Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Why women cannot symbolically represent Christ the Bridegroom

An individual who posts at the Holy Cross College Cardinal Newman Society website has asked me a series of questions and I shall endeavour to answer these four questions here in the order in which they were asked.

The first question is: "Why is it that a woman cannot symbolically represent Christ the Bridegroom?"

The reason is that "God became man" and took on human nature in the masculine mode. The Word reveals itself in the flesh of Christ Jesus as the "only Son of the Father" (John 1:14, 18, 41, 49), who by virtue of giving His flesh for the life of the world (John 6:51) is the Bridegroom of the Bride (John 3:29), namely, the Church.

In John's Gospel, the line of communication is clearly set up as follows: Jesus Christ (1:18), being the incarnate Word (1:1, 14) is the only-begotten Son of the Father (1:14) and the Bridegroom of the Church (3:29; Rev. 19:7; 21:2; - see also: Mt. 9:15; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:21-32).

The masculinity of Jesus is part of the Logos' self-expression in the flesh and forms the basis for the original relation of Christ to the Church and for His sacramental union with her as His Body and His Bride.

Through the natural symbolism of the sexes, God communicates the reality of His free, historical, and corporeal presence in the world. By assuming humanity in the mode of masculinity, the Logos communicates Himself in His dealings with the new People of God in that fundamental personal relationship that has its foundation in masculinity. Thus, the Dogmatic Constitution the Church of Vatican II can say: "Christ loves the Church as his bride, having been established as the model of a man loving his wife as his own body (Eph. 5:25-28); the Church, in her turn, is subject to her head (Eph. 5: 23-24), 'Because in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily' (Col. 3:29)." (Lumen Gentium, No. 7).

Now, the priest takes the part of Christ, lending Him his voice and gestures. St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, expresses this concept with precision: "The priest enacts the image of Christ, in whose person and by whose power he pronounces the words of consecration" (Summa Theologica, III, q. 83, a.1, ad 3-um).

Therefore, the priest is truly a "sign" in the sacramental sense of the word. This is why St. Bonaventure says: "The person ordained is a sign of Christ the mediator" - "persona quae ordinatur significat Christum mediatorem." It is a principle of sacramental theology that "sacramental signs represent what they signify by a natural resemblance" (In IV Sent., Dist. 25, q. 2, a.2, q.1, ad 4-um: signa sacramentalia ex naturali similitudine repraesentent.).

In other words, there is a need for that "natural resemblance" between Christ and the person who is His sign. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, "Since a sacrament is a sign, what is done in the sacrament requires not only the reality but also a sign of the reality" (Ibid. In corp. quaestiunculae: Quia cum sacramentum sit signum, in eis quae in sacramento aguntur requiritur non solum res, sed significatio rei.).

And as the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states quite clearly in its document "On the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood": "It would not accord with 'natural resemblance,' with that obvious 'meaningfulness,' if the memorial of the Supper were to be carried out by a woman; for it is not just the recitation involving the gestures and words of Christ, but an action, and the sign is efficacious because Christ is present in the minister who consecrates the Eucharist, as is taught by the Second Vatican Council, following the Encyclical Mediator Dei."

Because of a secularized understanding of reality, not to mention a reductive and functionalist view of man, there are some who still think that it is their job to demand the application of societal standards and values within the Church such as democratic procedures, equal opportunities for advancement in all capacities and offices etc. For such people, the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which has been instituted by Christ Jesus Himself - Who is incapable of error or of deceiving or being deceived - is little more than a Baroque, or antiquarian form of appointment to a position of leadership, like that of a bank president, party chief or television station manager. These people view the priesthood in terms of self-fulfillment and "power" rather than from the sacramental point of view.

The second question posed: "Wouldn't you regard a class of people with no access to authority as second-class citizens?"

Archbishop Oscar Romero answered this line of thinking before he was killed by an assasins bullet: "Authority in the Church is not command, but service." This is the Church's authentic understanding of authority within the Church. Jesus Himself tells us that He came not to e served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Besides, many women exercise prominent positions within the Church and have been entrusted with much authority. And they are doing a remarkable job. But Christ has not called them to the priesthood just as He has not called most men to the priesthood. The priesthood, for reasons stated above, may never be viewed as a "right." Strictly speaking, we possess only contingent rights (those afforded us by God) and not intrinsic rights. Only God possesses intrinsic rights. Therefore, we are bound to avoid anything which opposes His Holy Will.

The third question posed: "How would you differentiate between a dissenter and someone who is not convinced of the inerrancy of a particular Church teaching?"

My opinion in this matter (and anything else touching on faith or morals) is not really relevant. However, the Church teaches, in its 1990 Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, that the nature of "religious submission of soul" or of "will and mind" that the Fathers of Vatican II said is to be given by the faithful, including theologians, to authoritative but noninfallibly proposed magisterial teachings (see Lumen Gentium, No. 25) is clear.

This Instruction clearly distinguishes between questions that theologians may raise about such teachings (nn. 24-31) and dissent from such teachings (nn. 32-41). It judges that questioning can be compatible with the "religious submission" required, but it firmly and unequivocally repudiates dissent from these teachings as incompatible with this "religious submission" and irreconcilable with the vocation of the theologian. Dissent from infallibly proposed magisterial teachings is a fortiori excluded.

The fourth and last question: "..do you see a problem with putting one's faith blindly in an institution ? And if so, how would one avoid doing this?"

I will answer this question with a question of my own: Is the Church merely an "institution" for you dear friend or is it something more? For those of us who are Catholic, the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ (see Pope Pius XII's Encyclical Mystici Corporis). We believe that Jesus is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and that, being the very essence of truth and integrity (in fact, Jesus IS Truth: John 14:6), that He is incapable of error and "can neither deceive nor be deceived."

We also believe, as told in Sacred Scripture, that after His Ascension into Heaven, He solemnly promised that He would send His Church "another Paraclete...the spirit of truth," to dwell with it forever (John 14: 16-17). And that He inspired the Apostle Paul (for whom I was named) to describe His Church as "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).

My dear friend, now that I have patiently answered all your questions I have a few of my own. Firstly, what is your argument - from the standpoint of sacramental theology - for believing that women should be ordained to the ministerial priesthood or that they are unjustly discriminated against because Christ has not called them to the same? Secondly, How is it possible for the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity to be guilty of error?

God love you, I wait with much anticipation for your response.

Paul Anthony Melanson

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