St. Phoebe

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: The first reading for Saturday of the 31st week in OT (Yr 1) begins with Rom 16:3.

Do you know why 16:1-2 were excluded? 

It seems a deliberate attempt to erase St. Phoebe the diakonos.


A: I note this omission in the final pages of my book, Words Without Alloy. From the commentary earlier in the book, you see that those two verses never appeared in the drafts of the lectionary. The first draft (September 1966), in fact, skipped from 14:13-21 to 16:25-27. All the other drafts followed suit, and the last two drafts expanded the final passage by one single verse to 16:24-27.

All the drafts had Romans at the beginning of Ordinary Time in Year 2, not at the end of Year 1. I have seen no reports from whoever was responsible for the changes from the final draft of the lectionary to the typical edition. In this case, that group changed the time of year, added some verses from chapter 15 to a weekday, and expanded the verses previously selected from chapter 16 to what we have now.

All I can do is speculate. Given this background, it’s noteworthy that we have more verses from chapter 16, not fewer, than were originally planned.

From 1966 to 1969, working on a project that was choosing a selection of books, chapters and verses from the entire bible, the group charged with the task omitted passages that they deemed involved “truly difficult questions” (General Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass 77). Deacon Phoebe was probably judged to fall into that category.

Sensibilities have changed. Today they may have made a different decision.