Ordination of Women in the Sacramental Churches
Luis T. Gutierrez
Working Paper, 7 June 2015
In the sacramental churches, every conceivable rationalization is being used to resist the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate. Essentially, a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. One of the main obstacles to the ordination of women is the idea that the masculinity of Jesus requires the priest to resemble him as a male. However, this idea is rooted in the patriarchal norm of the father as head of the family and not on divine revelation.
"This is my body." What matters for the sacramental economy, and for the priest to be a visible sign of the acting presence of Christ, is not that Jesus is male but that in him the eternal Word assumed human nature in a human "body," and became "flesh;" thus the proper matter for the sacrament is "flesh," not "maleness." The sacraments are not human rights but free gifts, fruits of the redemption. Ordination is not contingent on holiness or any human trait other than our fundamental human nature as rational animals made of body and soul.
It is wrong, and lamentably obfuscates the issue, to hide behind either patriarchal or feminist ideologies to advocate either perpetuating the patriarchal priesthood or discarding the mediation of the Church for apostolic succession. In can be shown, based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Theology of the Body, and careful analysis of other pertinent Church documents (Ecumenical Councils, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis) that there is no such thing as an infallibly defined dogma that the male-only priesthood is a timeless, divine law.
Jesus Christ, a divine Person, is the one and only Priest of the New Law. His priesthood is by no means contingent on the masculinity of Jesus of Nazareth. For the sacramental economy, rooted in the mysteries of the incarnation and the redemption, the masculinity of the historical Jesus is as incidental as the color of his eyes. With regard to Mary of Nazareth, she preceded the sacramental economy by embracing her unique and unrepeatable vocation as Mother of the Redeemer, and she is much more than an ordained priest or bishop.
The bridegroom-bride analogy, beautiful as it is, does not exhaust the Christ-Church mystery. The choice of the 12 male apostles by Jesus is a particularity of his earthly mission to the people of Israel and should not remain normative. Apostolic succession is not contingent on masculinity. The ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate would be in perfect continuity with apostolic tradition. In light of Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae, it can be argued that the male-only practice is an artificial contraceptive of female priestly vocations.
At the end, some key references are listed (with links to online resources) followed by additional notes for further reflection:
Note 1: On Discernment about Women in Sacramental Ministry
Note 2: On the Mysteries of the Beginning and the End
Note 3: On the Mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption
Note 4: On the Nuptial Mystery of Christ and the Church
Note 5: On Issues of Religious Patriarchy and Human Ecology
Note 6: On the Marian Dogmas and the Pilgrim Church
Note 7: On the Encyclicals Humanae Vitae and Evagelium Vitae
Note 8: On Church History & Doctrinal Development
Note 9: On the Global Sense of the Faithful
We need to reconsider the Church as a family and recognize that the patriarchal church hierarchy is becoming an obstacle to evangelization as we enter the transition to a post-patriarchal society. Hierarchy is not the problem. Patriarchy is the problem. According to the dictionary, patriarchy is basically the rule of the father as head of the nuclear family, which extrapolates to all other social and religious institutions. In its radical form, it becomes the culture of male domination and control — of women by men, of nature by humans. The exclusively male hierarchy is becoming stale as a symbol of the Christ-Church mystery. Granted that ordination to the priesthood is not a "human right" (for either men or women), Christ should be allowed to call those he wants here and now. Why should we keep the Church frozen in the patriarchal culture Jesus had to deal with during his earthly mission to the people of Israel? Would Jesus, in today's world, select 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel? If Mary was called to divine motherhood, why is it that baptized women cannot be called to sacramental motherhood?
Theology of the Body
St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body (TOB) may provide a solid basis for solving the most pressing issues of human sexuality, both in families and in the Church as the family of God, including the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The TOB endorses neither radical patriarchy nor radical feminism, and provides a vision of marriage, and gender relations in general, that can be summarized as unity in diversity ("original unity of man and woman"), individuality in community ("communion of persons") and equality in mutuality ("spousal meaning of the body"). The complementarity of man and woman is for reciprocity and mutual enrichment, not mutual exclusion.
The TOB is not about radical feminism. It is not about radical patriarchy either, past or present. It should be noted that the letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), which is not a dogmatic definition of revealed truth, is entirely written in past and present tense, and says nothing about what the Church can or cannot do in the future. The term "definitive," as used in this document with regard to the male-only priesthood, therefore applies to the past and the present, not the future, since the document says nothing about the future.
Nothing essential (dogmatic) of the Catholic faith would have to change in order to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate. There is one (embodied) human nature and having a "body" is more fundamental to the structure of the personal subject than being somatically male or female (TOB 3:2, 8:1, 21:6). In other words, bodiliness and sexuality are not simply identical. This is a key point of that must be taken into account in sacramental theology:
"Corporality and sexuality are not completely identified. Although the human body in its normal constitution, bears within it the signs of sex and is by its nature male or female, the fact, however, that man is a "body" belongs to the structure of the personal subject more deeply than the fact that in his somatic constitution he is also male or female. Therefore, the meaning of "original solitude," which can be referred simply to "man," is substantially prior to the meaning of original unity. The latter is based on masculinity and femininity, as if on two different "incarnations," that is, on two ways of "being a body" of the same human being created "in the image of God" (Gn 1:27)." Original Unity of Man and Woman, Pope John Paul II, 7 November 1979 (Source: The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, Pauline Books, 1997, page 43; and EWTN)
According to this translation, there was a human being in "original solitude" before sexual differentiation. This is the first human being created from the dust (Genesis 2:2) before sexual differentiation provides a "helper" of the other sex (Genesis 2:18-23). This key text is translated a bit differently in the 2006 edition, but includes the original emphasis in italics for a key phrase, and the same key point is made that embodied human nature (in complete body-soul integrity) precedes humans embodied as male or female:
"Bodiliness and sexuality are not simply identical. Although in its normal constitution, the human body carries within itself the signs of sex and is by its nature male or female, the fact that man is a "body" belongs more deeply to the structure of the personal subject than the fact that in his somatic constitution he is also male or female. For this reason, the meaning of "original solitude," which can be referred simply to "man," is substantially prior to the meaning of original unity; the latter is based on masculinity and femininity, which are, as it were, two different "incarnations," that is, two ways in which the same human being, created "in the image of God" (Gen 1:27), "is a body."" The Meaning of Original Unity, Pope John Paul II, 7 November 1979 (Source: Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, Pauline Books, 2006, page 157. See also note 12 in page 158.
Furthermore, the somatic homogeneity of man and woman (TOB 8:4) shows that sexual differentiation, while undoubtedly being a gift, is also a limitation of embodied human nature. A man is bodily a man, and a woman is bodily a woman, but they are both equally human. It follows, that what matters for the sacramental economy is that we are body-persons, not that we are body-males or body-females. What matters for the sacrament of Holy Orders, and for the priest to be a visible sign of the acting presence of Christ, is not that Jesus is male but that in him the eternal Word assumed a human body, in the "flesh." Our Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the Church because he is a body-Person and our Redeemer, not because he is a body-male; and the Blessed Virgin Mary is the typus (exemplary realization) of the Church because she brought the eternal Word to the world, not because she is a body-female.
What is needed is to clarify our sacramental theology to separate patriarchal ideology from revealed truth. Jesus never identified himself as a patriarch. The Holy Family was a not a patriarchy. The Trinity is not a patriarchy. The spousal, sacramental love of Christ for the Church is not intrinsically patriarchal (as the TOB exegesis of the Ephesians 5 bridegroom-bride analogy clearly shows; see, e.g., TOB 97:2, 102:1), and Jesus Christ is head of the Church because he is a divine Person and our Redeemer in the flesh, not because he is a human male. All the sacraments are nuptial, and none was instituted by Christ to be gender-exclusive.
The fallacy of the traditional (with lower case "t") argument that only males can be ordained to act in persona Christi, because Christ is male, is that in persona Christirefers to a divine Person, not a human person. The second person of the Trinity was not a male before the incarnation. This divine Person became human as a male, but this was part of embracing all the limitations of the human condition ("like us in all things but sin"). Even after the incarnation and the redemption, Jesus Christ is one divine Person in two natures, divine and human. The Christ who transubstantiates the bread and wine into his own body and blood is a divine Person, not a human person. The body is like a sacrament of the whole person, but is not the whole person. This applies for human persons, and even more so for a divine Person. The ordained priest acts in place of a divine Person who became human, not in place of an idolatrous male.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
The sacraments are efficacious channels of divine grace ex opere operato, i.e., their efficacy is not dependent on the holiness or any other human quality of the ordained minister. Why should they depend on the minister's gender? To act in persona Christi Capitis means to act in place of a divine Person. Neither men nor women are divine persons. Any baptized human person, male or female, can be ordained to act in persona Christi Capitis. "This is my body." From a sacramental perspective, having a human body is the necessary and sufficient condition for making the acting Christ outwardly visible. From a vocational perspective, all ministries, including ordained ministries, should be mediated by the Church but must be based on vocational discernment and should be gift-based, not gender-based.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church plainly states that the exclusively male priesthood is a choice, not a dogma (CCC 1598). The lesser doctrine that the choice of the 12 male apostles is normative (CCC 1577) is not proposed as a divinely revealed dogma, even though this choice is still prescribed by church law (CIC 1024). The door is closed at the moment, but it is not locked. The Church does have the authority (by the "power of the keys") to ordain women to the priesthood as soon as the Pope, as the successor of Peter, decides that doing so is the will of Christ in today's world, for the glory of God and the good of souls. Such a decision would be in perfect continuity with apostolic tradition (Acts 10:48, 15:28).
See also CCC 889-892, 2035, 2051. To reiterate, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was not published in the "definitive manner" specified in CCC 892, for any of the following reasons: (1) it is addressed to the bishops and not to the entire Church; (2) it doesn't say it is a dogmatic definition; (3) it was published as an apostolic letter, which is the lowest level of papal teaching; (4) it is entirely written in past and present tense, and says nothing about what the Church can or cannot do in the future; (5) it didn't make clear it is an infallible definition at the time of publication, and a Vatican dicastery subsequently claiming it was doesn't make so. In brief, it is authoritative and requires the assent of acceptance ("religious assent") by Roman Catholics but does not require the assent of faith. This may sound like splitting hairs, but it is the kind of thing that can happen (CCC 937) when the supremacy of the Petrine office is challenged by belligerent demands for change and the Pope decides that the Church is not ready for the change. For some reason, this erudite Pope decided that the fundamentalist argument in CCC 1577 is the best we have at the moment to justify the male-only priesthood, but see also the "more essential" doctrine in CCC 1598. The first sentence simply states that the male-only priesthood is a choice, and says nothing about this choice being a dogma of the faith; but the second sentence makes clear who can make the choice, because the Church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." It is not necessarily "male-apostolic," but it is "apostolic."
From cover to cover, the Catechism of the Catholic Church mostly uses "man" to refer to humans, male and female. The words "body" and "flesh" (rather than "male" or "masculine") are invariably used to explain the mysteries of the incarnation and the redemption. The word "patriarchy" is never used, and it is clearly stated (239, 370, 2779) that "God transcends the human distinctions between the sexes" and cannot be reduced to human categories such as "father," "mother," "husband," "wife." Human beings are made in God's image, not the other way around. The eternal Word became "flesh" (John 1:14), the maleness of Jesus being a particularity of God becoming embodied and "like us in all sins but sin." Likewise, the choice of the 12 male apostles by Jesus is a particularity of his earthly mission to the people of Israel and, except for the very unpersuasive "reason" given in 1577, no justification is given for making that choice normative as the Church becomes incarnate in post-patriarchal cultures.
Equality & Difference
Also from cover to cover, the Theology of the Body is focused on human beings, male and female, as images of God that fully share one and the same human nature as "body-persons." The entire book is devoted to show that Trinitarian communion becomes more clearly visible when man and woman, being of the same flesh, live in communion with each other and become "one flesh," either in marriage by sharing the gift of love and the gift of life, or in celibacy by sharing the same gifts spiritually "for the sake of the kingdom." Then the bridegroom-bride analogy really makes sense when referring to the Christ-Church mystery. It has nothing to do with patriarchal conditioning about man being the "head" of woman, or fathers being the "head" of the family, or "husbands" dominating "wives." The nuptial covenant is about subjection to one another in reciprocity, not one-sided domination.
Literalist patriarchal interpretations of the bridegroom-bride analogy in Ephesians 5:21-33 ignore that analogies are about similarities and dissimilarities: Christ is the "head" of the Church because he is a divine body-Person, not because he is a "husband" and the Church is his "wife" as understood in patriarchal cultures. This nuptial meaning of the Christ-Church mystery as a communion of persons, in the image of the Trinity, applies to all the sacraments. The advent of women priests and bishops is required to make the church hierarchy a complete image of Jesus Christ as a divine Person who became incarnate, becomes "one flesh" with the Church, grows as the "whole Christ" (Christus totus), and abides in the Trinity.
In other words, man is a "giver-receiver" and woman is a "receiver-giver." The "complementarity" of man and woman is a matter of emphasis within the unity of one and the same human nature. This is the same human nature that the eternal Word assumed at the Incarnation, and becoming "flesh" as a male ("giver-receiver") and not as a female ("receiver-giver") is part of a divine Person assuming all the limitations of the human condition ("like us in all things but sin"). The real difference is between being a divine Person-Redeemer and being a redeemed human person. This real difference should be taken into account, and always kept in mind, when referring to the Bridegroom-Bride analogy about the mystery of Christ and the Church. When this real difference is noted, the male-only priesthood becomes an absurdity rooted in the patriarchal "binary," not in the deposit of faith. Christ is the "head" of the Church because he is a divine Person and our Redeemer, not because he is a "giver-receiver" rather than a "receiver-giver." We cannot reduce the mysteries of the life of Christ to human categories. What about the anointing in Bethany? In this case, it seems to me that the woman was the "giver-receiver" and Jesus was the "receiver-giver." So, in the sacramental economy, it is absurd to reduce the Christ-Church mystery to the patriarchal "binary."
In the sacramental churches, Mary of Nazareth is a basic point of reference for dialogue on the ordination of women. She accepted a *unique* and *unrepeatable* ministerial vocation that makes her much more than a priest or a bishop in the sacramental economy. She was "ordained" directly by the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation, presided when the Eucharist was first celebrated in the flesh (Incarnation, Nativity), stood presiding when the Redemption was consummated at Calvary, and presided when the Church was visibly born (Pentecost). The Marian dimension of the Church precedes the Petrine (CCC 773). Her collaboration with the divine plan in salvation history and the sacramental economy is entirely *unique and unrepeatable* and continues everywhere in the life of the Church (CCC 973). This is confirmed by the Marian dogmas about her divine motherhood (431 AD), immaculate conception (1854 AD) and assumption body and soul to heaven (1950 AD). She is Mother of God, Mother of the Redeemer, and Mother of the Church (Lumen Gentium, 53). The idea that a woman cannot be a priest, just because Mary was not sacramentally ordained by a bishop, is rooted in patriarchal ideology, not divine revelation. In her body, the entire sacramental economy was engendered!
Vocational Discernment & Human Ecology
The proper "matter" for the sacrament of Holy Orders is "flesh," not "maleness." In other words, the proper "matter" for the sacrament is the laying on of hands on a baptized body-person, male or female. In the sacramental churches, and specifically in the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the ordination of baptized women would be fully consistent with the deposit of faith, and apostolic succession would remain intact. Visceral patriarchy aside, there is no dogmatic obstacle to changing the choice from "baptized males" to "baptized persons." Viscerally conflating patriarchal ideology and revealed truth may be the most pervasive psychological problem in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. In the Anglican Communion, the advent of women priests and bishops has been traumatic for some people. What is the best way to help people overcome visceral patriarchy?
It is not to ordain more married men, as doing so would reinforce the patriarchal mindset even more. It is suggested that qualified, vocation-tested celibate women be ordained first. With so many celibate women (including nuns!) who clearly have the "signs of the priesthood," it is lamentable that they cannot be ordained for cultural reasons that have nothing to do with divine revelation. Ordaining celibate women to the priesthood would be the right response to the "signs of the times" and the most sensible response to the shortage of priests. Furthermore, the ordination of qualified celibate women to the priesthood and the episcopacy would be instrumental forintegral human development and fostering social and ecological justice. It has been said that "human development, if not engendered, is endangered." Likewise, human ecology without gender balance is endangered. As long as women are excluded from sacramental ministry, can we really say that the church is like a sacrament of Christ's presence in our ecologically deteriorating world?
Gender equality is about human solidarity for the good of humanity. The Catholic Church, with 1.2 billion members, could have a decisive influence for good by exemplifying gender equality in the hierarchy of persons with sacramental power to sanctify, teach, and govern in the person of Christ and in the name of the Church. This is the fundamental option that must be reconsidered (CCC 1598). It should be made clear that this is not about what women (or men) want. It is about discerning what Christ wants for the Church in the 21st century, for the glory of God and the good of souls. It is reasonable to think that Christ wants the Church to do what is good for humanity and the entire community of creation. Would Jesus, in today's world, choose 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel?
Key Points for Reflection & Dialogue
For continued dialogue about the ordination of women, the essential point of reference is Jesus Christ, a divine Person who became human and is the one and only Priest of the New Law. His becoming human is essential, since "what is not assumed is not redeemed;" but his priesthood is of divine origin and by no means contingent on his masculinity. Mary of Nazareth is also an important point of reference. She was called to an entirely unique and unrepeatable ministerial vocation, and is much more than a sacramentally ordained priest, so the fact that she was never "ordained" is of no consequence for the sacramentality of holy orders. Beyond these two fundamental presuppositions, the following series of key points is suggested to support continuing dialogue about the ordination of women:
1. Based on CIC 1024, CCE 1598, and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the exclusively male priesthood is NOT a timeless, divinely revealed dogma of the Catholic faith.
2. Human beings are rational animals composed of body and soul ("body-souls"), i.e., "body" precedes sexual differentiation (TOB 8:1), men and women share one and the same human nature, are somatically homogeneous (TOB 8:4), sexually different but equally human, mutually complementary but not mutually exclusive.
3. What matters for the mysteries of the incarnation and the redemption, and for the entire sacramental economy, is that the eternal Word became human (in the "flesh," in a human "body"), not that Jesus is male.
4. The proper "matter" for the Sacrament of Holy Orders is human flesh ("body"), either male or female.
5. By analogy with marriage, the nuptial meaning of the Christ-Church mystery is that Christ submits to the Church, and the Church submits to Christ.
6. Based on Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae, life is sacred at every point on the path from conception to natural death, and the abundant life in Christ (John 10:10) includes being able to follow one's vocation.
7. CIC 1024 prevents Christ to call women to the ministerial priesthood, and by analogy is an artificial contraceptive of female vocations to sacramental ministry; morally reasonable in a patriarchal culture, but not anymore.
CIC 1024 states:
"A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly."
Is it really Christ's choice to call only males in today's Church?
Isn't it time for the Church to allow Christ to call women?
Isn't it time to ordain baptized women to the priesthood?