Saturday, September 11, 2010

Why can't women be priests?

This is a hotbed of discussion.  Essentially, the charge is made that the Catholic Church is chauvinist, if not downright misogynistic, because the Church will not change her position on the ordination of women.  The problem is a twofold misunderstanding.  On the one hand, many believe that it is within the power of the papacy to actually change doctrine.  The other is a gross misunderstanding of the nature of Holy Orders.
The pope is not a mere head of state, and the Church is a kingdom, not a democracy.  Public opinion has no bearing on Church teachings.  Certain practices have changed: laws concerning fasting and abstinence, introduction of the vernacular into the Mass, adult baptisms were formerly nude (its true!), private confessions (they were public in the early Church), and so on.  Even those things concerning sacraments the changes have been with the form of the sacrament, but not the matter.  A priest cannot consecrate a donut for Communion.  It is not the right matter.  Likewise in Holy Orders, a woman cannot be ordained. Why? Because men are the proper matter.  Now of course, this in and of itself requires some explanation.  Why are men the proper matter? It has to do with the signs and symbols being presented.  Sacraments are physical signs.  For example, in Baptism, we use water.  Someone cannot be baptized in Kool-Aid.  Baptism is a cleansing from sin.  Can you wash anything in Kool-Aid?  Neither can we use some other kind of cleansing agent.  Why not? Because we are reborn to a life in Christ.  Water is a sign of life.  The symbolism is very important in the Sacraments.  The masculinity of the priesthood is part of the physical sign.  When the priest is administering the Sacraments, he is not simply Father Bob.  He is acting "in the person of Christ."  The Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, is the Bridegroom.  A bridegroom, be definition, is male.  The symbolism of the priest as Christ is lost with a female priesthood.  There is also the misunderstanding as to the nature of the priesthood.  It is a Sacrament of Service.  The Priest serves the people, and he obeys the Church.  It is not a position of power.