Roman Catholic Women Clergy and the Eucharist

Andrew Sullivan links to this post by K-Lo on women priesthood in the Catholic Church. Sullivan’s critique has to do with her central point about the WomenPriest movement and what Sullivan thinks is her dogmatism. One of Sullivan’s readers sent in a more sympathetic account I found interesting. K-lo’s post is a heads up towards her op-ed here in the WSJ on the subject.

After the jump I focus on a secondary point in K-Lo’s piece.

Couple of K-lo quotations to set up my reflections:

On Women Priests:

the emphasis is moved away from the centrality of the Eucharistic sacrifice and on community and feelings and feminism.


These last ordinations happened in Boston and it was obviously a brilliant place for them to have gone. There’s still sadness and anger and hurt there. There’s still skepticism about the future. There’s still an uneasiness. Especially if your faith in the centrality of the Eucharist is shaken or weak…

Now I have no way of knowing whether K-lo is correct in asserting that this group transfers the Eucharist for the Community. Given K-Lo’s obvious position/bias on the issue, worth taking with a grain of salt.

But really do we want to go back to this introverted spiritualized Pius XII understanding of the Eucharist? The Eucharist was originally a Community Meal. So how’s that for transferring community for centrality of the Eucharist? Does that distinction even make sense if looked at through the lens of the NT and Early Church record?

My guess is that distinction would not have made any sense to the Early Fathers. It bespeaks a model of the Eucharistic Sacrifice out of Medieval Catholicism (which is what K-Lo really wants a return to under her rubric of “orthodox”–never mind The Orthodox have been orthodox for 2,000 years and that is not their version of orthodoxy to give but one counter-example).

But even within K-Lo’s own RCism. Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II Document on the Church, speaks of the Four Presences of Christ: The Priest, The Eucharist, The Word, and the Community.

On the latter–it is often said that Paul spoke of the Church as the “Mystical” Body of Christ. But Paul never uses the word mystical. Paul states Christians are Christ’s body on earth. Period. Full stop. No metaphorical but literal. And by the Church he meant baptized people not some supra-individual notion or Platonic-like Idea of Church (a la Ratzinger’s writings on the universal church pre-existing local churches arising manifesting at Pentecost)

Now the point of the Multiple Presences is that Christ is to be recognized/worshiped/served in each. And to see a unity to each. You don’t want to over-emphasize the Word to the detriment of the Eucharist (a la Protestantism) nor the Reverse (Tridentine pre Vatican II Catholicism).

You wouldn’t want to idolize community/individuals (as she charges the Women’s Priest movement with) nor would you want to focus everything on the Eucharist. Notice that she is always discussing the failure of the Eucharist to move people and its centrality not emphasized (that is Tridentine/Vatican I theology) that is at the root cause. She never mentions say bad preaching. Or Insufficient devotion to the Scriptures. Or a lack of focus on baptism and catechesis (hugely emphasized by the Reforms of Vatican II). Or perhaps more relevantly to this discussion these women are perhaps over-emphasizing the communal dimension because that dimension (recognition of Christ in the gathered community) has been de-emphasized precisely by an over-emphasis on sacrificial Eucharistic piety.

Now of course the Eucharist has a unique place within Christian liturgy. But to separate it from the heart of the rest of the Christian life–particularly the God described in the Scriptures that we partake of–os very problematic. The Eucharist fairly isolated in this way certainly has an attraction, sometimes a spiritually unhealthy one, for a number of people. But it heads the way of a spiritualization, ritualization, and aestheticization of the faith.

Within the Christian tradition from the NT foundations through the Patristic Period up until today, Sacrifice is only one of the many rich metaphors used of the Eucharist in the tradition–again particularly the Biblical heritage.

Others include (not an exhaustive list by any stretch but a representative sample):

A memorial meal: Whenever you do this, Remember me.
In-breaking realization of the eschaton: “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ Will Come Again.”
A New or Final Exodus-Liberation from Sin & Death: The Last Supper as a Final Passover.

And yes a Sacrificial Atonement.

I’ve been trying to stay away from coming down yea or nea on the side of the Women Priest ordination process. Obviously I come from a church where church bodies decided in favor of the issue and where Communion-wide we have an understanding that it is an issue that is not a doctrinal issue (which is different than the stance represented by K-lo). But I also have serious questions about the method this group is employing. That said, I realize given the way in which the issue has been taken off the table by (incorrectly in my view) equating it with Doctrine–and bringing in the Sacrificial Atonement Language to squelch opposing views undoubtedly is going to bring this kind of push back.

My only point was to say whether or not you agree/disagree with women priests, was disagreement with what I consider to be a real arrogance (even if it is based on ignorance) of identifying what is orthodox Christianity with essentially Medieval Catholicism. She’s a conservative (self-proclaimed orthodox) Catholic so fair enough, but she could at least show some understanding that her paradigm for the church is one of a number that are recognizably orthodox–e.g. Patristic Era where the primary understanding of the meaning of Christ’s death was not sacrificial but a Victory over Evil (called Christus Victor).

But obviously that would be expecting too much sadly.

Update I:

As another theological point related. The notion that because Jesus was a male therefore all priests need to be male has some serious flaws in it. For one where does the identification of what is ultimately true with the accidents (or essence if you see it that way) of Jesus’ historical being end? Should all priests also have to be Jewish? From Palestine? Carpenter’s sons? What is peculiar about his maleness as opposed to his Beard and Long Hair (which we presume he had) to use a silly example to make a serious point.

Also the notion that all the apostles were men is patently false–Paul refers specifically in the Letter to the Romans to Priscilla as an apostle and co-worker. [Co-equal that is to Paul]. This latter point but a serious crack in the “we’ve never done it this way therefore we can’t start now argument”.

All that is really left then is what JP II said (quoted by K-lo): The Chuch has no power to ordain women. But why the Church has no such power? Because it’s against the True Teaching. And how do we know it’s against the True Teaching? Because the Church has no power to do it. Or if you want to be more cynical about it–because they said so.

Update II:

K-Lo provides an interesting quotation from a Religious Sister who says that men and women are equal in the sight of God but that the WomenPriest movement is confusing equality of being with equality of opportunity. K-Lo also relates the words of a young religious sister who has no desire to be a priest and has found her vocation as a sister.

Men and women are certainly equal before God whether or not they are clergy or not. Thank God for that. Some maybe committing the category error the sister discusses. Certainly we have to be on guard from too easily letting modern democratic notions of freedom from the secular world be equated with The Biblical notion (which is different–they can be complementary but they are different). But that doesn’t mean everyone is making this error of course.

And as to the second woman, certainly arguing for women’s ordination is different than arguing against religious sisters. K-lo presents the two as if they were automatically in opposition. But with men, there are priets and there are religious brothers, so clearly both are calls from God.

What is never discussed in other words, is whether these women who feel called–we never hear their views other than de-contextualized quotation (in the WSJ piece) about how the Eucharistic is defective thereby spinning them all as liberal heretics. Though Sullivan’s reader is right, K-lo does stretch herself and attribute well-meaning though in her mind ultimately misdirected intentions to the group but it would have been nice to hear the voice of those from the other end. That however not going to happen given that for her wee bit of self-stretching Lopez (unjokingly) refers to having to ask God for forgiveness for making this group somewhat more public (even as she critiques them).

That latter point would be laughable if it wasn’t scary and sad in terms of what is reveals about her understanding of God.


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Women Clergy in Ancient Church Following up on the previous post, here is a fascinating article by US church historian Gary Macy on the existence of women’s […]

  2. […] the revival of the Latin Tridentine Mass, but you can start learning about it here. Likewise, this link will drop you into the deep end of an argument about female clergy that’s worth taking a look […]

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