Why "Brothers and Sisters"?

When we hear a reading at Mass from one of Paul’s letters it often starts with “Brothers and Sisters” even though that phrase does not show up in the letter.
(Similarly, I think letters of John get “Beloved” added to the beginning)

Why is it there, and what’s the history of that phrase being included in the reading?


It’s basically a one word (brethren/beloved) or three word (brothers and sisters) synopsis of the long address in each letter.

The original New Testament texts have only adelphoi, and the Latin liturgical texts have only fratres, both of which are translated into English as “brothers” (or “brethren”, depending on the antiquity of the translation). The usage of the phrase “brothers and sisters” is a relatively recent innovation (as in within the latter half of my lifetime; I don’t have the exact dates). The phrase satisfies those who have bought into the feminist claim that unless women are specifically mentioned, they are de facto excluded. As far as I know, only English speakers are that silly; I haven’t seen it in any of the other languages with which I am familiar. It is certainly not a problem in Spanish. Our missalettes are bilingual, and the Spanish texts on the even-numbered pages mention only hermanos. Certainly the New Testament writers and the writers of the liturgical texts intended the inclusion of both genders in the one term, and until recently the hearers understood the same.

Sorry. I’ll get off my soapbox now. It’s just that this kind of thing really gets up my nose.

My impression is that it’s something that is added by the speaker, not necessarily printed in the Lectionary text.

The Mass readings usually begin with what is called an incipit, so that the reading sounds like complete unit, not a raw extract.

The Gospels readings usually begin with the phrase “At that time,” the Pauline epistles with “Brothers and sisters” (in English), and the letters of St. John with “Beloved.” Sometimes, especially in the Gospels, the incipit is just a little bit longer, providing a little bit of context. The incipit for the epistles simply uses the opening word or two of the given letter.

I honestly don’t know the history of this practice, but I expect that it has been done ever since readings were used in the Liturgy.

The Lectionary allows for “Brethren” or “Brothers and Sisters”

If I was a lector, I would say “Brethern”

I think it’s ridiculous that people do not understand that “Brethern” means “Brothers and Sisters”

It’s also ridiculous that women are ok with some co-ed fraternities calling everyone “Brothers” but when we have a word that means “Brothers and Sisters” no one wants to use it.


I honestly don’t understand why “brothers and sisters” would be objectionable.

The original text was written in a different language.
The original text was meant to be inclusive.
So while “brothers” may be interpreted as inclusive, so is “brothers and sisters”.
While I can understand why some may feel the former is not inclusive, I don’t understand why someone would object with the latter.

Do not the texts get reinterpreted over time because our language is fluid? What sounds reasonable to one generation, loses some of its meaning to another.

We have a tendency to think that the world should stay the way it was in our youth, but it never does.

I agree that the biggest gripe may stem from the fact that it is different, and most people don’t like changes. The epistle used to start Brothers, and now it is Brothers and Sisters (consistently in my neck of the woods - Brethren does not seem to be an option). The problem some have with inclusive language is once you start, where will it end? Brothers and Sisters might lead to God the Mother instead of Father, and that might lead to women priests, and then… and then… and then everyone will know that Cardinal Burke was right, and the feminization of the Church will be complete!! :eek: But I digress… so long as it stays with Brothers and Sisters, everything should be alright. :slight_smile:

Nope. It’s in the Lectionary. Ours give no other option.

The only objection I have is if it’s not what the writer of the Epistle actually wrote. If Paul or Jude or James wrote “Brethren,” fine; if they wrote “Brothers and Sisters,” fine. If they wrote, “to the church at Ephesus,” fine.

It is a silly PC remainder of an attempt to unisex or even feminize the Church.

It’s definitely in the Lectionary for the United States. I must admit I am now curious whether all English language Lectionaries use “Brothers and Sisters” or if it varies according to Bible translation, National Conference, or other factor…

It’s a Lectionary practice, and is a long-entrenched custom. The traditional openings were:

Lessons (OT historical readings, Acts of the Apostles): In diebus illis: (in those days)
Lessons from prophets: Haec dicit Dominus Deus: (thus says the Lord God)
Epistles of St. Paul (NT letters): Fratres: (brothers)
Other epistles (John, James, Peter, etc.): Carissimi: (dearly beloved [plural])
Epistles to single people (Timothy, Titus, Philemon): Carissime (dearly beloved [singular])
Gospels: In illo tempore: (at that time)

NOTE: I think Fratres actually translates to both “brothers” and “brethren” in English.

I think the problem is that in American English, “brethren” isn’t as precise as it is in British English

From dictionary.com

plural noun

  1. **fellow members. **
  2. Archaic. brothers.

British Dictionary definitions for brethren
plural noun

  1. (archaic) a plural of brother
  2. **fellow members of a religion, sect, society, etc **

I’m with you; I prefer that the translation stick closely to the original. However, the “brothers and sisters” issue is low on my list of irks.

Oh, no, my dear. Francophones, at least in Canada are rabid when it comes to this. Witness how we’ve gone from
“Société des Acadiens du Nouveau Brunswick” to “Société des Acadiens et des Acadiennes du Nouveau Brunswick” – “changed to better represent the entire Acadian population.” Say what???

“L’Association des enseignants francophones du Nouveau Brunswick” to “L’Association des enseignants et des enseignantes francophones du Nouveau Brunswick”

“Fédération canadienne des enseignants” to “Fédération canadienne des enseignantes et des enseignants”

perhaps if you studied Greek, it would be more clear.

No language Is completely translatable word for word.

Spoken like a male.

Okay, I’m good with that. Anything but English. :slight_smile:

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