Sinners, Men

Thus spake the noble Prince of Denmark to poor, sad Ophelia:

Why wouldst thou be a
breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest;
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me: I am very
proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at
my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,
imagination to give them shape, or time to act them
in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all.

…I took a brief trip to Guatemala to practice speaking Spanish. Imagine my surprise when I encountered a group of feminist Presbyterians arguing for women’s ordination!

Perfectly delightful. Lovely ladies.

Now, why can’t they be ordained?

Fr. W.'s new amigas

First of all, Presbyterian doctrine errs regarding Holy Orders. The Lord instituted Holy Orders at the Last Supper, when He commanded the Apostles to celebrate the Mass in perpetuity. The sacred priesthood has never been a meritocracy, was never meant to be one. The sacrament simply allows for the Holy Mass to be celebrated and the other sacraments performed, until doomsday.

Perhaps one can see why a Presbyterian woman might demand the right to be ordained. If ordination solely authorized the recipient to teach with ecclesiastical authority, then I guess only a chauvinist would insist that women are not equipped for this.

To say that only a man can be a priest is not to say that men are smarter than women, or better teachers. That would be manifestly untrue. The official doctrine of the Church explicitly repudiates any such nonsense. Men and women are equally endowed with intelligence, or lack thereof.

But the sacrament of Holy Orders confers something considerably simpler and more mysterious than the authorization to teach in the name of Holy Church. A priest teaches, but this is secondary. Primarly, a priest prays.

Nor does the Church teach that men represent Christ better than women. Who represent Christ best? The saints. Women and men enjoy the same qualifications for sainthood.

Only a man can represent Christ specifically in His capacity as the Head of the assembly. Imagine someone walking into a church for the first time in his or her life. They behold the Mass taking place. A man in vestments stands apart, at the head of the congregation. For this role, the masculinity of Christ must shine forth in the person of the priest.

Why is this? Not sure if we can really say. To defend the sacramental discipline, it is not necessary to have an answer to this particular question. In fact, it may be impossible to answer. Christ’s maleness is a fact of history, but His reason for coming as a man rather than a woman? We cannot claim to know the reason.

Perhaps this is the best possible answer: Christ unites Himself with the human race as a bridegroom unites himself with his bride. Christ teaches men how to be men by being a man Himself. He teaches woman how to be women by loving them, beginning with His Mother.

It actually makes no sense to question the requirement that a priest be a man. We do not question why it was Pontius Pilate who ordered Christ’s death, rather than someone else–like Julius Erving. Pontius Pilate did it; Julius Erving played for the Philadelphia 76ers. In the same way, the Church ordains men only, not women.

What we all DO need to question is: How does my own idea of what it means to be a man or a woman compare with Jesus Christ’s ideas about these things?

5 thoughts on “Sinners, Men

  1. Father Mark,

    If we could just get the fact that God made them male and female for a reason, and get over the fact that the American notion of equality does not make them the same, just equal in the eyes of the law, we might then be able to begin to accept the idea that Jesus, the bridegroom of the Church, really did mean what he said. Constitutional revisionists and egalitarians take note; sometimes things just aren’t what you will them to be.



  2. it still doesn’t answer the question of why a sacrament is an impediment to another sacrament…. Marriage : Ordination.

  3. Dear Trina, Good question.

    In fact, the marriage bond does not impede ordination. Under some circumstances, bishops may choose married men to be deacons or even priests (eg., the pastoral provision for former Protestant clergy and some of the Eastern rites).

    Generally speaking, however, bishops are bound by law to choose celibate men for priesthood. A celibate man more resembles the celibate Christ.

  4. If a man must be celibate in order to resemble Christ, we’ve got a lot of priests to toss overboard. Good priests at that.

    But the greater question is – why would the Church create rules where Christ did not? Christ called apostles who were married. Apparently He didn’t think celibacy was that important.

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