we looked, very briefly, at the basics of the Sacrament of Ordination.
One of the common challenges to the idea of Sacraments as “a visible sign of an invisible Grace, instituted by Christ” is the “instituted by Christ” part. With Ordination, there are many places in Scripture that could be used to show Christ instituting the priesthood: The sending out of the 70 when He sent them two-by-two (Luke 10:1-20). There’s also Pentecost (Acts 2), which is definitely the birthday of the Church, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles like tongues of fire. There is also Matthew 16:17-19 when Jesus gives Peter the keys of the Kingdom. However, most scholars will agree that the passage that best describes the institution of the priesthood is the washing of the feet:
“After he had washed their feet, he said to them, ‘do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example that you should also do as I have done to you.’” (John 13:12-15)
Last week I said that the priest's main job was to bring us the Sacraments, but a priest is first a servant, a foot-washer, and his job is to serve the Church.
Another challenge to the Sacrament of Holy Orders and to the priesthood in general is to the discipline of celibacy. While it’s important to note that there are many reasons why it would not be practical for a bishop or a priest to be married, priestly celibacy is not Dogma. It is an important part of our tradition and a discipline that many priests were living in the early church, because they saw how it helped their priesthood, but it is not Dogma. It could be changed.
priesthood is also part of our tradition. We know that some of the Apostles were married, (Peter was married at some point because Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Mark 1:29-31) and in the early centuries many priests (those original elders and overseers) were married. St. Paul writes to Timothy that a bishop should be “married but once.” (Timothy 3:2)
Also, Jewish Priests in the Old Testament were married, but forbidden from having sexual relations for one day before offering sacrifice (Interesting considering that in the Catholic Church, the priest offers sacrifice every day). In fact, all Eastern Rites Churches (that are in Communion with Rome) have a married priesthood and in fact, in our own Latin Rite, there are married priests. This is something that, at least among the diocesan priesthood, could change. Still, I am not trying to knock celibacy. This is a good thing.
If we look to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, we can see that celibacy is more than a discipline. It is a gift, and a call to love in an extraordinary way. It’s a beautiful concept: Just as sex is a means to love or a part of love, so is celibacy. A celibate priest (and all consecrated singles) is fulfilling his nature to love. This is probably why Thomas Merton said that if a man was afraid of love, he should not be a priest. Remember that a priest is first a servant so he has to be able to love. In fact, he has to be in love: with Christ and the Church!
Another challenge is this idea of that the Priesthood has to be male. Over the centuries many have asked why women don't have the right or aren’t qualified to be priests.
It’s a very difficult question and may be one that cannot be fully understood, but it can be understood in part.
First, it’s not really about qualifications: No one is really qualified to be a priest and no one really has a right to be a priest either. So it’s not about rights, or equality. Nowadays people think equality means same-ness, but saying that men and women are equal, doesn’t mean that they are the same. Men will never be able to be pregnant; that doesn’t make them inferior to women; just different, called to different roles.
Second, there is also the fact that there is no history in the Jewish tradition (from where our tradition of priesthood comes) of women priests. For the Jews, there was something very male about the priesthood. We can conclude that this is because the people of Israel were a patriarchal society, or we can conclude that God is greater than that and if there was something about the priesthood that was female, the patriarchal-ness of Israel would not have made a difference.
Then there is the age-old argument that Jesus only selected men as his Apostles. There is also the age-old response to that argument that times have changed.
This is true but Jesus didn’t really follow the norms of his time. He broke every rule. Don’t you think that had it been appropriate to select women as apostles, he would have? In fact, the Apostle to the Apostles is a woman: Mary Magdalene, but she was not chosen as one of the twelve.
And the number one disciple, Mary, his mother, would have been the best apostle. She would’ve been the best priest! She would’ve been able to say, ‘this is my body’ and really mean it, but Jesus did not choose her to be one of the twelve.
The Church teaches that there is something male about the Priesthood and that this is instituted by God; the Church has no authority to ordain women.
Perhaps another way to understand part of it is through Theology of the Body. Remember how the Eucharist is like a Marriage
? That means that Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. It means that there is something male about the priesthood and something female about the Church.
It’s not that the Church doesn’t want to ordain women; the church doesn’t have the authority to change the designs that Christ instituted anymore than the Church has the authority to re-define Marriage.
When the question of the ordination of women arose in the Anglican Church, Pope Paul VI reminded Anglicans of this position of the Catholic Church. He said:
"She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the sacred scriptures of Christ choosing his apostles only from among men; and “the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church."
In 1994, Pope John Paul II declared,
"At the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force. Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren, I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful"
These are hard questions and I know I didn’t address them in full, but it is my hope that this will spark in you a desire to know more. As I’ve said before, we must trust that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, despite of our human sinfulness. Let’s continue learning about and praying for the priesthood (and episcopate and diaconate) and pray that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church.
More importantly, perhaps we need to be supportive of bishops, priests (and deacons). We tend to have such high expectations of them, but they are human. I know I’ve been critical of priests but there are so many great priests, bishops and deacons. (I know at least one!) These are men who are truly the face of Christ on earth.
On this Feast of Corpus Christi, when we will hear about the first priest Melchizedek (first reading and Psalm) and reflect on the Memorial of Christ's Sacrifice (second reading), Let's pray for bishops, priests and deacons. Lets also pray for vocations to the Ordained Life.
We may not understand all there is to understand, but that’s what faith is, no?
, let’s begin looking at the history of the diaconate.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: firstname.lastname@example.org