Many of the arguments Catholics and conservatives put forward on the issue of women’s ordination are insufficient. The most common argument offered against the practice is that Jesus never chose women. That is indeed true, and the argument is valid; however, it isn’t a particularly strong one. It is an argument that seems to be incomplete, as if there were some other critical factors which need to be explained.
First of all, it is important for everyone to understand that the feminist argument is predicated on the notion of human dignity and equality being based on utility and function. This underlying assumption is rarely discussed when the issue of women’s ordination and equality is raised. However, it is critical to appreciate and acknowledge this point so the debate can advance intelligently. Too often in these types of debates, obvious assumptions and presuppositions are not dealt with upfront which invariably means both sides waste too much time and effort talking past one another.
For the feminist, dignity and equality depends on allowing women to do the same things as men. And only in doing the same things – or at least having the capability to do so – can the two genders be equal in dignity. To deny a women the same function, under this rubric, would necessarily mean denying them equality and dignity. The connection is indeed logical, but the foundation itself is erroneous.
Contrary to this, the Christian worldview does not attach dignity and equality with function or utility. A human person is not any less dignified or equal to another person based on what they can or cannot do. Performing a specific function does not make anyone more worthy or dignified than someone who cannot perform that function. That is why the Church values all human life equally, independent of the supposed value that society attaches to a particular function or “quality of life” assessment. The Church values all human life equally, including the disabled or those bedridden with a serious sickness.
The rise of euthanasia and related “quality of life” ethic is also predicated on this feminist principle. One person decides that the utility and function of the disabled person does not meet the “quality of life” standard, and then proceeds to pull the plug or dehydrate the person to death. Instead of treating the individual with dignity and respect because of the intrinsic dignity bestowed by God, the arbiters of “equality”, through their dark lenses of utility and function, objectify the human person for their own base aspirations. Usually, this means unburdening themselves with the suffering of another human being.
In light of these different foundations, therefore, it is important to point out to our opponents that their very conception of equality is fundamentally different than our own. There is a false assumption that both sides view equality in the same way. As we can see, however, that is not a valid assumption at all. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that there is a divergence of opinion on the issue of women’s ordination. Feminists believe they don’t have equality in the Church because they are denied a function, but this is a distortion of what true equality is. Catholics say women already have equality because of their intrinsic dignity as human persons. Women complement men but are not the same as them.
But even if this were true and there was no more contention regarding women’s ordination, it still begs the question as to why only men can be priests. First, it is important for our opponents to understand that the liturgical act in the Mass is an act of marriage. That is why Jesus is called the bridegroom and the Church is considered His Bride. In fact, the Scriptures are replete with this imagery:
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. (Mark 2:19-20)
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Revelation 19:7-8)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-2)
The Blessed Virgin is sometimes called the “Spouse of the Holy Spirit” because of her union with the Holy Spirit in conceiving the incarnation within her womb. There is a type of marriage between these two persons. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, would then go on to describe Himself as the bridegroom for His beloved Church, his disciples. That is why the Church is always referred to in the feminine “she” and never “he”, precisely because of this marital covenant between Christ and His Church. So we can see a clear indication why there is an important symbolism and reality to retaining the masculine and feminine qualities of the Church’s faith tradition – not only in the language it uses but also in how it is lived out in its various ministries, not the least of which is the priesthood.
While the Church corporately can be described as “feminine”, even the physical sanctuary in the Church building retains this quality. Within the sanctuary is the divine presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The mirror of this, of course, is the Blessed Mother who carried Our Lord in her womb for nine months. Christ was “enclosed” within the feminine person just like the liturgical act of the priest is “enclosed” within the femine sanctuary of the Church. The unborn Christ and His Mother, therefore, were the prototype of the liturgical act which Catholics participate in every Sunday.
The priest stands in the person of Christ, “persona Christi“. It is not the priest himself who acts principally, but the Person of Christ HIMSELF who acts through the performance of the movements, gestures, and pronouncements of the priest during the Mass. And since Christ was male, the priest in whom Christ acts, must also be male in order to reflect the Incarnation in its fullness. The Incarnation, which was realized through a woman and a man, was not only a redemption of men and women, but also a redemption (and reconciliation) between men and women. At the altar, therefore, the male priest represents this incarnational reality of Jesus Christ within the womb of the sanctuary.
When the bread and wine are consecrated by the priest, the priest in persona Christi then comes down from the altar and presents the body and bloody of Christ to His betrothed, the people of God. It is there that this one flesh union between the divine bridegroom, Jesus Christ, through the instrument of the priest, and His Bride, the Church, is consummated. This supernatural union between the Lord and His people is the mystical and ultimate reflection of natural marriage between spouses.
As a corporate body, therefore, the Church as Bride will always be feminine just as a singular body the Priest in persona Christi must always be masculine. It reflects the divine nuptial banquet between husband and wife.
In today’s society, however, the Catholic priesthood has been reduced to the last frontier of the feminist power-play, and it is hardly surprising or a coincidence that the push for female priests comes at the same time when same-sex “marriages” are all the rage. Since the liturgical act mirrors the reality of marriage in society, a female priest with the Church as Bride would merely reflect the culture’s approval of homosexuality in general and same-sex “marriage” in particular. As we Latins say, lex orandi, lex credendi.