The feast of St. Mary Magdalene (22 July) is marked in many countries around the world by special services. This year the theme was “remembering the women of Vatican II”. The only one taking place in the UK (so far as we know) was held in St. Anne’s church in Glasgow, and was organised by Marie Cooke, a member of the Glasgow Archdiocesan Justice & Peace Commission. The East End Deanery choir, with organist Mark O’Neill and conductor Helen Kane, provided the musical support.
The service began with, appropriately, the song of Our Lady, the Magnificat. Those present were then welcomed by Honor Hania, the Secretary of the Commission, who began by reminding everyone of St. Mary Magdalene, and the other women of the Gospels. A selection of readings from the Gospels followed.
A powerpoint presentation recalled the variety of women down through the ages who had contributed to the life of the church – founders of religious orders, Doctors of the Church and others – and who still provide powerful role models for contemporary Christians (women and men). This first part of the service was concluded with the singing of Noel Donnelly’s beautiful hymn “Mary the Dawn”).
The second part of the service began with a roll call of the 23 “auditoras” who had attended the Vatican Council, whose role had been intended to be purely that of observers but who in fact provided invaluable input and expertise to the Council Fathers from their wide experience of life in the world.
These women had come from a wide range of backgrounds: religious communities (including from the Eastern Rite), Catholic and secular institutions, social justice organisations etc. They not only helped shape many of the conciliar documents but paved the way for women theologians and leaders within the Church in following years.
After a reading from the Book of Wisdom, everyone present was invited to come forward and light a candle before the altar in honour of Wisdom’s daughters and sons of the past, and in acknowledgment of their own call to witness in the world today.
The auditoras of Vatican II were remembered then through photographs and a series of readings encompassing their words and experiences at the Council – some positive, some negative, some funny, but all indicating that as Church we have moved on since that time with regard to the position of women, though not so much as we would have hoped or expected, and not without some backward steps.
The service ended on a very positive note as the congregation prayed that the Spirit of God would ignite and enflame those present and enable them to witness to God’s truth and love, and serve the common good by working for peace, justice and harmony. Then they went forth into the still warm evening to the encouraging words of the hymn “Go, Spread my Word”.