The discussion during the choir practice just before our community Easter celebration Mass soon heated up into an argument…
Lady 1: Why are you changing the lyrics (in the hymn)?
Me: The language is patriarchal. I’ve only changed the pronoun (to make it more inclusive)
Lady 1: The word is ‘man’ – that is symbolic of everybody.
Me: How can ‘man’ be symbolic of everybody? What about the woman? That’s why I used ‘we’ – which is representing everybody.
Lady 2: But that’s what is in the Bible and are you going to change what is in the Bible?
Me: That change IS ALREADY made… (in the Bible). I am not comfortable using patriarchal language.
Lady 2: (cutting Me off) Then you don’t sing it….
I knew I could expect hostility from a couple of conservative Catholic women who ran the community group with greater impertinent patriarchy than even meninists!
The lyrics in question was Psalm 8 being sung for our Easter blessing Mass in 2017. Here they are:
Great is your name, Lord. Its majesty fills the earth!
Your majesty is praised above the heavens;
on the lips of children and of babes
you have found praise to foil your enemy,
to silence the foe and the rebel.
When I see the heavens, the work of your hands,
the moon and the stars which you arranged,
what is man that you should keep him in mind,
mortal man that you care for him?
The ladies from my Small Christian Community never imagined that the Catholic Church could be way more progressive than they made it appear. For the NSRV version states:
Psalm 8:3-5 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;4
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals[a] that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,[b] and crowned them with glory and honor.
You can find similar gender-neutral and inclusive language in the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE), New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA), New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition (NRSVACE), Good News Translation (GNT), Common English Bible (CEB), Contemporary English Version (CEV), New Living Translation and somewhat in the New International Version (NIV), New English Translation (NET Bible), New International Version – UK (NIVUK) and the Lexham English Bible (LEB).
Unfortunately, stubborn Catholic persons like the ladies mentioned in the story above make the Church look like an obsolete, backward institution to us young people. And who can blame them when the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 239) makes a statement thus: “God is neither man nor woman: he is God.” Even though the next statement is “He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard…” followed by “…no one is father as God is Father.” These statements already seems to have a contradiction within it. If God is neither man nor woman, why is God ‘he’? But then, is God’s gender something to care about?
Actually, yes. And here’s why.
For one, a masculine image of God makes us believe that God is like man, and in that, it reflects the patriarchy in our society, making us believe that God is patriarchal. As Mary Daly once wrote: “If God is male, then the male is God”. This patriarchy also rejects the maternal side of God – the loving, nurturing, and life-bearing nature of God as expressed by Julian of Norwich in her 14th-Century ‘Revelations of Divine Love’. She even referred to the Christ as “our precious mother, Jesus” and the Holy Trinity (traditionally known as ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’) as “Our Father desires, our Mother operates and our good Lord the Holy Ghost confirms”. Note that in the male and female gender attributed to God, we are reflecting on the characteristics of God – a being that is in spirit form . As the male-God gives commandments and makes the rules for people to follow, male leadership among humans is automatically accepted and even expected! Thus, a woman leader is automatically considered different from the ‘norm’.
There are other instances where the feminine was used to describe God. St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 11th century, referred to Jesus as “Christ, my mother” and God as “the great mother”. St John Chrysostom called Christ “friend, and member, and head, and brother, and sister, and mother” .
Stephen Tompkins, in his article for the BBC, writes: ‘Since the 1980s, new translations of the Bible have used inclusive language. “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” in the King James Bible, became in the New Revised Standard Version of 1989, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”‘  Sally Hitchiner presents many instances in the Bible where God and Jesus are compared to women: “The Bible itself, Old and New Testaments, refers to God as giving birth (in Deuteronomy 32:11-12, 18). She breastfeeds (Isaiah 66:13; 42:14 and Psalms 17:8; 131:2), shows maternal kindness (Hosea 13:8, Isaiah 66:13 and Deutoronomy); God is a girl who tirelessly hunts for a lost piece of jewellery (Luke 15:8-10). Jesus … expresses a wish to gather Jerusalem up like a mother hen gathers her chicks (Luke 13:34 and Matthew 23:37).” 
In my training as an editor for medical research papers, I was specifically taught how to make the language gender-neutral, as the mention of gender (when unnecessary) can sometimes skew the attitude of readers towards the study. This is something the Majisterium of the Catholic Church has recognised and is putting into practice in its theological training. Yet, practicing Catholics and some members of clergy have yet to put aside their personal beliefs and ego and accept a God who is loving towards women and men, egalitarian, and feminist.
History has repeatedly shown us that women are a force to reckon with, and together, women and men as equals can achieve greater success in putting the Gospel Values into practice. Let us then move towards an inclusive Catholic Church, and begin with inclusive language and inclusive attitudes.
(About the author: Rachael believes that the original faiths of all religion, including Christianity, has inclusive values and enjoys looking out for evidence of the same).
References and other links for further reading: