Monday, July 25, 2005

the same ol' same ol'

Qoheleth muses: "Nothing is new under the sun. Even the thing of which we say, 'See, this is new!' has already existed in the ages that preceded us." (Ecc. 1,9-10)

I offer this gem of Old Testament wisdom as a reference for getting some perspective on the story breaking this week of the nine women 'ordained' by three other women who identify themselves as Catholic bishops. This monumentous and corageous novelty was performed on a ferry floating along the St. Lawrence River in Canada.

The presiding bishopesses(?) claim to have been themselves ordained secretly by male bishops in good standing of the Catholic Church. They also purport to enjoy the clandestine favor of many high ranking Vatican officials, notwithstanding the ipso facto state of excommunion that they incurred upon themselves by engaging in the ersatz ordination.

The media will enjoy this circus for a few days before losing interest. They will probably call it a new challenge to the hopelessly outdated practice of purely male ordinations in the Catholic Church. They may even brandish that most fearsome and inassailable of arguments: "polls show that 62% of those questioned approve of women priests...". The wiley spinmasters of the media know that nothing strikes more dread into the heart of the Church than the latest USA Today poll.

In 13th century Europe the story of the first woman pope surfaced in anti-papal circles. Pope Joan apparently gave herself away during one of those eternal Vatican ceremonies when she, rather unceremoniously, went into labor and gave birth to a child. "Damn!," she reportedly exclaimed, "and everything else was going so well..." All this in Latin, naturally.

Since then, it's been pretty much downhill for the champions of women's ordination. Such antics aren't new and they cause barely a ripple on the surface of the Catholic Church. Only the really colorful tales, like that of Pope Joan the Pregnant, even make it to the mythology books.

What these types of spectacles do illustrate, however, is that the nature and meaning of the priesthood are increasingly misunderstood and nearly impossible to communicate above the din of today's painfully weak and muddled thinking on all things related to the faith.

Other varieties of Christianity consider the Lord's Supper a memorial meal, a sharing in communal fellowship, a symbolic gesture of unity. The ministry is conceived in terms of funcionality alone. It therefore matters little if the minister who mc's the communion ceremony is man or woman.

Catholicism has a different view of the priesthood altogether.

Both the priesthood and the Eucharist are sacraments: visible and efficacious signs of what they re-present. Their reality and meaning is understood exclusively in relation to the First Sacrament, which is Christ Himself. Through the sacrament of Order the priest becomes ontologically identified with Christ and acts in persona Christi. Christ's sublime act of giving Himself totally to His Church, 'as a husband loves his wife' - in the words of St. Paul, is embodied in the Eucharist. "This is my body", says the priest. "Do this in memory of me", said the Lord.

The usual complaints about the Church's practice of ordaining only men to the priesthood reflect a very protestant and utilitarian concept of the priesthood. It is a merely job and can, therefore, be done arguably as well by a woman as by a man. Women clergy would be the ultimate recognition by the Church of the equality between man and woman. A patriarchal Church would benefit greatly by a greater participation of women...


It is not about function, it is about sacrament. It is not about equality in the sense we throw the word around today. Men and women are equal in dignity, but they are quite obviously not the same. They may be equal, but they are not interchangeable. Total sacramental identification with Christ through Holy Orders is to be taken for what it truly means. It is not about rights or sharing power. It is about understanding the gift received and conserving it faithfully.

The spokesperson for the nine newly 'ordained' women, when asked about the validity of their state in the Church said they had chosen to ignore the discipline and practice of Tradition. They, in turn, will be ignored by the Church they have voluntarily abandoned and, unless one of them pulls a Pope Joan on us, by history. 'Nuff sed.