No, that is fine. It’s not starting a fight at all. Catholics have a lot of questions about women priests. But please be patient. You have asked a question that will take a lot of my time and effort to answer—but I will do my best. Please cut me some slack if, after all is said and done, I have not been able to answer in a way that is satisfactory.
The Catholic outlook of priesthood, after all, is not just an “ordained ministry” but it is the changing of a man totally into the icon of Christ for his people. The priest is not just a leader who acts, but his very inner being is transformed to be an outward sign or sacrament of Christ’s presence in time and space.
As you have said, if a woman has a genuine calling to ordained ministry, that would come from God. The problem is, how does a woman know that the call or attraction she feels to ordained ministry is from God?
How does the woman know if her calling isn’t something “self-originated”? How does a woman know if she hasn’t made up her calling based on her emotions or feelings? Well, a woman could respond by saying, “The priesthood requires a leader, a prayerful servant, a person who can study Church doctrine and preach well. The priest needs to care for the poor, the broken hearted, and be able and be prepared to bring various communities together around the Eucharist of the Lord. Since I have those qualities, I do indeed have a call to be a priest!”
But in Scripture, God’s calls are very mysterious and He does not judge by outer appearances. Out of all the sons of Jesse, all of whom seemed far more qualified to be anointed king, the prophet Samuel received an inner voice from God that the new king to be anointed was David. God did not choose the older, stronger brother, but rejected him:
Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
So, we return to the question: how can a woman know that she has a genuine call from God to be a priest?
The answer: she cannot, by herself. All calls to leadership and ministry in the Church must be discerned in conjunction with the feedback of the larger Church. In turn, the larger Church is obligated to discern calls to ministry based on the continuity of Catholic Tradition, what Catholics have confessed and taught, not just what appears to be a new, popular position.
The woman who feels called is reliant upon the discernment of the entire community of the Church, and especially, its apostolic ministers (the Pope and bishops). They have succeeded to that leadership office once occupied by the Twelve, and to them has been said:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).
Despise not prophecies. But prove all things; hold fast that which is good. From all appearance of evil refrain yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22)
In the case of Apostolic Tradition, the practice and discernment of the Church was very clear. The laying on of hands and invoking of the Holy Spirit for the leadership of ordained ministry, by an institution of Jesus, was bestowed on men alone.
Now, some consider the Biblical witness to be heavily prejudiced by the cultural mores of St. Paul; for instance, those in which St. Paul says that he does not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man in church (1 Timothy 2:12), where women are told to be silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34), or where women are told to keep their heads veiled in church (1 Corinthians 11:5).
I disagree that St. Paul’s teaching can be reduced merely to his cultural outlook on women. But for the sake of argument, let us say that there is some bias in the New Testament. What we have to remember, still, is that it is not just the Scriptural witnesses of Jesus’ life and example that the Church looks to.
In fact, we also look at the primitive Church. Now, the primitive Church that is seen in Scripture had very rudimentary forms of structure and ministry. And still, even in those simple communities where women did so much ministry, they did not exercise the priesthood.
Going beyond Scripture, to the ancient age of the persecution, we see a unanimous witness that bishops and presbyters were men only. Getting into the patristic era, there are signs of rebellion from Gnostic communities, who went ahead and ordained women priests. From the evidence we have, these women were rejected by the discernment of the larger Church. In other words, not only bishops, but even the average church member said, “I do not recognize you as having valid ministry. I do not receive your ministry or acknowledge it.”
What the faithful reject can be debated as long as the bishops approve of it. However, in this case both bishops and faithful united to say that women priests being ordained were out of sync with the intentions of Jesus and with the proper roles of ministry which should be given to women.
When you have Catholic faithful, in union with their bishops, giving widespread rejection of a new form of ministry, then that would be closer to what Cardinal John Henry Newman called the “sensus fidelium.” And this rejection was not based on an emotional whim, but on the received practice of ordained ministry going back to the Apostles. And unlike the Apostles, who could be said to have come from a religious culture where women did not lead, you have people who are converts in the Roman Empire rejecting the idea of women priests.
These are people, in other words, who had experienced powerful women acting in various roles throughout the ancient world. These are Catholics living in North Africa, Asia Minor, as well as the center of the Roman Empire proper. Many are knowledgeable of various religious sects were women were priestesses. So we cannot easily dismiss many of these ancient Catholics as sheltered and culturally unexposed to female leadership.
Why the rejection of women priests when they were sporadically ordained in the ancient communities? Was it sexism? Was it the conviction that if the Gnostics (we know that Gnostics had women priests) were doing something, it was probably heretical? Was it the concern that the sacramental life of the Church as established by Jesus not be at the whim or fancy of popular new movements? Was it a conviction that women had an important role to play in ministry, but that ordained ministry was a role proper to a man?
It could be a little of all of the above. I apologize that I cannot do justice to the history behind early examples of women priests and their rejection, nor can I do justice here to various debates as they cropped up again in the Church of the Middle Ages. For in the Middle Ages, we see Catholic women rise to great positions of power and influence within the Church. We have examples of women abbesses who dressed as bishops even and gave orders to the local priests. But they did not seek, nor were they ever granted, the laying on of hands and the transmission of Holy Orders.
I can only refer you to Women in the Priesthood? by Manfred Hauke, who gives a much more thorough treatment of the history of the debate.
But when St. John Paul II asked theologians to study this question in preparation for a teaching document, he and the scholars he consulted came to a pretty firm conclusion: The only way to change the practice of women being ordained would be to say that on a fundamental question of the Seven Sacraments, the Catholic Church had taught error for 2,000 years. The only way to introduce a change would be to say that all the Catholic Church’s great minds and holy men and women through the ages had been completely erroneous in studying the mind of Jesus on this question.
But the only way that such an admission of error would be thinkable would be to discover some new teaching of Jesus we did not know before, which would state clearly that He had intended to call women to the ordained ministry. Because every other indicator the Church looked to, had said the opposite.
This is why St. John Paul II stated the opposite. What has been discerned as the will of Jesus Christ, transmitted by Apostolic Tradition, and in all times and in all places held up as Catholic truth, cannot be confessed as anything else, but the truth. Namely, it was not the will of Jesus the Lord to admit women to the sacred ministry and the Catholic Church of the year 594, 1594, or 1994, was not free to do different and had absolutely no authority to introduce any change to the received confession of the Catholic dogma of Holy Orders.
So, let us now return to an essential question here. How does the Catholic Church know that when a woman says she is called to be a priest, that she is wrong? How does the Church know, for sure, that she is wrong?
The answer is that the Church must discern the call to priesthood according to the boundaries, outlines, and identity that has been received from the Son of God, who is the Church’s one and only High Priest. On His authority, not merely her discernment alone, the Catholic Church is confident that only men can validly receive the call to Holy Orders.
And this would mean that the intrinsic nature of being a man and the intrinsic nature of being an ordained priest are interconnected in an essential way. How are they interconnected? That is a question I am not able to answer here. God bless and take care! Fr. Angel
We become utterly convinced when we are sad that there is no greater pain felt by anyone. And yet, the burden of man’s sin and evil and God’s love for man weighed on God’s spirit, pierced his skin and killed his body on Good Friday. Despite our surest efforts to be proud that we bore the most pain, God humbled himself and endured yet even greater pain. And though that pain is recognized on Good Friday, there came with it an Easter Sunday. Just when we become materially prideful enough to think we had it worst we remember the God on the Cross who had it worse so, and yet, he resurrected still.
- 2000 year old traditions tend to have vintage cred.
- Secularism is just so mainstream.
- Mumford and Sons. Enough said.
- also, Lord of the Rings.
- Pipes are smoked by all our role models.
- Having a Theology or Philosophy degree.
- Renaissance obsession. Admit it. You can’t get enough Bernini.
- Also Caravaggio.
- Underground literature.
- G. K. Chesterton, know what I’m saying.
- Hahn and Kreeft. You probably haven’t heard of them.
"as long as faith gives me strength, i will always be joyful." // happy birthday to this pipe smokin’, mountain climbin’, holy man — blessed pier giorgio frassati [the hottie].
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Ora Pro Nobis!
"When you are attending Mass and other religious services, be very reverent when you stand up, kneel, and sit. Perform each action with great devotion. Be modest in your gaze, and do not turn your head this way and that to see who is coming or going. Out of reverence for that holy place, do not laugh or look around to see who is nearby. Try not to talk to anyone unless charity or a strict need requires it.
If you are reciting a group prayer, pronounce the words of the prayer distinctly, stop for the pauses, and never hurry through the prayer.
In short, behave in such a way that all the bystanders are edified and, because of you, are moved to glorify and love the heavenly Father.
When you leave the church, have a calm and collected demeanor.”
-St Pio in a letter to Anitta Rodote, July 25, 1915
Excerpt from Padre Pio’s Spiritual Direction for Every Day pg 192