Homeschooling Introduction

Female Priesthood, or Not

I save books all year to bring along on our October vacation. Since I will have time to read and reflect, I bring the best along. Now, this isn’t beach reading. These are books to think about while hiking up the side of Grandfather Mountain in the Blue Ridge of western North Carolina on a brisk fall day when all the leaves are turning and your mind feels like it could fly….

One of the books I brought along this time was The Truth of Catholicism by George Weigel. It’s the sort of book that I’ll read a chapter and then think about it for a few days, not the sort to read all in an evening.

One chapter had a section on the issue of women being priests in the Catholic Church. Now, this was a topic I was dealing with when we joined the Episcopalian church. My daughter is at least as feminist as I am, and probably more. About 3 – 4 years ago, she and I had numerous discussions about why women couldn’t be Catholic priests (as readers will find out “question” could be my daughter’s middle name – along with “persistence”). After awhile, the answers that I was giving her meant less and less to me.

The first time we went to the Episcopalian church, the deacon preached. While we were waiting outside before the service, she came out in her deacon’s regalia. I immediately looked over at my daughter because I knew what I would see – a huge grin on her face. She thought it was wonderful that this church had women as deacons and priests.

We found, however, as time went on, that we really didn’t hear all that much preaching from the female Episcopalian clergy – far less preaching, actually, than we heard from Sister R. in a Catholic parish that we used to attend and which Sister R ran (the priest came in only for Daily and Sunday Mass). Sister R is a powerhouse – if she wants something done, it generally happens. She wanted to integrate the Hispanic-Catholic community in with the Anglo-Catholic community and, instead of relegating the Spanish Mass to an afternoon time, she put it at 10 am on Sunday – prime time for Catholics. I’m sure she got complaints, and I’m sure she kept on anyway.

As time went on, and as I thought about the differences between Catholic and Episcopalian, I thought about all of the active Catholic women I’ve known in various parishes – music leaders, all of the religious education directors, parish secretaries (who can wield a lot of power at times). My impression has been that the priests didn’t mess around a whole lot with these women’s ministries. These women were not any less active or influential than the Episcopalian women I’ve met in our church – except for the female clergy. But I really haven’t seen or heard all that much from them. I’ve heard more female preaching from Sister R in her parish than in the Episcopalian church.

Which brings me back to George Weigel’s book. He explains Catholic teaching on this subject more clearly than most books or articles that I’ve read. His explanation of why women can’t be Catholic priests is interesting, and I’m still pondering it. He starts out by saying that liturgy is God’s work, not our creation, and we participate in it. He mentions that Vatican II says that Catholic worship is “a participation in the ‘heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle.’” He continues by saying that in this participation in the heavenly liturgy, the Catholic priest is not a set of functions, but an icon representing Christ the high priest. Interestingly enough, he goes on to say that in Christian communities where the ministry is functional and where the Lord’s Supper is not a sacrament but a memorial, women in the ministry is not an issue, or at least it is an issue of custom and tradition (The Truth of Catholicism, George Weigel, pp. 62-68).

Now, this is in his chapter on liturgy, and he does not discuss parish governance in this book. To me, it seems that the priest’s role outside of the liturgy and the sacraments is a set of functions (making parish decisions, financial and otherwise and the general running of the parish) rather than an icon. So I don’t see that, even if the priest should be a male icon of Jesus in the liturgy, that it follows that this icon also needs to run the parish - since an icon is a symbolic and not a functional role – and I’ll cheer Sister R on.


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