Document 21: "Prayer Vigil -- Dramatic Liturgy for Women's Ordination," Women's Ordination Conference press release, 27 February 1977, Women's Ordination Conference Records, 1/4, Marquette University Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 4 pp.
Despite the Women's Ordination Conference's initially "positive" response to the Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood (see Document 21), WOC organized extensive public protests against the teaching in communities across the United States. The most inventive and radical of the protests took place in Washington, D.C, documented by this press release.
Women's Ordination Conference
Post Office Box #4597
Washington, D.C. 20017
Ruth M. Fitzpatrick (301) 927-7921
Dolly Pomerleau (301) 864-0962
For Release on February 27, 1977
PRAYER VIGIL -- DRAMATIC LITURGY FOR WOMEN'S ORDINATION
WASHINGTON: A prayer vigil was held by Catholic women and men today on the steps of St. Matthew's Cathedral in response to the Vatican's recent bann on the ordination of Roman Catholic women. The service was sponsored by the Catholic Women's Ordination Conference, (WOC) in each of the eight U.S. dioceses with Cardinals.
The three part healing liturgy of Recognition, Anger and Support reached a dramatic climax when a bent woman begged two clerically garbed churchmen to heal her of two thousand years of oppression and pain and was refused. She was healed instead by a woman imaging Jesus. Healed and equal, the woman raised bread and wine and offered these gifts to God and distributed them to the assembled crowd. The churchmen were William R. Callahan, sj and Robert Nugent, sds. Callahan is founder of the 1300 member Priests for Equality and Nugent is Co-Director of the Quixote Center, a justice center in Mt. Rainier, MD.
Georgia Fuller, National NOW coordinator of the Task Force on Religion, portrayed Jesus.
Led by Ms. Dolly Pomerleau, a WOC Core Commissioner, the service included dramatic readings of women from the past. Mary of Nazareth, represented by Ms. Ruth Fitzpatrick, Acting Director of the national WOC office and herself a mother of three, asked, "Can my Christian priesthood be denied? Jesus was made flesh and blood in my very body." She was followed by Saints Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila who admonished an erring pope, Elizabeth Seton (Ms. Alice Bender, Christian Feminist and Women's Seminary Fund initiator), Kateri Tekawitha (Maureen Fiedler, rsm, co-coordinator of a national study which asks "Will the People Ever Be Ready?" for the ministry and ordination of women to the Roman Catholic Church). Terese of Lisieux who longed for ordination was played by Ms. Susan Sendelbach who also feels called to the priesthood.
The women and men present than acknowledged their participation in the 2000 year tradition of the oppression of women in the Church. After a "Creed of Anger" and a round of chanted Matthew 23, (Woe to you, scribes and pharisees") each person than gave absolution and a blessing to each neighbor.
The closing hymn was led by "Mary of Nazareth" as all sang and clapped the spirited chorus of the Magnificat. According to Ernesto Cardinale in The Gospel in Solentiname, "…It is said that this passage of the Gospel terrified the Russian Czars and Maurras was very right in talking about the ‘revolutionary germ’ of the Magnificat."
Announcement of the prayer vigil was "blacked-out" by the Washington and Arlington Diocesan press. The service was held on the outside steps of the Cathedral because Msgr. Quinn, rector of the Cathedral said it was the policy that no services are to be held on Sunday afternoons since the Cathedral must be open for tourists who come to see the Cathedral as a tourist attraction. The women were welcome to attend the scheduled 12:45 p.m. mass and remain afterwards to pray silently, but they could not talk in the church, the Msgr. said.
Special letters of invitation were sent to Cardinal Baum, Bishop Marino and Bishop Lyons as well as to the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Jadot. A petition to be forwarded to Pope Paul VI calling for renewed efforts for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church was circulated by Ms. Lee Miller and Ms. Mary Rieser of the Community for Creative-Non-Violence. The vigil was a serious attempt to heal the anger and pain caused by the latest Roman declaration. Ending on a high note of praise and joy, the liturgy sent participants out to work for justice at all levels. The message was loud and clear. The women love the Church. They will no longer remain silent. They will not go away. They will continue to minister and work for a renewed ministry in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Women's Ordination Conference is an organization of women and men in the U.S. who believe that the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood is an issue of justice
toward women in the Roman Catholic Church. Its members view the ordination of women as an immediate moral imperative -- ordination to a priesthood of ministry to and identification with the poor and oppressed, rather than a priesthood of clericalism, bureaucracy and elitism. As one black woman observed, "Ordination to the priesthood as we have experienced it?" "Who needs it?"
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