Women and the Ministerial Priesthood

priest, ordination

The topic of women and their roles in the Church can be a touchy subject. Especially sensitive is the topic of women and the ministerial priesthood. It seems that in today’s day and age, the Church is accused of being sexist on a daily basis because of the official teaching that women are not permitted to be ordained ministers.

Without proper context, it’s easy to be taken aback by this teaching. Although scripture and Tradition make clear the criteria for Holy Orders, the prohibition on women priests can still be easily misconstrued even among fellow Christians.

But there is a way to answer the angry accusations of sexism and to proclaim what is good and holy in light of Church teaching.

Jesus’ Extraordinary View of Women

First, Jesus held a higher view of women than was usual for His time and culture. This can be seen by examining certain passages from scripture, the first of which is the Resurrection account.

Jesus gives Mary Magdalene the privilege of seeing Him glorified first by appearing to her before anyone else after the Resurrection. Take John 20:17-18 for example: “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’ – and that he had said these things to her.”

Many scholars will point out that in Judaism, a woman’s testimony was not considered valid. Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, for example, wrote in his famous work, Antiquities, “But let not a single witness be credited, but three, or two at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives. But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.” Yet, Christ gave Mary Magdalene the privilege to be the first to proclaim the greatest testimony in history – that Jesus was resurrected.

Another great passage that expresses Jesus’ view of women is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). Jesus goes against the cultural norms by speaking to her in public and even telling her directly that He is the Messiah.

This was both unheard of and even scandalous, as noted in the reaction of the disciples when they saw Him speaking to the woman (John 4:27). The woman returns to her village and successfully spreads the good news, representing an image of the Gentiles being grafted into the Church.

Not only did Jesus hold a high view of women, but He also expressed that women were of equal worth as men in the eyes of God. The term “son of Abraham” was used frequently to describe men who were bound to God by covenant. Jesus uses the term “daughter of Abraham” for the first time to show that women could be in God’s covenant as well (Luke 13:16).

In Persona Christi

We have already demonstrated that Jesus held a high view of women, and also that He thought they were intrinsically equal to men in the eyes of God. When it comes to the priesthood, however, we are dealing with a question of order, not of superiority or intellect. Jesus did only appoint men as apostles, but it is important to understand that the issue is a matter of roles and not of value.

Through the ordained ministry, especially that of bishops and priests, the presence of Christ as head of the Church is made visible in the midst of the community of believers. This is what the Church refers to as in persona Christi Capitis or “in the person of Christ the Head” (CCC 1548-1549). Christ Himself is present through His bishops and priests, who image Him both in His authority and in His historical Person who founded the Church.

Some people may object to this and say “since men and women are intrinsically equal in the eyes of God, why can’t a woman still represent the person of Christ just as well as a man?” The answer is a paradox, it’s simple yet shrouded in mystery.

God chose to become incarnate as a man in order to reveal things to us about Himself. One important aspect that He reveals to us is His undying love for us. He uses the imagery of nuptial vows to demonstrate His eternal covenant with us.

Just as a man loves a woman and leaves his mother and father to cling to her and love her all of her days, Christ left His eternal Father to take on human flesh because He loved us and restored grace to us through the new and eternal covenant. In the order of creation, Adam was created first and then Eve from his side. So also Christ became incarnate and gave birth to the Church from His side, with the Eucharist and Baptism that flowed as water and blood from His Heart.

Male and Female: Image of the Trinity

Genesis 1:27 says that God created both males and females in His image. In the complementarity of the sexes, we make visible God’s invisible mystery of love. God Himself is love, and this is reflected in the relationship of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. The Father loves the Son from the beginning. The Son eternally receives the gift of love from the Father, and gifts Himself back to Him in sacrifice. The love between the Father and Son is the Holy Spirit (West, The Good News About Sex and Marriage, 22).

As male and female, we are called to give ourselves as gifts to each other in love. In marriage, that love becomes the life of another person – a child – made in our image. In this reality of love, neither male nor female is superior to the other. Both are equal, not inherently better than the other. The role of each person is distinct and unique, just as none of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity is superior to any other.

Women in Church History

The greatest example of women in the Church is first and foremost the Church herself, being the Bride of Christ. Second is that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose role is more dignified than the rest of creation because she is Mother of our Lord and Queen of heaven.

Nor can we overlook that the Church has four female doctors: St. Theresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Hildegard of Bingen, and St. Therese of Lisieux. These women are known for their enormous contributions to the Church in regard to theology, philosophy, and spirituality.

In short, the Church has always upheld the dignity of every human person. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that because we are “redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity” (CCC 1934).

Much more can be said on the Church’s teaching on women priests, but it is important to know that it is based on the teaching of Christ’s humanity and His love for the Church, His Bride.

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20 thoughts on “Women and the Ministerial Priesthood”

  1. Captcrisis, except for your possible stint as an astronaut, your view of the universe has been geocentric. An astronaut, like the rest of us, has a homocentric view of the universe. Copernicus proposed a heliocentric depiction of the motion of the planets based on his geocentric view. The validity of the heliocentric depiction implies the validity of a corresponding geocentric depiction of the motion of the sun and the other planets. The two valid depictions would differ greatly in simplicity.

  2. I’m willing to bet that if you find the Form 990 (which is mandatory for tax-exempted organizations) for these organizations that promote “woman priesthood”, you will find some sleazy character funding it with an anti-Catholic (or plain anti-Christian) agenda.

    For example, The Catholic League found that the George Soros (atheist) funded Human Rights Watch, “labels the Holy See as “obstructionist” for standing up for the rights of the unborn.” They also found the “George Soros-funded Center for Reproductive Rights has repeatedly attacked the Catholic Church with “venom”, labeling the Holy See “an obstacle to women’s reproductive rights.”” Then there is the George Soros-funded, Faith in Public Life, which has a pro-LGBT agenda, and recently bashed Cardinal Dolan after he publicly thanked Pres. Trump for “his sensitivity to the religious community”. Don’t forget the George Soros-funded Catholics for Choice, a rabidly pro-abortion “front group that specializes in disseminating disinformation about the Catholic Church”, and once rebuked “Rep. Nancy Pelosi for having the temerity to say that pro-life Democrats were welcome in the Party”. How about the George Soros-funded Center for Constitutional Rights? It “provided assistance to an anti-Catholic victims’ group when it petitioned the International Criminal Court to prosecute Pope Benedict XVI for allegedly covering up clergy sexual abuse.”

    This “issue” may just another of their soup du jour. I assume these tax records are publicly available? Can anybody shed some light on these poor, persecuted souls?

    https://www.catholicleague.org/

    1. Here’s a quote from a Time Magazine article:

      “The pontiff’s rejection of female clergy is so unwavering that critics have accused him of having a blind spot on women’s issues. Jon O’Brien of the liberal dissent group Catholics for Choice, an organization that defies orthodoxy by supporting abortion rights, said in 2013 that the pope’s message seems to be “Women can wait while he takes care of more important issues.””

  3. “God … uses the imagery of nuptial vows to demonstrate His eternal covenant with us.”
    No!! It’s the opposite, as St Paul says. God created human marriage in the image of His covenant with His Church.

  4. In regards to “Captcrisis”: Did you all catch the sentence, “…yes, Jesus was trying to set an example by treating women as second-class citizens instead of as slaves.” Wow; What a slap in God’s face! Basically, what that sentence says is that the prohibition against female priests is due to sexism and discrimination by Jesus! At least the Church can’t be blamed – Jesus started it and we are only continuing it! Talk about misreading the scriptures. Although I would not have wanted to go through what Mary Magdalene went through before she met Jesus, I wish I could have been her after she met Him so that I could follow Him – my Lord, my God and my Savior – around on Earth! I would not think this if Jesus had treated women in a demeaning, callous manner. “Captcrisis” has an issue with Christianity as a whole, not with any particularly denomination, and has low self-esteem. The sentence I referred to is an indication that there is more going on than meets the eye, with anger and ignorance only two results of it. I have no issue with a male-only priesthood. I just wish that all priests truly were MEN, as in “manly”. And in my opinion, there are too many women in authority in the Church. The associated “emotions rule” attitude of many leaves a devout Catholic empty. And the men are not standing up and providing the needed contrast of solemn intelligence. Perhaps someday. Give women the priesthood and forget having the latter ever return.

    1. Jesus worked within his culture. He accepted male headship. He also accepted Roman rule and the institution of slavery. He also accepted the geocentric view of the universe.

  5. In every respects Woman is equal to Man if not more. No doubt. Remember Man came to being first; woman second. God became incarnate as a Man, not as a Woman. Supplier is more important than the receiver ; but remember both are human beings: so Man is more important in the procreation work. …….in this manner if we check many other realities Man’s priority can be found out. I only mentioned a few. Priesthood is not denied to Woman but the Church follows certain norms; that’s all. The norm is not human but natural and heavenly. I do hope where I am pointing my finger to is clear.

  6. Whenever the Church realizes it can’t defend its position, it shuts down debate by calling it a “mystery”. This is what it did early on with the doctrine of the Trinity. As the First Vatican Council put it, no human can understand a Mystery, and if you think you understand it, then you must be misunderstanding it.

    If it really wants to preserve male domination it has to call the men-only rule of ordination a “mystery”. This writer briefly hits upon that solution, so she’s on to something.

    As for the rest of this essay, yes, Jesus was trying to set an example by treating women as second-class citizens instead of as slaves. And it’s nice that here and there throughout history some women were allowed a voice and even some power in the Church. But that is only because male bishops decided not to silence them. It is not just a question of only men administering the sacraments. At no level are women allowed any kind of authority, even today.

    Paul VI admitted in Inter Insigniores (1976) that no justifications had been given over the centuries for why women could not be ordained. Actually there were a bunch of them, stated by Church Fathers, all misogynistic and all now rejected by even the Church —

    1. Women are intellectually inferior.
    2. They are morally weak.
    3. Their presence causes male priests to stumble.
    4. Only pagans have female priests.
    5. Menstruation makes them “unclean”.
    6. Their place is in the home.
    7. Jesus picked only men as apostles. (He could hardly do otherwise, in that Levitical culture — he didn’t assign woman a role in his ministry at all.)
    8. Women as priests violate some notion of “complementarity”.
    9. A woman priest would not be respected.

    This last was the closest to the rationale Paul VI relied on: women priests wouldn’t look like Jesus. This is about what you’d expect from a lifelong celibate man. It is not a mature view of gender — most of us today have no problem respecting women in authority.

    The other rationales I’ve seen — the “Bride of Christ” business, for example — are recent concoctions and make no sense. (If the Church is the “Bride of Christ”, then his male stand-ins are not part of the Church — !?)

    So — give up the debate. Either allow women to be ordained or just call it the rule a “mystery”.

    1. My comment below is mostly tongue in cheek – I could have just as easily joked about not asking for directions in the desert for 40 years, but this isn’t about what the Church wants. This is God’s plan, guided by the Holy Spirit, handed on by Jesus Christ…who could hardly do otherwise?

      Tomorrow it will be, “The USCCB can’t defend their position on adultery, or on abortion, or on euthanasia, etc, ect.” or “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?”

      “if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us.”

    2. You can’t say the Church has never been wrong about anything. It always says it’s following “God’s plan”. When it changes its mind, it retroactively demotes the former position to just “prudential” or “situational”.

    3. your opposition is rather short-sighted……what you are arguing about
      is that Jesus did not know what He was doing when He chose the
      apostles. the article from ‘catholic stand’ also points out some
      very informative truisms. as a woman i really don’t understand why
      some of you get so upset. is it because you are not happy being a woman?
      yes- God did know what He was doing and knew we would
      be debating this two thousand years later. as women we have
      a perfect role model–our Blessed Mother. let’s try to aim at being
      more virtuous in our lives and trusting, that God knew what and why
      He chose men as apostles, and at the same time had a great deal of
      respect and love for women.

    4. Judging from the 30,000 protestant denominations, and the 1.3 billion Catholics, it seems that the Magisterium gets it right pretty often.

    5. “the “Bride of Christ”business” a “recent concoction”?!? Is the Bible which says that also “a recent concoction”?? You are a very funny guy.

    6. Captcrisis, if you were to ever actually read the Bible you’d realise that twheb Christians speak of a sacred Mystery, its meaning is nothing like the “whodunnit murder mystery” that you so ludicrously think it means.

    7. My point is, using the (scattered and usually offhanded) Biblical mentions of “Bride of Christ” to justify keeping women from positions of authority, is a recent concoction.

    8. Thank you. The real reason — the ONLY reason — Catholics don’t ordain women is because the Catholic church believes in its bones and teaches every single day that women are inferior. Aquinas only just barely allowed women souls. Christians need to honest and face this directly.

  7. God told Moses, “You must also make linen pants for [the levitical priests], to cover their naked flesh from their loins to their thighs”, and to build a ramp to the altar “[Levitical priests] shall not ascend to my altar by steps, lest your nakedness be exposed”.

    There it is, clear as a bell, nuff said.

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