Women and Holy Orders

Anthropological Issues

Women and the Sacrament of Holy Orders

- Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Munich, October 29, 2002

The Catholic Church’s practice, from its origin until today, to administer the Sacrament of Holy Orders only to baptized men who are fully in communion with the Church itself is unanimous.

This practice is deeply-rooted in the belief that according to the Christ’s founding will (regards to the community of the Apostles and the Church, the apostolate and the Sacrament of Holy Orders) only men can receive this sacrament in a valid manner, not because men are superior to women, but because Ordination presupposes the natural symbolism of relations in the relationship between men and women. While from an anthropological point of view the distinction between men and women does not cause any deficiencies whatsoever, it creates the presupposition for the perfect realization of being a person within society. Hence, all that this involves is not transferable to being a man or being a woman; it does not represent a reciprocal limitation of possibilities. It does however represent exactly the opposite.

The "contraposition" between men and women, from which the very existence of mankind in nature, in history and in society itself springs, also provides the opportunity to make a present of oneself, to give oneself to another, to transfer oneself to another. Women are not deprived of the men's human opportunities or "excluded" from the opportunity of becoming fathers just as men are not naturally "excluded" from the opportunity of being mothers or from God's historical maternity (Gal 4, 4), because it was only through a woman that the incarnation and therefore the divine-human koinonia of love took place (See Gal 4:4-6; Romans 8:15; John 1:14; 2:2; 1 John 1:1-3; 4:8.12).

Being priests, just like being a father or a mother, is not a social profession, position or role. Being a priest implies a personal relationship and the representation of a Person through another. According to the Church’s unanimous conscience of faith, Jesus Christ is represented by a man who is baptized and ordained. This representation of Christ refers (and is limited) to His original paternal relationship with the Church as Bridegroom/Head. Other ways of representing Christ are not excluded but are instead emphasized.

If in this sense a woman cannot symbolically represent Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father, as the Bridegroom/Head of the Church, a man cannot therefore represent the relationship (nuptial) of the Church with Christ, but this does not mean that she is so to speak 'excluded' from Ordination or 'refused', because it is through her feminine characteristics that she represents the Church in communion with Christ and also "Christ united with the Church in one person" in the eyes of the world and the faithful of the Church. The Church receives this unity with Christ from God and renders it visible in the sacramental sense in the faith and in the love at the service of spiritual and physical sanctity and the good of others.

Since ecclesial life is not limited to the work of priests, but "Pastors for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry and for the edifying of the Body of Christ (in the martyrs, in the liturgy, and in the diaconate) (Eph 4,11), the members of the Body of Christ, who do not exercise the apostolic, priestly office, are the "lay" (men and women), people who are not relegated to an inferior level or condemned to passivity.

When Christ, in naming the men Apostles of the Church, established the rules for their work, He did not make an arbitrary choice. The positive basis for this decision should be interpreted instead according to its meaning and explained with reference to the basic structure of the order of the creation and the redemption.

If the presence of priests in ecclesial life is observed from a sacramental-theological point of view and the Church itself is seen from a more theological than practical point of view, then it becomes once again plausible for the designation of Christ’s relationship as the Head of the Church with His Body and His Bride to be represented in the original symbol of the correlation between men and women. Just as a man becomes a father only through his love for a woman, because she through conception and giving birth gives him a son in which their love becomes 'flesh', it is only the priest who can symbolize in a sacramental manner the relationship with Christ as the Bridegroom and Head of his Church, as long as in his being a man the relationship with women is clear.

"A bishop, since he is sent by the Father to govern his family, must keep before his eyes the example of the Good Shepherd (…) Priests, prudent cooperators with the Episcopal order,(72*) its aid and instrument, called to serve the people of God, constitute one priesthood (73*). Let them, as fathers in Christ, take care of the faithful whom they have begotten by baptism and their teaching." (See 1 Cor 4:15; 1 Pt 1:23) (LG 28)

Since this is not only a formal "contraposition," but a personal and relational one between Christ and the Church, those who receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders cannot simply and abstractly be human beings provided with spiritual authority. He must be a person who makes visible from a typological point of view and therefore also a sacramental one, through his symbolism of a spiritual and physical relationship, the "contraposition" between Christ and the Church, between the bride and groom.

The Second Vatican Council has precisely stated as follows the essence of the priestly office:

"Priests are made in the likeness of Christ the Priest by the Sacrament of Orders, so that they may, in collaboration with their bishops, work for the building up and care of the Church which is the whole Body of Christ, acting as ministers of him who is the Head.(…)They have been consecrated by God in a new manner at their ordination and made living instruments of Christ the Eternal Priest that they may be able to carry on in time his marvelous work whereby the entire family of man is again made whole by power from above.(2) Since, therefore, every priest in his own fashion acts in place of Christ himself, he is enriched by a special grace, so that, as he serves the flock committed to him and the entire People of God, he may the better grow in the grace of him whose tasks he performs." (PO 12)
Regards to the correlation between Christ the Head and Christ the Body, the Council states:

"Exercising the office of Christ, the Shepherd and Head, and according to their share of his authority, priests, in the name of the bishop, gather the family of God together as a brotherhood enlivened by one spirit. Through Christ they lead them in the Holy Spirit to God the Father." (PO 6; LG 28)

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