– Fr. Benjamin
In my previous post I showed that we know with the certainty of faith that women cannot be Catholic priests. I want to emphasize again that this is a process which involves the whole Church. Most of the Protestant churches which decided to ordain women made this decision by an educated elite, who went ahead with their personal opinions despite the objections of the faithful in the pews and the opposition of centuries of tradition.
Now, the conversation gets really interesting because we believe that God is a reasonable God, and so He does not make decisions arbitrarily but according to a plan which, to some extent, we can understand. Why would God, who gives many gifts and talents to women, not invite them to be priests?
To ask why women cannot be priests makes the assumption that women (for the most part) can do everything men can do. This is true in most careers. It does not really matter whether a woman or man is flying the airplane, answering the phone, filing your taxes, etc. Either can accomplish the necessary set of tasks.
However, gender is not interchangeable in personal relationships. A woman cannot be a father. She could accomplish all the necessary tasks, like taking her sons hunting or teaching them to throw a football, but there is more to fatherhood than doing something. A woman cannot be a father, because fatherhood requires a masculine presence. The same is true on the other side. Although a man can be very tender, nurturing, and caring he cannot fill the role of a mother. “Mother” is not something you do, but it is someone you become. Only a woman can become a mother.
If Catholic priesthood were about fulfilling certain tasks, like preaching and teaching, signing checks, opening the church doors and leading the singing, then it could be filled just as competently by a woman. However, being a priest is not the same as doing certain things.
A woman cannot be a priest, because Catholic priesthood is a personal relationship which requires a masculine presence. In Catholic theology, we believe that there is only one true priest of the new and eternal covenant. To be eternal, the covenant must be perfect, but all men are imperfect and their sacrifices are imperfect. Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice of his own body and blood. Just as that one true sacrifice is made present throughout the world in the miracle of the Eucharist, the one true priest is made present through the world in the miracle of priesthood. To be a priest is to be a sacrament of the presence of Christ.
This presence must be a masculine presence because the relationship of Christ to his Church is a spousal relationship. St. Paul tells us that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians Chapter 5). The sacrifice of Christ is a sacrifice of intimate love, the same way that a husband offers his own body to his wife. To be a priest is to represent Jesus Christ, not only as prophet, king and teacher, but as bridegroom.
This reality of bridegroom, if lived generously as God intended, naturally gives rise to spiritual fatherhood. This is why priests are traditionally referred to as “Father” in the Catholic tradition (1 Cor. 4:15).
Does this reality exclude women? No, because the priest is not ordained for his own sake. He is ordained as a gift to the people. This is especially obvious when the priest is celibate, and his life is clearly one of personal sacrifice for the sake of the people. Just as queens in the ancient world were attended by eunuchs, the Catholic Church is served by celibate men. This speaks volumes about the dignity of women in God’s eyes. I therefore believe that, far from excluding women, the Catholic priesthood actually elevates the dignity of women to new heights.