Female Priest: What is the Big Deal?

Female Catholic Priest: They exist?

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Catholic female priest. I was attending an organ donation religious panel. To my dismay, traditional Catholicism failed to make an appearance. Rather the panel had Judaism, Islam, and Protestantism represented. As I sat with my co-workers, this lady wearing a Roman Collar comes up to our table and sits down. After an exchange of small talk, she declares that she is a Catholic priest.

At this moment, my eyes got wide. She passes her business card, which read, “member of the independent Catholic Church.”

Now I started laughing on the inside about the oxymoron that is independent Catholic. You cannot be independently universal. I sighed and put the incident behind me until this year.

Opening the Door to Women

I taught 7th-grade religious education. When we got to the chapter on Holy Orders, I thought it would be good to interview a priest.

So I asked the youth to come up with questions for the priest. Inevitably the question of why priest can’t be female came up.

The priest said, “well, Jesus selected all males to be his apostles”. So far the answer is correct, but then it took a turn for the worse. “Yet we know that women are equally a part of the body of Christ. We know that some of Jesus’ disciples were women. Thus maybe women will play a larger role in the future.”

Shocked, I push back a little. “Father, I thought priest was male due to being in persona Christi and the fact that the Eucharist is Jesus’ male body.”

He replied, “that is very interesting, I have never heard of that argument.”

It honestly makes me wonder what is taught in seminary.

Argument Against Female Priest

Apostles versus Disciples

All of Jesus’ followers were disciples. Some of his followers were apostles. So- what’s the difference? This is explained in the gospel of Mark

“He appointed twelve [whom he also named apostles] that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons: [he appointed the twelve:] Simon, whom he named Peter; James, son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, whom he named Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus; Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

So apostles have authority from Christ and have permission to preach. This is all very good.

Yet some might say, Jesus was just conforming to societal expectations. Jesus chose males because in his time males had authority. We live in a different culture, thus we do not need to follow Jesus’ example.

This ignores how Jesus elevated women.

Jesus Restores Female Dignity

In the gospels, Jesus radically treated women. Women were not objects to Jesus. This can be seen in Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan women at the well. First a little context. Jesus enters the town of Samaria at noon. It’s hot at that time. Nobody in their right mind would go and fetch water at this time.

Yet Jesus sees a figure approach the well. It’s a woman. Instead of ignoring her as the culture would dictate, Jesus chooses to engage with her. He listened to her and respected her. The Samaritan woman became a witness for Christ. Speaking of witnesses, women were the first witness to the resurrection. Mary Magdalene was one of the first people to see the risen Christ. Back in Christ’s time, women were not legal witnesses. If Jesus cared about cultural expectations, his first appearances would have been to men.

Mary as New Eve

Everyone knows that Catholics honor Mary, Jesus’ mother. Most protestants argue that the legitimizing of the Catholic church led to political corruption. The practice of honoring Mary resulted from this corruption.

There’s just one problem; the dates don’t add up. Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity 300 AD. Honoring Mary occurred much earlier.

St. Irenaeus of Lyon (d.202) compared Mary to New Eve.

Just as Eve, wife of Adam, yet still a virgin, became by her disobedience the cause of death for herself and the whole human race, so Mary, too, espoused yet a Virgin, became by her obedience the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race… And so it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by Mary’s obedience. For what the virgin Eve bound fast by her refusal to believe, this the Virgin Mary unbound by her belief. (4)

This quote stresses Mary’s role as the cause of our salvation through her obedience.

Hence, Mary is honored as helping to bring about our salvation. Christ is the new Adam and Mary the new Eve.

What does this have to do with a female priest?

Well If the early Christians thought Mary should be respected, what better way to do that then make her an apostle. Yet that’s not what happened. Rather the eleven apostles drew lots and nominated St. Matthias. Thus even though Mary was the most likely choice for an apostle, they still went with a male follower.

By making Mary the new Eve, the Church demonstrates its respect for women. Yet, the early church including the eleven apostles maintained an all-male priesthood. To understand why we must understand the relationship between the Eucharist and the priesthood.

The Function of Priesthood

Old Testament

The Old Testament describes the story between God and his chosen people, the Israelites. The Old Testament describes the Israelites as a holy nation and a kingdom of priest. Yet God also set aside the tribe of Levi for liturgical worship. The Old Testament structure becomes fulfilled by Christ.

New Testament

By our baptism, we are made priest, prophets and kings. Yet just like in the Old Testament, there is a secondary priesthood. The Levi was responsible for procuring sacrifices for the Israelites. This function is fulfilled by Christ. Jesus Christ takes on death and defeats it. Because he is God, his saving act has infinite merit.

Yet the question remains, how are the effects of Christ’s saving act applied to us? Jesus’ sacrifice is applied to us throughout time through the institution of the Eucharist. The same body that was shed on the cross is made available to us through the transformation of bread and wine. Christ’s one sacrifice presents itself in the Eucharist. Similarly, Christ is the great high priest that works through the ministerial priesthood. (CCC 1544).

The priest, when performing his priestly duties, acts in the person of Christ. When a priest is acting in the person of Christ, the priest must symbolize what is happening. Thus, when the priest says the words, “this is my body,” the priest must have a body similar to Christ. In other words, the priest must have a male body.

Female Priest: Ultimately a Lie

All sacraments must symbolize what they represent. Water cleans objects. The sacrament of baptism cleanses us of sin. Thus, water is required to represent the cleansing nature of baptism.

In the sacrament of Holy orders, a person pledges to be Christ for the people. Christ was male. Thus, the person must also be male. Having an office exclusively for males may seem strange for today’s society. Yet acknowledging the biological differences between male and female should not diminish the dignity due to women. A woman cannot claim to share in Christ’s physical body for to do so would be a lie.

Behold Your Mother

Everyone has a mother. Maybe you don’t know your mother. Maybe she wasn’t a very good mother. Maybe, like me, you had the best mother in the world. Regardless, you had a mother.

Motherhood deserves recognition because you would not exist otherwise. They for whatever reason decided to have you.

In honor of this special day, I would like to take a moment to showcase mothers in the Bible.

Biblical Mothers

There are a lot of good mother figures in the Bible. Samson’s mother and Hannah stand out to me.

In Judges 13, we learn that Samson’s mother was barren. God told her that she would bear a son, who would deliver the Israelites from Philistines. God instructs her to not drink wine or strong drink and to not eat anything unclean.

Hannah’s story is similar. She was also barren. Hannah prayed in the temple. She vowed that if God looked on her affections and gave her a son, she would dedicate him to God. (1st Samuel 1:11)

I think the actions of these Old Testament women foreshadowed Mary, the Mother of God.

Mary, the mother of Jesus

John 19:27 Then he said to the disciple, “behold your mother” and from that hour the disciple took her into his own home

In Luke chapter 1:28, the angel greets Mary as being full of grace. In Luke 1:42, Elizabeth exclaims that Mary is blessed among women. Last Jesus in John tells us to honor her as a mother.

Mother of God Solemnity, a Defence

Mary, Mother of God

Introduction

On January 1st, All United States’ Catholics are obligated to attend Mass for the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. In other countries, this feast is known as a solemnity. I used to joke about the United States Council of Bishops making it a holy day of obligation. I thought it was to prevent Catholics from partying and drinking too much. In reality, the choice of January 1st has historical precedent. In this post, I will define solemnity and Holy day of Obligation. Next, this post will describe the importance of Mary, Mother of God and why the Church chose January 1st.

Solemnity

The Catholic encyclopedia defines solemnity as a feast that deserves extra attention. Solemnities occur because either they are important for the entire faithful or they celebrate a local saint. A lot of parishes take their name from saints. Thus the feast day of that saint becomes a solemnity for them. The Church considers Mary, Mother of God to be so important to the faithful. Thus, The Church also celebrates it as a solemnity. In the United States, the solemnity of Mother of God is also a Holy Day of Obligation. In fact, all Holy Days of Obligation are solemnities, but not all solemnities are Holy Days of Obligations. There are ten Holy Days of Obligation.

Holy Days of Obligation

Canon 1246 states that Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation. In addition to Sunday, The Church gives ten other days. These include: the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary Mother of God, Her Immaculate Conception, Her Assumption, Saint Joseph, the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and finally, All Saints 1. Canon 1246 gives power to Bishops to abolish certain holy days of obligation with prior approval. This explains why Catholics celebrate Mother of God in the United States.

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Why January 1st?

The Catholic Church celebrates this solemnity on January 1st. In the Byzantine Church, the celebration of the second person always occurs after the primary person 2. For the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the primary person would be Jesus. The Church celebrates Jesus on December 25th. Thus, any celebration of Mary’s motherhood would occur after December 25th2. Different locations celebrated the Solemnity of Mother of God on various different dates. The Coptic Catholic Church celebrated on January 16th 2. The Catholic Church in France celebrated on January 18th2. The Roman Church celebrated on January 1st2. The Roman church chose this date because they wanted to replace the pagan feast of the God Janus 2.

In the fifth century, disputes arose about the nature of Jesus’ divinity. The major question centered on whether Jesus inherited two natures. Mary contributed to his human nature and God contributed to his divine nature. The Council of Ephesus met to debate and decide this issue. They declared Jesus had one nature that was fully human and divine and thus Mary was the Mother of God. The Solemnity was extended to the entire Latin Church in 1931, the fifteenth century of the Council of Ephesus 1. When choosing a date, The Church went with the ancient practice of Rome. Pope Paul VI explains,

This celebration is assigned to January 1st in conformity with the ancient liturgy of the city of Rome2.

So we Catholics celebrate Mary, Mother of God on January 1st. We should understand The Church is not trying to prevent late night parties. Rather, The Church deems it important and desires to honor the Roman traditional date.

Celebrating the solemnity today

So what can we as Catholics today learn from celebrating Mary, Mother of God. First of all, we remember Mary’s yes to God. When we remember her yes, we are strengthened to make our own yes to God. We remember Mary’s humanity. We can acknowledge that Christ was fully divine and fully human. One must understand Christ’s nature to understand the incarnation and our own salvation.. Last, when attending Mass on the New Year, we make a conscious effort to put God first before starting a New Year. So this New Year, don’t sleep off a hangover, spend some time with your spiritual mother by attending the solemnity of Mary Mother of God.


  1. https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/holy_days_of_obligation.htm 
  2. https://www.ewtn.com/saintsHoly/saints/S/solemnityofmary.asp 

In Defense of the Immaculate Conception

Statue of Mary, white stone looking upward with prayer hands, green trees in background

Introduction

On December 8th, Catholics celebrate The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The church requires all Catholics to believe in the four Marian Doctrines. The four Marin doctrines are The Divine Motherhood, Perpetual Virginity, the Immaculate Conception, and The Assumption. People often misunderstand these four Marian doctrines of the Church. Protestants accuse the Catholic Church of elevating Mary beyond what scripture allows. In honor of Mary’s feast-day, I will attempt to defend her immaculate conception.

Immaculate Conception

We must first define the concept of the Immaculate Conception. This belief states that Mary was born without original sin. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they separated themselves from God. This fallen state is passed on to future generations and is known as original sin. Mary did not suffer from this separation and thus she was able to live a holy life.

Logic

The Bible does not explicitly mention the Immaculate Conception. It also does not say that Mary was free from sin. However. logic can help us arrive at this conclusion. We know that God’s grace destroys sin. That sin cannot exist in God’s presence. If that is true, then if Mary is carrying the son of God in her womb, the sin in her would need to be destroyed. We also know that Jesus’ death on the cross makes us holy and redeems us. We know that this saving act is not stuck in time. Rather, Jesus’ salvific act exists outside of time. If this were not true, then Jesus could not save future humanity. Similarly, Jesus’ saving act could be applied in anticipation of the cross. Mary receives the benefit of salvation before the Cross occurs. She receives it from Jesus, not by her effort, but by God choosing her. She, in essence, is the first disciple. Most Protestants argue that this logic while sound contradicts Roman 3:23. I will address the Bible next.

Biblical argument

Old Testament

First I want to look at a pattern established in The Old Testament. When a wife was barren, she would go to the temple and pray for a child. Often she would receive instructions from God that she would need to follow. She would normally dedicate her child to God. One such example occurs in Judges 13:2-5. In this passage, an angel of the Lord tells an unnamed woman that her child will be dedicated to God from the womb. He tells her that she must not drink wine nor eat anything unclean. This woman had to be ritualistically pure in order to dedicate her son to God. How pure must the Virgin Mary be in order to have the son of God? Well, if Luke 1:28 is an indication, then Mary was sinless.

Luke 1:28

The bible implies the Immaculate conception in Luke 1:28.

Hail full of Grace, the Lord is with you.

The Greek word for full of Grace is kecharitōmene. The thing one has to understand about biblical Greek is that every verb has a tense, an object, a voice, and a mood 1. When one looks up the meaning of the word in the Bible, it will not address the tense, object, voice, or mood. For example, in English, a dictionary will give you the tense, whether it be present, past or future. Biblical Greek does not work that way. When you look up a passage in a concordance, you get the definition of the root word. In Luke 1:28 the root word for “full of Grace” is charitoō. Strong’s Greek to English dictionary defines, charitoō as ‘to grace’. In Luke 1:28 the verb tense is written in the perfect past participle tense. Verb tenses in Greek work differently than the tenses in English. The past tense in English refers to an action that was done in the past. In biblical Greek, the tense refers to the type of action 1. The Greek perfect tense refers to a completed action with ongoing effects 1. Thus in Luke 1:28 the verses are actually saying something like, “greetings Mary, who was graced and is being filled with grace.” If God fills a person with grace continuously then sin cannot exist in that person (Ephesians 2:5,8)2.

Romans 3:23

Some people point to Romans 3:23 as the reason to not believe in the Immaculate Conception. St. Paul writes that “all have sinned…” People argue that by saying all have sinned, there is no room for Mary to be sin free. However, let’s compare this to Romans 5:12. Here Paul writes, “Death spread to all men because “all have sinned.” This ‘all’ that Paul is using cannot be taken literally. To do so would contradict the Bible. In Hebrews 11:5-6, the Bible states, “Enoch pleased God and was taken by God.” If he was taken by God then he did not die. Therefore death did not spread to all men. Thus, we must acknowledge that Paul uses ‘all’ as an exaggeration and not literal fact. If Paul is consistent then the same applies to the all used in Romans 3:23. Like Enoch is an exception for death to all, Mary is the exception for all have sinned.

Conclusion

The argument for the Immaculate Conception has a strong biblical base. Mary was the first disciple. She was the first person to be saved by Christ and the first person to say yes to him. For these reasons, she holds a high place of honor in Catholic Spirituality. I desire to go from grace to grace as she did. The sacraments enable me to be in a state of grace. Thus I can strive to say yes as she did.


  1. http://www.ntgreek.org/learn_nt_greek/verbs1.htm 
  2. Nick Hardesty, “In Defense of The Immaculate Conception: Part 3,” Catholic Stand (December 15th, 2014): http://www.catholicstand.com/defense-immaculate-conception-part-3/