following website gives a scholarly presentation of the reason in tradition that Mary may be called a priest. (See http://www.womenpriests.org/mrpriest/m-why.asp)
You must also reference the “Rebound Calendar” on “Mary Oversees Women’s Ordination in Rome” by archaeologist Dr. Dorothy Irvin for an insight into the question of women’s ordination as rooted in the apostolic succession of prestigious early church leaders such as Mary, Mother of Jesus, Mary of Magdala, Phoebe, Petronella and more.(firstname.lastname@example.org)
Really profound and I love sharing that Mary is a mentor for all those who are committed to an inclusive priestly ministry in a community of equals.
Q. Did your original intent include the possibility of referring to the community by the initials of its website designation: www.Mary Mother of Jesus.org which abbreviated reads “Mary MOJO?”
A: Not really. I think the married priest partners had something to do with that title, but it seems to have caught on and is likely, we feel, to attract non— traditionalists and youth. Let’s hope that it continues to do so.
Q. What do you think is the importance of considering Mary as Priest?
A. In tradition, many reasons are given why Mary can rightly be called a priest. Let me enumerate a couple of them. Mary belonged to a priestly family. This is validated in a compendium of texts from the early Fathers including Augustine, Irenaeus, Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose, Epiphanius, Severus of Antioch, John of Euboea, and John the Geometer each of whom stated that there is no doubt that Mary possessed not only royal, but also priestly blood and that Mary drew her family ties from both a royal (Judah) and a priestly tribe (Levi). It is more than likely that she served in the Temple because she knew the Scriptures so well.
Q. To what extent did the priestly function of Mary include a Sacramental ministry?
A. The Church Fathers believed that Mary was the first priest because Jesus came from her body and blood. She was the first who could proclaim: “this is my body and blood.” In his sermon on“De Laudibus Virginis,” Epiphanus points out how we recognize that the gift which is entrusted to us under these species – that is the body and blood of Christ is truly her gift and belongs to her. He says that Mary is a priest in same way in the gift and in the offering of the celestial bread. This tradition affirming Mary as priest continued into the early 20th century.
In Scripture, as the First Disciple, Mary reflects God’s prophetic presence, compassion and justice, which is the heart of priestly ministry in renewed, inclusive communities today. Mary reached out to her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, sharing and serving her needs. (Lk 1:41-43) Her famous hymn, the Magnificat, resembles the Song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. In both hymns the emphasis is on praising God for lifting up the lowly and liberating the oppressed. Women throughout the world today suffer in disproportionate numbers from poverty, disease, and homelessness. After Jesus’ birth, the family fled to Egypt to avoid Herod’s persecution. Mary knew from experience the sufferings that political refugees and asylum seekers face. There is a sense of women's solidarity reflected in these two hymns emphasizing God’s justice for the marginalized.
Mary taught Jesus and more than likely used examples from the people around her and their own lives. One could believe he learned how to treat others from her example as well as to name injustice and declare that his ministry was to bring good news to the poor and liberty to the oppressed. (Lk. 4:18)
As a good Jewish mother, Mary gave Jesus the nudge he needed to save the wedding family embarrassment by turning water into wine, a miracle he never intended. (Jn.3-11) She hastens his public announcement of his prophetic ministry and demonstrates her leadership role in the community. A woman of compassion, Mary knew that the goodness of life and love should be celebrated at a table of plenty. Can’t you just imagine Mary dancing to the music too? Why else would she call upon Jesus to launch his ministry?
The last mention of Mary is when she was gathered with the disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem. (Acts 1:14) Here is Mary with the very men who left her son at his time of greatest need, with one who has served as a leader, but when push came to shove, actually denied knowing her son. Here she is with a bunch of cowards (except for John), who were too fearful for their own necks to stand beside her at the cross watching Jesus' gruesome public execution. When she needed their support they were not there for her. But in the upper room she is not blaming, she is not condemning; rather she is there with them in the prayer room, supporting them by her presence when they are feeling most guilty, most blemished, most unredeemable, most forlorn. She is supporting those who have failed to support her and Jesus. Does that not suggest an amazing amount of compassion and patience? Here Mary, once again, reflects the heart of what it means to live a renewed priestly ministry: forgiveness and compassion.
While our movement has encountered the Vatican's condemnation and outright hostility in placing us in the same criminal category as the pedophiles, we try to follow Mary's example by inviting our brother priests including the hierarchy to join us in transforming our beloved church into a more open, just, and egalitarian community by adopting an inclusive model of priestly ministry that is already blooming in grassroots communities. Often, I joke that the hierarchy can be the viewed as the gift that keeps on giving. In spite of their opposition, women priests continue to grow and flourish as more and more people accept and call forth women priests in their communities to work in partnership with them. Even Pope Benedict, who made excommunication a new fast track to canonization when he canonized two excommunicated nuns Mother Theodore Guerin and Mother Mary MacKillop, has spurred new resistance among God’s people! When everyone who attended our first Florida ordination was threatened by excommunication by the local bishop and later by an announcement on All Headline News from the Vatican, our church was packed and several news outlets recorded the historical event. One day, perhaps, can't you just hear some future pope (perhaps, a woman) say: "As Scripture and tradition has always taught, women, beginning with Mary, Mother of Jesus were priests...."
Q. With all of this evidence of Mary’s priesthood, why is that not lauded today in the official Magisterium, or is it? I do not recall ever hearing about this aspect of Mary even as the Mother of God ? Certainly there is no shortage of titles that describe Mary otherwise.
A. Throughout the ages, honoring Mary has been characteristic of the Catholic tradition.
Some theologians believe that Mariology must be understood in the context of the tremendous need of Christians through the centuries for the “mothering” side of God who is most often depicted in the language of the Roman Empire as triumphant Lord, Warrior Prince, Great Ruler, and Judge. This distancing of the Godhead from the people worsened during the centuries of the Arian heresy, and the divinity of Jesus was overemphasized to counteract the effects of the heresy. Ordinary people were made to feel too unworthy and sinful to approach the Divine Jesus, much less the Triune God. This distancing of the human person from God was emphasized in church architecture that placed the action of the liturgy behind walls restricted to male clergy alone. The job of the laity, including women, was to worship in obscurity and pray with humility.
We are still suffering from that interpretation.
Some scholars refer to the unwillingness of early Mediterranean Christianity to let go of the feminine element in religion. Mary was the ever-present perfect metaphor, although not divine herself, of the maternal aspect of divinity that human beings crave. Today more than ever, we need to discover a larger vision of the liberating power of Mary’s woman-spirit in our midst. As we reclaim Mary as sister and friend, we will find much in her life that relates to our own hopes, dreams, struggles, and much that points us to a Mothering God. This image is vital since addressing Mary as “Our Lady” is challenged by the ARCWP on the same grounds that the use of Jesus as “Lord” is dismissed. Instead, the Gospel depicts Jesus as an advocate for the poor and marginalized in contrast to the injustice and power associated with the dominator model.
Contemporary theologians (including the new breed of feminine writers) are constructing a liberating portrait of Mary today that relates to the real issues of women and that challenges those assumptions that stereotype women as passive and submissive.
The recent ordination of a woman in Columbia emphasized well the sense of liberation suggested by the theological movement in Latin America that developed in the later 20th century. This was in itself, an empowering experience for the poor and oppressed, and the position of Mary as our first priest was celebrated in the stole I wear often in thanksgiving for the new priest in Columbia who made it and presented it to me at her ordination.
Q. How does the role of Mary as Priest extend to today’s Roman Catholic Women Priests?
A. Women Priests throughout the world work primarily to create inclusive communities where all are welcome at the table and all participate fully in the liturgy. In our MMOJO community, for instance, there are two married priests serving as co-presiders together with two women–priests who rotate leadership positions. Thus the liturgies are dynamic extensions of the priestly people function modeled by Vatican II. Homilies are presented in dialogue fashion and the order of consecrations is voiced by the entire gathering. As the institutional church takes a step backward with its new Roman Missal, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests have just published a new Inclusive Worship Aid that has Eucharistic liturgies for Advent, Lent, Easter/Pentecost, Ordinary time etc. that are available on website in docx and pdf on a CD and that can be adapted by communities that fit on back and front of a 8 by 11 size paper. www.associationofromancatholicwomenpriests.org
Q. In addition to providing worship services, how do the women-priests model Mary in their ministries?
A. Three good examples of this come to mind about living out the theme of Mary’s
Magnificat that praised God by bringing down the mighty and exalting the lowly. Women priests are witnessing the need for justice that lifts up the marginalized and nourishes the hungry as is exemplified by the daily routine of Judy Lee and Judy Beaumont from the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP) at Good Shepherd Congregation in Ft. Myers, Fl. who serve homeless, formerly homeless and low income people.
B. This year, ARCWP priests Katy Zatsick and Janice Sevre-Duszynska, Deacon Diane Dougherty and Candidate Kay Akers participated in the SOA Watch vigil to close the School of the Americas (now WHINSEC) in Columbus, GA. The women carried the ARCWP banner during the solemn funeral procession. The banner displays a painting of "Phoebe and Community" by South African feminist theologian and artist Dina Cormick and the words: "Reclaiming Our Ancient Heritage." During the vigil, Janice and Franciscan priest Jerry Zawada, former Prisoners of Conscience, led a Saturday night inclusive Catholic Eucharist of the "Good News to the Poor and Marginalized" in which 225 people participated. The event was sponsored by the Progressive Catholic Coalition. ARCWP also shared a table on Fort Benning Road with members of the PCC and ran an ad in the SOA Watch Vigil Program supporting the closure of the School of the Americas.
In October 2011 Deacon Donna Rougeux and women priests Ree Hudson and Janice Sevre-Duszynska accompanied Fr. Roy Bourgeois to Rome to meet with Vatican officials and to show solidarity for his prophetic witness for gender equality. They were part of a coalition of support which included representatives from WOC, CTA and womenpriests.org. While the Roman police detained Roy and two women ordination leaders, they did not detain our women priests and deacon. With the Vatican in the background on the rooftop of a hotel, the women priests and deacon led an inclusive Eucharist with the group on their last evening in Rome.
In our work and charism ARCWP tries to live out the prophetic witness for justice that echoes Mary's Magnificat.
For millions of people, the time has come for a holy shakeup that will bring new life, creativity, and justice to the Church and beyond. Mary, Mother of Jesus, is blessing us (and cheering us on, too, I hope!) as we work together with the people of God for a more just Church in a more non-violent and hopeful world.