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Catholic Women Preach: Raising Voices, Renewing the Church. Cycle B

Elizabeth Donnelly and Russ Petrus (Editors)

Review by Rob Esdaile, Catholic Commissioning Editor for Homilies for The Preacher

Orbis Books, 2023, £20.99

ISBN 978-1-6269-8536-0

In most Christian communities in the Anglo-Saxon world the production of a year-round compendium of homily outlines by women authors would nowadays be fairly unremarkable. But in the Roman Catholic community it has a certain significance firstly because, as is widely known, women are not allowed to preach at the Eucharist, simply because they are not ordained (and cannot ever become presbyters, at least according to Pope St John Paul II). Since that Diktat two successive papal commissions have failed to agree whether women’s diakonia in the early Church might justify women’s diaconate today. Listening to the voices of women preachers might be a useful element in the discernment process.

The second reason why this book has a particular resonance is because of the collapse in the number of Catholic clergy, at least in the UK. Lay-led Services of the Word are going to have to become frequent occurrences, at least in smaller communities, and the majority of those services is likely to be led by women. So, helping women find their own particular voices in breaking the Word for the community would seem a worthwhile exercise.

In the USA a web-based resource,, was established in 2016 and has allowed women to offer online homilies through two complete lectionary cycles. This volume is the fruit of that online ministry. Covid-19 dominated people’s lives through one of these cycles, yielding an Advent in which ‘the silence is bewildering, charged with our collective wearied and fearful waiting’.[1] On Ash Wednesday the disparity in Covid death rates between different ethnic groups becomes a rallying call to ‘work together to repair relationships and co-create systems of economic and social justice’.[2]

Sometimes, other hurts come to the surface: ‘Daughter is not for slaughter … Violence against women is a shadow pandemic’,[3] rails Stella Balthazar in righteous anger, while reflecting on ‘Mary’s revolutionary song’. The Feast of Mary Mother Of God brings moving reference to ‘The Talk’ that black and brown mothers must have with their children every day before they leave their house in the USA – how to keep safe, how not to answer back if stopped by the police, how to stay alive.[4] Mary, too, was afraid for her child, who came to set us all free. Rosa Parks makes an appearance at Jesus’ Baptism, showing the courage ‘to speak out without lashing out’.[5] The effect on women of feeling excluded from ministry is also an undercurrent: ‘The grief sometimes feels too hard to bear, and at those times you realize you have not called it quits; this church, you realize, is yours too!’[6]

These are voices worth listening to, authentic meditations on the gospel. In a divided world ‘when the glaring gaps between people, even those of good will, in our politics and church life have never been wider’; when ‘no one feels understood and everyone is afraid’, Deb Organ invites us once again on Pentecost Sunday to ‘feel the wind in your hair’.[7] Let’s just do that, listening to each other, listening to these women’s voices, listening for the Spirit, letting Her blow where she will.


[1] Katherine A. Griner, ‘A Holy Silence’, pp.8-11

[2] Terese Marie Cariño Petersen, ‘Let us be brave enough to be the light’, pp. 41-44

[3] Stella Baltazar FMM, ‘God has already taken their side, pp.12-15

[4] Kim R. Harris, ‘Mary and Jesus and “The Talk”’, pp.28-30

[5] Rachel Kramer, ‘Being A Light For Others’, pp. 34-37

[6] Cecilia González-Andrieu, in the Foreword, p.xvi

[7] Deb Organ, ‘Feel The Wind In Your Hair’, pp.117-9

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