Questions on Ordination: Part I

More and more lately I’ve been involved in conversations—both amongst seminarians and with others, as well—about the topic of priestly ordination. Perhaps it’s just that when people see a seminarian, they immediately think ‘priest,’ and thus the topic arises. If so, that’s great! That is precisely the reason that seminarians here in Rome wear the white collar in public: to provide a witness to our faith and of our desire for ordination.

Although it would be nice, I must say that not all the conversations I have regarding Catholic ordination are pleasant ones; alongside the devout faithful are the devoutly unfaithful, with whom I enjoy talking just as much, if not more. Inevitably, two topics of discussion arise with almost anyone—faithful or not—concerning the priesthood: 1) Why are only men allowed to be ordained Catholic priests? 2) Why aren’t Roman Catholic priests allowed to get married? Both of these are excellent questions, especially in a modern culture that finds no apparent value in either of these Church doctrines. I would do a disservice in trying to fully treat these vast questions here, but perhaps a brief post on each will serve to flesh out the basics of what the Roman Catholic Church really teaches. I’m not sure which order would be more appropriate, but we’ll try it this way…

Why are only men allowed to be ordained Catholic priests?

The Catholic Church, as established by Christ upon the 'Rock' of St. Peter, seeks only to interpret the intentions of its Divine Founder and implement them in practice throughout the ages of history. The ordination of men to the priesthood is simply one of the many teachings the Church has put forth by way of this immense task. Although we today are trained to view such things as discriminatory or oppressive, the intention is quite the opposite: namely, to uphold the dignity proper to both men and women in Christ's plan of salvation.

The Church has only ever been able to confer priestly ordination on men since the very beginning of its existence. “[The Church] holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood for very fundamental reasons,” writes Pope Paul VI. “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.” (Letter to Archbishop of Canterbury, 1975) In other words, Catholic tradition—out of which arose Sacred Scripture and all the practices of the Church today—has always reserved priestly ordination to men alone. “[I]n giving the Church her fundamental constitution, her theological anthropology—thereafter always followed by the Church’s Tradition—Christ established things in this way.” (Paul VI, Address on the Role of Women in the Plan of Salvation, 1977)

Pope John Paul II continued the discussion in his letter, Mulieris Dignitatem (“The Dignity of Women”): “In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time.” (MD, 26) “Furthermore, the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them. Rather, it is to be seen as the faithful observance of a plan to be ascribed to the wisdom of the Lord of the universe.” (John Paul II, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 3)

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    # by gsk - November 8, 2007 at 12:53 PM

    + That's all true. Of course the short answer is: to attempt to ordain a woman as "bridegroom" to Holy Mother Church, the Spotless Bride, is to effect a same-sex union. The result will be sterile.

    Blessings on your studies!

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    # by Andrew Haines - November 8, 2007 at 1:53 PM

    That is indeed a short answer. Unfortunately, taking so many key premises for granted in such a critical argument isn't often going to catechize very effectively. In order to understand the interplay between the "Bridegroom" and the "Bride," one first needs to understand the relationship of the Church to the Scriptures (where the reference is made), and of Christ to his Apostles (where the tradition is maintained and from which proceeds the Scripture itself).

    Nevertheless, I agree with your comment. Thanks for reading!