(1)Male and female are created in God’s image – both men and women can image God’s love and beauty;(2)The Blessed Virgin Mary conceived Jesus in her womb and the sacramental mysteries are in a real sense an extension of the incarnation;(3)the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet before burial performed a sacramental act and it was accepted by Jesus; a sign that women can serve the Body of Christ and anoint for healing and renewal;(4)Jesus broke with tradition and included women among his disciples and affirmed them time and again in his saving ministry – this was deeply radical;(5)it was women who stood at the cross of Jesus and who visited his empty tomb; if we proclaim his death and resurrection at the Eucharist, who better to preside than believing women whose sisters in the faith stood by our Lord;(6)St Mary Magdalene was Apostle of the resurrection and proclaimed the Good News to the cowering faithless male disciples – if the Eucharist proclaims Christ’s resurrection, then women can preside at its sacramental proclamation;(7)women were included in the leadership of early church; Prisca worked with her husband Aquila as evangelists and many churches met at the homes of women where they acted as leaders of the faith communities; and(8)the orders of ministry which we now have (bishop, priest and deacon) descend from the early church which include the 12 apostles but also the ‘charismatic’ apostles and leaders such as Paul and Barnabas and Prisca and Aquila and nameless others, who if we take the New Testament epistles seriously would have included women.
The ordination of women is actually a sign of true apostolicity as it carries on the ministry of the faithful women who supported Jesus in his saving work and without whom Jesus would have died alone and the message of his cross and resurrection would not have been proclaimed to the world!
Here’s what I would say in response to that.
|Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene, Lavinia Fontana (1581)|
First and foremost, there’s the example of Jesus. It’s absolutely true that “Jesus broke with tradition and included women among his disciples and affirmed them time and again in his saving ministry – this was deeply radical.” But look at the list of His Twelve Disciples (Matthew 10:2-4):
Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.
All men. That’s obviously not a coincidence. And we know that Jesus didn’t just choose all men because He was afraid of being considered radical. Jesus had no problem breaking societal norms, including on the subject of women — as TJH’s (3) and (6) concedes. Obviously, Jesus wasn’t (isn’t) sort of sexist. It was to women, after all, that Our Savior first appeared after His Resurrection. Matthew 28:1-10 is abundantly clear that (a) Jesus appeared first to the women who came to His empty Tomb, and (b) these women weren’t considered Disciples.
So we have to say that Jesus purposely restricted His ordained Twelve to only men, and this can’t be simply waved away by talking about first century culture, since Jesus and the early Church were about as counter-cultural as it gets. There’s also no question that the Roman Empire contained pagan priestesses — female religious leadership (including in a distinctively sacrificial capacity) wasn’t exactly unheard of. That reasoning alone is sufficient: Jesus deliberately set things up this way. So even if we can’t understand why, we’ll still listen and obey Him. But fortunately, we’re not completely in the dark as to the why, either.
First, we should always avoid the trap that equality equals sameness. The equality between men and women is an equality of complementary, rather than similarity. St. Paul, using the image of the Church as the Body of Christ, talks about the difference in 1 Cor. 12:16-19:
And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the Body. If the whole Body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the Body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the Body be?
Note well what St. Paul warns: that if we mistake equality for sameness, we’ll disable and reduce the Body of Christ to a single organ. So while it’s true that “Male and female are created in God’s image,” and that “both men and women can image God’s love and beauty;” that equality doesn’t mean that both are called to the priesthood.
Of course, St. Paul’s prediction has come true. Nearly every church that has ordained women has suffered terribly as a result. It’s lead to division and in-fighting, declining vocations, even schisms. Look at what’s happened to the conservative Anglicans, who have been ostracized for holding to the traditional Anglican belief that the priesthood was male-only. Look at the numerous warring Anglican factions that have sprung up in response to the question of women’s ordination. That’s not to say that one side or the other has been blameless here, but it is to say that nearly every time, the decision to ordain women has caused needless scandal and immense damage to the Body of Christ. So as a pragmatic concern, women’s ordination has been an unmitigated disaster. What do these groups have to show for their ecclesial hara-kari?
But there’s a deeper, sacramental reason for all of this. St. Paul outlines the basic contours in Ephesians 5:22-33, in which he explains that a husband’s loving headship is an image of Christ’s loving headship over the Church:
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the Church, He Himself being the Savior of the Body. But as the Church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her, so that He might sanctify Her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the Church in all Her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that She would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the Church, because we are members of His Body. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This Mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
So the priest stands in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) during the Mass. He proclaims the Gospel, just as Christ proclaimed the Gospel during His earthly ministry. He consecrates the Eucharist, proclaiming in the words of Christ, “This is My Body.” Christ instructed His (all male) Apostles to do this in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19). But the priest isn’t just reciting Scripture or quoting Christ. Christ speaks and acts through him. When Christ proclaims those words through the priest, the bread and wine become His own Body and Blood.
So Christ works through the priest in a totally unique way in the sacraments, particularly the consecration of the Eucharist. This means that the priest’s entire ontological ordering is radically transformed to become an alter Christus, literally, another Christ. The priest can proclaim with St. Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20).
If this view of the priesthood is correct, and it’s certainly the one that the Church has always taken, it has some profound significance for how we understand things. The priest, representing Christ, needs to be male, in part because “the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the Church.” The priest serves the role of the husband, and of Christ. Those are intrinsically masculine roles.
By the way, this is also one of the numerous reasons why the Western Church celebrates clerical celibacy: it better signifies the invisible reality that the man is now bound to the Church, similarly to how a husband is bound to his wife, or a man is bound to his own body. To oversimplify a bit, we might say that the man has married the Church. So I would suggest that one reason people end up thinking that women’s ordination is valid is based out of a misunderstanding of what the priesthood is. Understand that, and the ontological reality that it’s inherently masculine in nature becomes clearer.
Finally, the priesthood is about self-service. Remember the pragmatic point above: that women’s ordination destroys churches. The Anglican Eleventh Lambeth Conference admitted that women’s ordination “caused distress and pain to many on both sides.” For what purpose was so much pain caused to the Body of Christ? What sort of ministry is it that rends a church into two warring factions, just so that you can have the ability to say you’re a priestess?
What, then, can be made of TJH’s claim that the “ordination of women is actually a sign of true apostolicity as it carries on the ministry of the faithful women who supported Jesus in his saving work and without whom Jesus would have died alone and the message of his cross and resurrection would not have been proclaimed to the world”?
We would have to say that no Church prior to the twentieth century was truly Apostolic: that somehow, the followers of Christ didn’t know that female leadership was supposed to include ordination. And worse, that the entire Church fundamentally misunderstood what Holy Orders were supposed to be, for the first nineteen centuries of Christianity. And not just the Catholic Church either — the Anglican Church TJH is trying to defend also rejected the idea of women’s ordination outright before flip-flopping. As recently as 1948, the Anglican church, at the Eighth Lambeth Conference, rejected the ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi as contrary to the tradition and order of the Anglican communion. They reversed course in 1968.
So this claim is ultimately more radical than even what groups like the Mormons claim. They claim that the Church ceased to be Apostolic in character almost immediately, but that it was restored through a prophet from God. TJH is left saying that the Church ceased to be Apostolic in character almost immediately, but that this full Apostolicity was restored through a few renegade Anglican provinces ordaining women without permission (and in direct violation of Anglican leadership), only to have some bishops later support the decision.
There is a particular sense in which women (and laymen) partake of the priesthood. In Baptism, each of us is anointed priest, prophet, and king (CCC 1241). But this isn’t the same thing as the ordained, sacramental priesthood: there’s more on that distinction here. It’s also true that as TJH points out in (2), all of the Incarnational graces flow through Mary, which includes the graces tied to Holy Orders. But that’s different than saying that Mary was or is an ordained priestess. She wasn’t, and while she accompanied the Twelve, she was never counted amongst their number.
Most of what TJH provided actually contains the same shred of truth: women are called to help guide the Church. Think of St. Catherine of Siena, writing to the pope to tell him to move the papacy from Avignon back to Rome (which he promptly did). Was she a priest? No. Was she a Church leader? Indisputably.
Or look at Mother Teresa, or Mother Angelica, or innumerable other women famous and not, who carried on the Gospel from the time of the Apostles to today. It would be an incredibly misguided view to suggest that it takes Holy Orders to proclaim Jesus, or to minister in love to one’s neighbor. All of the examples TJH provides support this: women who weren’t Apostles, weren’t bishops, weren’t presbyters, and weren’t deacons, but still served God in a public and pleasing way.
That should be reassuring not only for women, but for men who aren’t called to the sacramental priesthood. God’s plan for most of us isn’t to serve Him as clerics, but as laypeople. Women’s ordination is a misguided push in the wrong direction.