The recent headline regarding the potential of permitting women to preach in the Catholic Church during the Liturgy of the Eucharist raises quite a few eyebrows, if not a few theological considerations.
Preaching at the Liturgy of the Word has been reserved to deacons, priests and bishops for almost eight hundred years. The primary reason for the restriction has nothing to do with misogynistic tendencies of the Catholic Church, it concerns the intrinsic nature of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. From the sacramental understanding, the Catholic Church has consistently maintained that the priest is an alter Christus, namely another Christ when celebrating the sacred rituals associated with the faith. More precisely, the priest is indeed a personification of Jesus Christ and de facto needs to be biologically a male, as Christ Himself was a male. If the Holy See permits women to preach during the celebration of the Eucharist, the principle of requiring the Church’s sacramental minister to be a male is endangered and at the least logically compromised. Permitting women to assume the role of the sacred minister, even when there are extenuating circumstances proposes a radical development regarding the Church’s understanding of one of its character sacraments and has monumental reconsiderations theologically speaking on the question of women in Catholic sacramental ministry. Such a realization of women preaching in Catholicism is a seismic event, similar to the nailing of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral announcing the Protestant Reformation. Allowing women to participate as sacramental ministers during the Liturgy of the Word would resound throughout the Catholic world in a similar way. The Catholic Reformation might be a tangible reality.
The Catholic priesthood has always been reserved for males in the Catholic Church. The tradition established that The Twelve were men and therefore their successors should be men as well. Despite the fact that both men and women comprise the People of God. The decline of vocations has precipitated the discussion among many circles of Catholics as a point of concern. The prohibition against females in the active ministry of priesthood is not a point that is debatable. Saint Pope John Paul II, definitively made the determination that the issue was closed in his Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in 1994 and eliminated any further discussion on the issue. Priestly ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying and governing the faithful, has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone. This tradition has also been faithfully maintained by the Oriental Churches.
Quando quaestio orta est de ordinatione mulierum apud Communionem Anglicanam, Summus Pontifex Paulus VI, pro sua fidelitate erga officium custodiendi Traditionem apostolicam, atque etiam ut novum impedimentum positum in itinere ad unitatem christianorum amoveret, fratres Anglicanos commonefecit de Ecclesiae Catholicae positione: “Ipsa retinet non esse admittendam ordinationem mulierum ad sacerdotium ob rationes fundamentales. Quae rationes complectuntur: exemplum Christi in Sacra Scriptura memoratum, qui tantummodo inter viros elegit suos Apostolos; constantem Ecclesiae usum, quae Christum imitata est in solis viris eligendis; eiusque vivum magisterium, quod congruenter statuit mulierum exclusionem a sacerdotio convenire cum consilio Dei pro sua Ecclesia”
When the question of the ordination of women arose in the Anglican Communion, Pope Paul VI, out of fidelity to his office of safeguarding the Apostolic Tradition, and also with a view to removing a new obstacle placed in the way of Christian unity, reminded Anglicans of the position of the Catholic Church: “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; 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.” Ex. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, paragraph 1.
The question of women’s participation in the Sacrament of Holy Orders with the proclamation of Saint Pope John Paul II, is widely considered as immutable and in se considered by some theologians as infallible. While John Paul II’s apostolic letter is absent of the qualifying conditions that make something infallible, the conclusion of the statement are nonetheless definitive.
Ut igitur omne dubium auferatur circa rem magni momenti, quae ad ipsam Ecclesiae divinam constitutionem pertinet, virtute ministerii Nostri confirmandi fratres (Luc. 22, 32), declaramus Ecclesiam facultatem nullatenus habere ordinationem sacerdotalem mulieribus conferendi, hancque sententiam ab omnibus Ecclesiae fidelibus esse definitive tenendam.
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importanc
e, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) 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. Ex. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, paragraph 4.
If indeed Pope Francis views the needs of the Church regarding the active participation of women in a leadership role, it determinately is outside of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, as per the in se seemingly infallible declaration of Pope Saint John Paul II in response to this question in 1994.
Any actions that bring about, aggiornamento, regarding the role of women as preaching during the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist need to manifest themselves as tangible expressions of the, royal priesthood, shared equally through the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation, namely Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist for both male and female members of the Body of Christ. A reinterpretation of Saint Pope John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis would contradict both the traditions and authority of promulgated exhortations by a previous Pope. Such a monumental act would undermine Petrine authority and perhaps demand the sacramental tradition of Holy Orders undergo a further extrapolation by the Magisterium of the Church.
While the representation of women in active ministry within the Church has always been an ongoing issue, John Paul II left no doubt regarding his determination of the matter. An increased role for women in the Church’s ministry is always a welcome discussion, as long as it does not contradict what for most Catholics is not an issue of aggiornamento, but one of doctrine. Participation of women in roles that require preaching within the context of the Eucharistic celebration are most certainly the prerogative of the Holy See. However, such a participation and ministry does not in itself constitute the revival of a movement within the Church that revisits the question of women’s’ ordination. Preaching by women within the Catholic liturgical structure, is perhaps a logical extension towards providing equality to both sexes as an ontological effect of the Sacraments of Initiation, but the potential inclusion of women to the Sacrament of Holy Orders is outside of the Church’s and indeed Pope Francis’ prerogatives.
As the People of God, the Church always maintains there are activities and ministries to which both men and women are vocationally called in which to participate. Women preaching in Catholic Churches might be a manner to alleviate the Church recognizes in many countries of the world as a methodology of alleviating the shortage of priests. As equal members of the Body of Christ, both men and women are encouraged to exercise their royal priesthood, common to all fully initiated members of the Catholic Church.
If indeed one might infer that such permission would be a canonical loophole directed towards potential ordination of women in the Roman Church, it is likely very implausible.
The Catholic Church takes Traditio very seriously, and this is one aspect of sacramental theology that will not change. Saint Pope John Paul II made that clear in 1994.
It is not necessary to open a theological Pandora’s Box in 2016, regardless of how it affects the ecumenical movement, the priest shortage worldwide or the perceived injustices of a male only priesthood.
Jesus Christ Himself instituted this directive at the Last Supper, and the Magisterium of the Church is just following His orders, regarding Holy Orders!