Women and the Priesthood 

  
Tim Kaine, the presumptive VP-nominee for the Democratic Party has stated more than once that he believes women should be ordained as Catholic priests. This issue comes up from time to time in the Church. It was 8 years ago that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Decree of Excommunication here in the US because some folks attempted to ordain a woman to the priesthood Being excommunicated isn’t something that happens every day. Excommunication is a serious action, which impedes the reception of the Church’s Sacraments in cases of particularly grave or serious sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1463). 

God loves women. He chose a woman to bring Salvation to the world through Mary, the mother of God. Women have played important roles in the Church since the early days of Christ’s public ministry. Jesus went against the Jewish norms of His day by involving women publicly in His life on earth, as His cherished friends. It was Mary of Magdala who was chosen by God to be the first person to see the risen Christ and to spread that good news to His loved ones. Nearly all of the non-Jewish religions of Christ’s day had female priestesses, so choosing women for this role in His Church would have been socially-acceptable, especially in ministering to the Gentiles. But He didn’t choose women to be priests. He chose only men. Through these 12 men, a direct line of Apostolic succession has remained in the Catholic Church until today.

God doesn’t make mistakes. He came to save us through Christ at a precise moment in history and through the exact people He had chosen as His own. The priestly tradition of the Jews, a male tradition, was part of His salvation plan from the beginning of time. The passover lamb of the Jews, always a male, prefigured the role of Christ as the Paschal Lamb and perfect Sacrifice. Jesus is the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world. The argument is sometimes made that, if Christ were alive today, He would choose women for the priesthood. Here’s a news flash, Christ IS alive today. He comes to us at every Mass when He becomes for us, the Bread of Life. He lives and acts in His Church who has taught from the time of the Apostles that the priesthood is a Sacrament reserved only for baptized men (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1577).

Each Sacrament established by Christ has two elements, form and matter. The form of the Sacrament is the way in which it is enacted. For Baptism, the “form” is the words used to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The “matter” of Baptism is water. In the Holy Eucharist, the “form” is the words of consecration spoken by the priest when he echoes the words used by Jesus at the Last Supper in the breaking of the bread and the offering of the cup. The “matter” of the Eucharist is the wheat bread and the grape wine. When someone is ordained to the priesthood, the “form” of the Sacrament is the bishop’s laying on of his hands onto the man desiring ordination. The “matter” of the Sacrament is the man himself, who has responded to God’s call of service as a priest. Just as the Church could never substitute something else for the bread and wine used in the Holy Eucharist, or for the water used in Baptism, the Church can never allow the “ordination” of women. The “matter” of this Sacrament is, and always must be, male. The Pope himself can never allow women to be priests. “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful” (Saint John Paul II, 05-22-94).

This is not an issue of justice. It’s not unjust that men can’t give birth to babies. It’s a gift reserved for women. Likewise, it’s not unjust that women can’t be ordained. It’s a Sacrament reserved for men. No one has a “right” to the priesthood. Men are called by God Himself to this life. In Jesus’ humanity, He was a man. His gender was not an accident, because the Church is His bride. The priest reflects Christ whenever he celebrates any of the Sacraments that Jesus gave us. Women generously serve the Church in many important roles every day, and have done so throughout history. There are different roles within the Body of Christ, as St. Paul tells us. Men and women are equal in the eyes of God, but this equality is not synonymous with sameness. What a boring Church that would be! God blesses us in our unique roles and we are called to embrace that uniqueness and celebrate our varied gifts and graces. We give Him glory when we are most fully ourselves in His service, whatever our role may be. And we pray that those who struggle with these roles, in any way, may experience the love and guidance of the Holy Spirit in their lives and may return to full communion with His Church.

“I have separated you from other people, that you should be Mine.”

       —Leviticus 20:29 

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