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Why Do Some Epistles Start With “Brothers and Sisters” When Read at Mass?

A listener named Tim asks about a common phrase you may hear at Mass: Brothers and Sisters. After 40 years as a lector, he wonders why some readings from the epistles (or Paul’s letters) begin with this phrase. He also has noticed it more after 2010’s changes to the translation of the Roman Missal.

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Father Dave reiterates that Tim’s question is specific to during readings at Mass, since you would only see this phrase at the beginning of an epistle and not repeated if you were flipping through your Bible at home. One letter is often split up and read over several weeks, so “the framers of the lectionary will sometimes…need to grab a portion of a phrase from earlier to give us the context.”

He compares this phrasing to when you start the next episode of a television show and there is a “Previously On…” recap of the previous episode. Father Dave notes that this is also done in the Gospels, and repeated phrases remind us as listeners who Jesus’ audience is. “Is he talking to just the disciples? Is he talking to followers and believers? Or is he talking to the crowds, maybe evangelizing?” Father Dave says.

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“For Paul, ‘brothers and sisters’ is essentially jargon meaning that he is intentionally speaking to believers,” he explains. This reframes for us that Paul is addressing believers in that time, but Father Dave tells Tim that Paul is also talking to us as believers today. 

“As you’re proclaiming that as a lector, you’re using Paul’s words to address this community of believers.”