Thursday, January 17, 2013

Male-only Priesthood (re-cap)

A few months ago I began a series of posts on the topic of the male-only priesthood. I hope to continue with that theme, but as it has been some time since my last post in that series, I thought I would  recap what I had previously written and link to those posts here. With that in mind, below you will find a brief description of each of the four previous posts in this series...

Part 1 - A brief explanation of why I chose this topic, especially with regard to the term "Father" as applied to Catholic priests.

Part 2 - Not only does the priest represent "fatherhood" for the Church (with the Church being our "mother"), but he also stands "in the person of Christ." This dual reality of fatherhood and Christ as models of the priesthood point a male priesthood - since only men can be fathers, and Christ the High Priest is obviously a man.

Part 3 - The Sacrament of Holy Orders brings about a real change in the person receiving the Sacrament. Just as the Eucharist requires the right "stuff" (bread and wine) for a Sacrament to take place, so too does Holy Orders require the right "stuff"(a man) to bring about the the change that brings about priesthood. The priesthood brings about a real change in the being of a man to conform him to Christ's priesthood.

Part 4 - Some would argue that male-ness and female-ness do not matter for Christian priesthood, that the office is spiritual and as such does not point to a gender-specific reality. But the Church insists that as humans our physical bodies and our souls are inseparable. There is such a thing as male versus female spirituality. Marriage points to this difference in the sexes, and marriage is specifically used in Scripture to describe the relationship between Christ and His Church. A priest, standing in the person of Christ is standing in the male role as modeled by the marriage analogy.

Part 5 - Even when confronted with all of the arguments we have explored thus far, some would contend that women are just as capable as men at performing the task of priest, that Christianity treats the sexes equally when it comes to the other Sacraments, so why not Holy Orders? The strongest argument against this line of reasoning is the witness of history itself... the nearly 2000 years of male-only priesthood, the testimony of the Church Fathers, and the example of Christ Himself.

Part 6 - Here we explore the specific example of Jesus' calling of men to the ministerial priesthood. Just as men and women are called to different roles in the Sacrament of Marriage, so too the Priesthood (Holy Orders) recognizes a distinction in the sexes. Throughout history the Church has honored this example set by Christ.

Part 7 - The best argument presented by those who oppose male-only ordination is the historic office of "deaconess" - female deacons. However, upon closer examination, this example falls short. Terms such as "deacon", "bishop", or "priest" were not as clearly defined in the early Church. The use of these terms in ancient Christian writings do not always denote a Sacramental office. When viewed in context, the historic references to "deaconesses" do not refer to women who have received sacramental "Holy Orders" - rather, it was a ceremonial office meant to ensure modesty when ministering to women.

In Part 8 we will examine further the historic office of deaconess and the development of the priesthood.

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