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.

Caution These Stereotypical Labels We Use Destroy Unity

Caution These Stereotypical Labels We Use Destroy Unity

Introduction

Labels and stereotypes are funny things. People use them in-jokes to make fun of a person different than them. Sometimes people create true stereotypes. Yet most of the time, People create stereotypes based on exaggeration. One can use labels to divide or put down. Even in the Catholic Church, one uses labels to create division. The Catholic Church’s appeals to unity. Yet. the Church divides through labels such as traditional, Charismatic, or cafeteria. The essence of Catholic spirituality is both traditional and charismatic

Personal experience with labels

In my own life, I don’t fit into the cookie-cutter boxes that social media wants to place me in. Am I Charismatic because I’ve had a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit? Am I tradition because I desire to adhere to the liturgical guidelines of the church. Catholics might label me because I appreciate the vast artistic tradition of the church? I question a church’s liturgical practice, Catholics label me a hater and Pharisee. I lift my hands to pray or speak about a personal relationship with Jesus, Catholics label me Charismatic. For these reasons, I want to explore each label. I’ve already discussed what the label charismatic means. In this post, I am going to define what it means to be a traditional Catholic.

The Stereotypical Characteristics of a Traditional Catholic

1. An adherence to one liturgical style

Traditional Catholic can describe someone who prefers and attends an extraordinary form Mass. For those who don’t know, the extraordinary form mass refers to a mass celebrated before Vatican II. The council of Vatican II revised the liturgy to be more receptive to the modern world.

Changes in the Liturgy

The most profound change was the transition from Latin to the vernacular. Those, who attend the Extraordinary Form liturgy, still hear the scripture readings in Latin. The second change was the cycle of readings. Those who attend Novus Ordo hear more scripture and sometimes different scripture. Priest faces the congregation in Novus Ordo as opposed to facing the tabernacle in the extraordinary form. Lastly, the Novus Ordo reinstates the sign of peace. In *Novus Ordo*, the laity takes an active role including the distributing of the Eucharist.

Misconception

Since most traditionalists have a deep appreciation for the Mass, most resist change. They would like to see a liturgy that contained pre-Vatican II elements. However, one cannot assume that a traditional Catholic must attend an extraordinary form mass. For me at least, it’s not a matter of the form, Novus Ordo is fine. Rather, I have a problem with blatant liturgical abuses.

2. Cares more about the rules rather than Mercy

Often times traditional Catholics and modern day Pharisees go hand in hand. Traditional Catholics care more about the letter of the law rather than making people feel welcome. People often cite,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.- Mathew 23:24

I know that I’ve been guilty of this argument. I used to think that silent sanctuaries were cold and uninviting. But, the longer I stay Catholic, the more I begin to appreciate the respect and reverence. This seems missing from Novus Ordo parishes. We should heed the advice of Jesus and not neglect the respect and reverence due to the Eucharist while still practicing love for neighbor.

3. Nit-picky

Sometimes understanding and articulating the rules comes across as nit-picky. Some people object to the frustration with hand-holding during our father as a nit-picky complaint. However, hand holding introduces a new liturgical gesture into the Mass. In order to introduce a new gesture into the Mass, the council of bishops must approve it by 2/3rd vote. The hand holding gesture has not received the necessary support from the bishops. Thus most traditionalist would argue that one should not hold hands. In my own view, I feel that while one should not hold hands, silence regarding the proper posture leaves room for change. However, as a traditional Catholic, I desire that change comes from the proper authority.

4. Hater of Vatican II

While extreme traditional Catholics exist that deny the legitimacy of Vatican II, I welcome the changes. I believe that reading scripture and having personal participation is important. Vatican II helped open up the church to the modern age and helps promote ecumenicalism. I do object to the “spirit of Vatican II,” which priest used as an excuse to introduce liturgical abuses. In other words, Vatican II is not a problem, rather the implementation is problematic.

Conclusion

Thus, a traditional Catholic as myself possess the following

  1. Loyal to the Catholic Church and the teachings of the Magisterium

     

  2. Lives the life according to The teachings of the Church

  3. admires the beauty of the rich history of the Church

The reality is that all Catholics are called to uphold the traditions of the Catholic Church and to care about the liturgy. Labeling a person, “traditional” due to liturgical preference undermines this call. As someone, who doesn’t fit into these categories, I want to know that I am a part of the Universal Church. We should be uniformly Catholic and not destroy unity through the labeling of the other.