Annunciation by Murillo 1660-1665
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
As I sat and contemplated the incarnation, God becoming man, to undo what Adam and Eve had done, I could not help but think of the Priesthood and the role of men and women in the church.
“he created them male and female. When they were created, he blessed them and named them humankind.” Genesis 5:2
I used to think that women should be able to be Priests. After all, women should be able to do anything a man can do. Equal rights for all! The church, in my mind was old and antiquated, and I have heard very recently reporters saying this same thing. But then I had a conversion of heart. My conversion was not about the Priesthood, my conversion came during suffering and through prayer, and I came to know God personally. This personal relationship made me love God with my whole heart, and made me want to follow his laws, including those that stated woman can’t be Priests, precisely because I loved Him.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:5
Saint John Paul the II wrote in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) 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.” Saint John Paul II went on to cite Paul VI who said: “The real reason is that, in giving the Church her fundamental constitution, her theological anthropology—thereafter always followed by the Church’s Tradition—Christ established things in this way.”
In other words, Christ Himself, who was in many ways counter-cultural, did not make women Priests, so the church has no authority to do so. Could it be that Christ Himself made a mistake by not making women Priests? I don’t think so, Jesus doesn’t make mistakes. Jesus ate with sinners, and broke the rules of his Jewish culture, but this was one He did not change. He kept the Priesthood male.
We know that Christ valued women. Some of His greatest disciples were women. Just look at Mary Magdalene, who is known as the Apostle to the Apostles. Look how he treated the woman at the well and the adulterous woman. We are all equal in the eyes of God. But are we the same?
“The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.”…. So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken.” Genesis 2:18 and 21-23
It seems men and women are complimentary to one another. Bone of bone, and flesh of flesh, but created differently. A woman being a helper in no way implies she is less than. In fact we should all be helpers to one another. But she is different. Even in the design of our bodies we are different. When God commands them to be fruitful and multiply, the woman receives seed from the man. He gives it with his body, she receives it with hers in the marital act. Each says to the other, “This is my Body given up for you.” The giver and the receiver.
When we look at Christ and His church, we also see the marriage analogy. Many have pointed out that just as Eve was borne out of Adam’s side, so too was the Church borne out of the side of Christ on this Cross. He is the bridegroom and the church is the Bride.
But beyond that, what else can we see? Women are the bearers of new life. With our very bodies, which we sacrifice in pregnancy, children spring forth from the love we have received from our husbands.
But where else do we receive life? Christ brings us divine life that we can receive every week at Mass.
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” John 6:53
This divine life comes from the Eucharist, the very DNA of God. These consecrated men, whom God chose, and who Christ Himself passed the tradition on to, give us God to receive. In this way, men give life. And we, the church, Christ’s bride, receive this life, this DNA of God. It is not something to be jealous of, it is something to be thankful for. Just as a man cannot birth a child, so a woman cannot consecrate the Eucharist, not because they are not equal, but because they are different.
When we try to grasp that which is not ours to grasp, we do what Adam and Eve did, grasping at the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Grasping at what is not ours to grasp leads to destruction. As a woman, and a working mother, I hold no envy or ill will towards the men that bring this gift of God at each and every Mass, instead I am profoundly grateful that they said yes to God’s call and love us enough to be servants with their very bodies which they have given to become Consecrated Men. The fact that I cannot become a Priest in no way means I am not valued in the church, and I see this so clearly when I look at our female Saints.
The gift of Life comes from God, but not without our cooperation. It comes in the form of the Eucharist through the cooperation of the priest with the Holy Spirit. Likewise, it comes in the form of Children, through the consent of the woman. Both require sacrifice. Both require love. Both require our cooperation. And even though different, the joy from each is profound.
Divine Life was breathed into Adam who was created from the Dust of the Earth. So too, from the dust of the earth, and the “work of human hands” is Divine Life breathed by the Spirit onto the gifts at Mass because of the words the Consecrated Man proclaims.
Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. Genesis 2:7
Woman was birthed from the side of man, and generations of children come from her, generations of people created in His image and likeness. Perhaps no one understood this more than Mary.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him…” Luke 1:46-50
She sacrificed her body, her reputation, her future, and so much more to bear the Son of God into this world. Likewise, she stood at the foot of the cross as He sacrificed Himself so we could receive Him. At the announcement of His conception Mary said “yes.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said “yes.” They undid the “no” of Adam and Eve. Different sacrifices, same love, which is united to the will of the Father. One gave life to the Incarnation, the other gives divine life to us everyday at Mass. She is our Mother. He is Our Savior. Redeemer and Co-Redemptrix.
We all actually participate in this, men and women alike, but each have a different role. We are fully aware that God created men and women physically complimentary, but we have also been created mentally, emotionally and spiritually complimentary. This is not so we would make a competition out of our gifts and try to rank one as more important than another, but that our gifts would be of aid to one another, giving where the other is lacking and receiving where we are in need. If we each, men and women alike, live out what we are meant to be, then as Saint Catherine of Siena says, we will “set the world on fire.”
It was a woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil, women who walked the Passion with him, and women who prepared the spices after his burial. It was the apostles, all men, who were sent out two by two, who were given the authority to forgive sins, and who were present at the last supper.
At Pentecost we see very clearly the complimentary roles of the woman, Mother Mary, and the Apostles in the mission of church. In the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit breathes on them and the men were given life to go out and start the church. Mary was also there praying and interceding on their behalf. As their Mother, she played an important and complimentary role in the mission of the Church. Each of these are equally important in the eyes of God and they are not to be ranked in human terms.
True equality between women and men has nothing to do with the material equality we so often feel resentment over. True equality actually has everything to do with who we were created to be through the eyes of God. The complimentary nature of men and women is reflected in the very design of God’s creation. Furthermore, it was validated by the mission of Jesus Christ and implemented through the handing on of the Holy Spirit.
Let us be grateful for the men who love God enough to say “yes” and bring us His body and blood. And let us be grateful for Our Mother Mary, who in following the continual call of the Heavenly Father, shall be called Blessed for all generations. Let us be grateful for one another, equally loved with different gifts.