St John's Q&A

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why an all-male priesthood?

Lourdes pilgrimmage!! I'm off to Lourdes, France, for a week with a group from the Archdiocese. We are taking several malades (ill persons) to the Holy Water of Lourdes, with the hope of spiritual and/or physical healing. Should be great!! If I get a chance, I will make a post from Lourdes; otherwise, I'll resume posting in about a week or so.
We have had a very fruitful discussion on this site about the all-male priesthood. Let me first of all make the point of which many people are unaware: we are all priests because of our Baptism. "(B)ut you are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation..." (1 Pet 2:9). When we are baptized, we are all anointed Priest, Prophet, and King just as Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King. We all make up the "royal (or common) priesthood".

But "the members do not all have the same function" (Rom 12:4). St. Paul is making the point that we all make up the one Body of Christ, which is the Church, but we are all different members with different roles. If we use his analogy of the human body, we see that the hand and the foot are both parts of the body, but each performs different functions. They are equally important to the body, and the body wouldn't be complete without one of them.

So, when it comes to the Church, we see that Christ calls some members of His Body to serve the other members. We understand these members to make up the ministerial priesthood; the ministerial priesthood serves the royal priesthood. Christ's ministers serve the Church as Christ served the Church: teaching, sanctifying, and governing.

Why did our Lord establish an all-male ministerial priesthood? Why was it that after "he spent whole night in prayer" (Lk 6:13) to the Father, he came down from the mountain and chose twelve men? Why was it that he gave to these Twelve the special ministries of baptizing (Mt 28:19), celebrating the Eucharist (Lk 22;19-20), forgiving sins (Jn 20:20-23), celebrating Confirmation (Acts 8:14-17; 19:5-6), laying hands in Holy Orders (1 Tim 4:14), and anointing the sick (Mk 6:12-13; James 5:14-15)? (btw, the minister of Holy Matrimony is not the's each spouse)

Christ gave to these men a special ministry so that his ministry would continue. When they perform these sacred duties, it is really Christ performing them. In each of the sacraments, given the proper form and matter, the priest acts in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). Proper form is saying the correct words- "This is my body", for example. Proper matter is using the correct material or substance; part of the proper matter required in each Sacrament except Holy Matrimony is a male body for the priest. Since Christ was a male, it is necessary for the priest to be male to act sacramentally in the person of Christ.

Could we use potato chips to celebrate the Eucharist? Would it really be the Body of Christ? No. We have to use the same matter and form that Christ used when he performed the sacraments- water in baptism, unleavened bread in the Eucharist, etc. So, we have to use the same matter when it comes to the minister: a masculine body as Christ himself had a masculine body. Just as transubstantiation occurs in the bread and wine, so too does it occur in the priest. It truly is Christ in the person of the priest.

A couple of final points. Along the lines of what one blogger wrote, just as God has entrusted the task of giving natural birth to women only, so He has entrusted the task of giving supernatural birth to some men only. We have different roles, but we are all equally important to the Body of Christ. Ministerial priests are no better than common priests and vice versa; they are just different roles. God has created males and females to have different roles in His Church but we share the same dignity, made in His image and likeness.


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