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It would be just like Jesus to include women

Scripture accounts of the Last Supper differ sufficiently from each other that it takes little stretch of the imagination to conclude they didn’t tell all. And common sense adds that the writers brought a point of view to their stories. If it happened today, Cardinal Ratzinger and Fr. Richard McBrien would put different spins on it.

No evangelist’s spin on the Last Supper had anything to do with women. It wasn’t an issue. So no one wrote, “The women didn’t show” or “Not a woman there when he needed them” or “Jesus, in a surprise move, excused the women.” It would, one presumes, have been a surprise move, because he liked the company of women. And Passover feasts were family affairs.

Surely the world’s best example of a picture being worth a thousand words is Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of the meal Jesus and his friends had on the occasion of his last Passover. Leonardo’s is the image that leaps to mind when the Last Supper is mentioned. It is certainly wrong on some or many of the details. For example, it shows daylight outside the window although the meal took place at night. But that doesn’t matter: It is a great painting and was never intended to be strict history or a theological statement.

No evangelist ever said there were women at the Last Supper, but none ever said there were not. Their accounts were signs of the times, as was Leonardo’s painting.

On the cover, and again on page 14, NCR offers a new sign of the times. An Irish group called Brothers and Sisters in Christ, BASIC, whose objective is the ordination of women, commissioned Polish artist Bohdan Piasecki to paint the 57 inch by 38 inch oil on canvas.

Move over, Leonardo. This one is more historically accurate, according to BASIC, “a traditional Jewish Passover meal with women [six] and children [two] in addition to the 12 male apostles.” Sitting across from Jesus are his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene.

A wide range of prominent theologians now take it for granted that there were women at the Last Supper. But this information and/or insight has not found its way into the popular imagination. This is the BASIC aim. They have already distributed 50,000 copies of their “Women -- Called to Be Priests” leaflet in Ireland. They would like to hear from any American groups who might want to display the painting in the United States. They also invite donations to further the image. Posters are available for $14 surface mail, $21 air mail, from BASIC at Saint Francois, Avoca Avenue, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland; E-mail: basic@indigo.ie Web site: http://www.iol.ie/~duacon/basic.htm

At NCR, not long ago, we had a receptionist named Helen Rice. She was one of the great talkers of the Western world. No doubt many current readers could recall, on phoning in for one thing or another, being verbally waylaid by Helen anytime between 1983 and 1994. She had a heart of gold and a colossal cheerfulness that never said die. But die she did, of cancer, after only a short fight.

In a grand gesture Helen’s generous family gave the company a substantial amount of money in her memory. They didn’t ask for a plaque in their own name or hers, or a new wing on our building. They instructed us, instead, to use the money to promote morale in the company. Let me repeat -- they invested in our morale. It’s gotta be a first.

After a couple of false starts, we realized the best way to raise morale was eating and drinking. No, we’re not talking orgy here; we’re talking lunch, probably washed down with Diet Coke, in the lunchroom with Helen’s picture looking down from the wall. But since eating lunch can raise morale only so high, it is usually accompanied by some kind of goofing around. On the occasion of the recent Oscars, for example, we held the Helens. There were various Helens for sundry accomplishments that you would have to work here to figure out. And because morale was at stake, even we non-winners got consolation Helens.

The Helen here went to Beverly Brown, our current receptionist, who carries on Helen’s tradition of affability and good grace.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, April 2, 1999