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
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.
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.