Thursday, August 23, 2012

Male-only Priesthood, Part 4

The human person is both body and soul. We must not think of a human as simply a spirit that happens to have a body, nor as a physical being that happens to have a spirit. These two aspects of human nature - body and soul - are intimately linked so as to form one reality, one nature. As we read  in Part 3 of this series:
The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature. (Catechism 365)
So when we speak of one particular man, namely Jesus of Nazareth, as the model for our priesthood, we must consider how His masculinity factors into His own role as priest.We cannot simply erase His physical body and speak only a "spiritual priesthood." If Jesus was a human being then He had a physical body like all human persons do. When we say that a priest stands "in the person of Christ," we must examine how a male priest best fulfills this role for the Church knowing that maleness was an integral part of Jesus' own personhood.

As we make these considerations about the male-only priesthood, it would be helpful to examine another Sacrament which speaks more directly to the male-female reality of being human. That Sacrament is Marriage.

Make no mistake, there is good reason that Jesus' first miracle happened at a wedding feast. The image of marriage points to Jesus' role as the Groom, with the corresponding role for the Church as His Bride. The Church's bond with Christ is like that of a husband and wife - an intimate union; one body; one flesh. The Eucharist demonstrates this reality most fully, as we quite literally share the "Flesh" of Christ. But marriage points to this union of Christ and His Church as well - as the man and woman join to become one flesh. The dinamic of marriage has much to offer in demonstrating Jesus' priestly role toward the Church. Recall what St. Paul has to say of marriage and the roles of husband and wife: 
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
(Ephesians 5:21-32)
Christ in this passage is most certainly the model for all husbands, and the Church the model for wives. But here we also see a priestly role for Christ. He offers Himself as the "sacrifice" on behalf of the Bride. He "sanctifies" her. He "cleanses" her. He "nourishes" and cares for her for she is His own Body.

And we should note that just as in marriage, where the union of man and woman is designed to bring forth new life, so too Christ and His Bride the Church bring forth new life through baptism. The Church is our Mother and we call our priest's Father, as the stand in the place of Christ - with Christ working through them to make us born again.

We could go on drawing comparisons between these two unions (Christ to His Church and husband to wife), but it is certainly clear that the role of priest standing "in persona Christi" (in the person of Christ) is standing in the role of Husband, with the Church as the Bride. This role requires a male-only priesthood.

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