Thursday, October 18, 2012

Male-only Priesthood, Part 5

Jesus as "High Priest" is the primary model for Christian priesthood. Our High Priest, Jesus, sets the standard for what it means to be a priest in the Church. We have already noted in this series of reflections that Jesus' own masculinity points to a male-only priesthood for Christians. Jesus is the Groom and the Church is His Bride. He lays down His life on behalf of the Church as the husband sacrifices on behalf of his wife. The male role is traditionally that of offering sacrifice. This is evidenced by the priesthood of the Old Covenant. Only men were called to offer sacrifice in the Temple. Only men were called to preach in the synagogue. Jesus is called "High Priest" as a direct reference to the male-only High Priesthood of Jewish tradition.

We have also noted that, in their capacity as priest, men who receive Holy Orders in the Catholic Church stand in persona Christi, that is "in the person of Christ." The Sacrament Holy Orders brings about a real change in the man's very being, so that not he, but Christ Himself ministers to the people. The person of Christ - that is, the man Jesus of Nazareth - is present in and through the priest. This permanent change in "being" is possible only for a man because Jesus is Himself a man. In human nature, the spiritual and physical are inseparably linked. Christ's spirituality is a male spirituality because He possesses a male human nature. Only a man can be configured to that spiritual reality.

However, the argument has been made, and continues to be made, that Christianity does away with any  differentiation between the sexes: Yes, the priesthood of the Old Testament is the model for Christian priesthood, and it was male-only. Yes, Jesus represents the model of priesthood for Christians and Jesus is a man. Yes, the Church is the Bride and Christ is the Groom, and this symbol points to the sacrificial role for men. But Jesus turns all of this on its the argument goes. In Christ there is neither male nor female, and all are called to be priests and to ministry in the Church.

While this argument has a certain appeal - that men and women are equal in God's eyes and are therefore equally called to the ministerial priesthood - the argument fails in the face of reality. While it is true Christianity does teach that men and women are equal in dignity, equally loved by God, and equally offered God's grace and the gift of salvation, this does not mean that men and women are called to the same vocations. We have before us all of the arguments we have mentioned above, which point to a male-only priesthood, but we also have the witness of Christian history. Quite simply, history tells us that the Christian priesthood has always been male-only. Christians have always understood the priesthood in the terms we have outlined above, and thus only men have been called to ordination. Any other conclusion would be a break with Tradition.

Equality of the sexes does not mean sameness of roles for the sexes. And history shows that the role of priest has always been reserved for men. We need only ask ourselves: Who did Jesus call as ministers in the Church? Who were appointed by the Apostles in ministerial roles? Who then succeeded those originally called? Who received the laying on of hands and the gifts of the Spirit for ministerial priesthood in the early Church and in the centuries that followed? We will explore this in the next reflection in this series.

[See also: Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4]

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