Thursday, July 26, 2012

Male-Only Priesthood, Part 2

Last week I introduced this series of reflections on the male-only priesthood. This is not intended to be a scholarly or thorough treatment of the topic, but merely a few brief thoughts on the subject as I have been pondering the issue over the last few weeks.

Last week I posted some thoughts on the Catholic practice of calling priests "Father." The idea of "fatherhood" as it relates to the priesthood, I think, is a key to understanding the male-only nature of Holy Orders. In other words, we call priests "Father" because there are certain aspects of the priestly ministry that point to a fatherly role (rather than motherhood). For example, a priest as "Father" compliments the "Motherhood" of the Church: at baptism, we are born into the Church - the Church becomes our Mother and this birth is witnessed by a Father/priest.

But more than a symbolic "father-figure," the priest as minister of the Church, represents Jesus Himself. Those who have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders embody the very priesthood of Christ. As the Catechism states:

In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis:
    It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi).
    Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ.
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. In the beautiful expression of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the bishop is typos tou Patros: he is like the living image of God the Father. (1548-49)

So the priest acts "in the person of Christ" and is like a "living image of God the Father."

This does not mean that the priest becomes God. He is still very much a human being, capable of sin and in need of God's grace. But ordination does bring about a change...a real change in the very essence of the one receiving ordination. It is a change that permanently alters the individual:

This sacrament configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ's instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple office of priest, prophet, and king.

As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ's office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily
 It is true that someone validly ordained can, for grave reasons, be discharged from the obligations and functions linked to ordination, or can be forbidden to exercise them; but he cannot become a layman again in the strict sense, because the character imprinted by ordination is for ever. The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently. (Catechism, 1581-83)

Just as biological fatherhood cannot be undone, so too priestly fatherhood is a new state of being that cannot be undone for an ordained priest. The question is, can a woman receive this change? Can a woman be a true embodiment of Christ?

Many who argue in favor of female ordination would insist that women are fully capable of doing what a male priest does: women can preach, hear confession, say the words of consecration, officiate at ceremonies, etc.  And this is all true - a woman can do all of those things. But priesthood is not just about doing these things. It is about being...

To be continued.

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