Friday, June 03, 2005

More on the ordination of women...

An argument has been advanced by an individual who frequents the Holy Cross Cardinal Newman Society website in favor of ordaining women to the ministerial priesthood. This argument comes as a response to my article on the question as well as my invitation to respond to the points which I addressed. I want to thank this person for articulating his (or her) thoughts on the subject and I would like to address what I see as the major points of the argument advanced.

First of all, this writer says that, "The undeniable reality of Christ's manhood seems to indicate that God favored a masculine form. However, this is based on a particular assumption on the importance of sex and gender."

This argument is flawed. Why? Because when we compare the priesthood of Christ with the ancient priesthoods we discover some profound truths concerning God's salvific plan for mankind. Adam, priest by primacy of creation, is the figure of Christ who is to come and become priest by incarnation and re-creation. Through Adam, the first priest, sin entered the world and death passed upon all men. All ancient priests offered victims for their own sins and the sins of the people. These priests were distinct from the victims they sacrificed. But the new Adam, Christ the Son of Man, as a priest is sinless; holiness itself is His essence. In His priesthood alone the priest and the victim are identified.

Christ, the high priest, offers Himself in sacrifice to His Father to redeem all men from their own sins. The new head of the human family, this unique priest, in a sense, becomes sin itself, destroying thus iniquity in Himself upon the Cross. In dying as personified sin, so to speak, Christ restores to man that superabundance of grace which achieves man's justification in renewed sonship and friendship with God. In the economy of salvation the first Adam and priest, as head of the human family, destroyed divine life in the souls of his children. His priestly sacrifices were incapable of restoring this life; they had to be superseded by the priesthood of Christ.

The Holy Trinity, beholding fallen Adam, again decreed: "It is not good for man to be alone. Indeed this time it is tragic for him if he remains isolated from us, fallen, supernaturally dead, the slave of Satan destined for hell. Let us make man a new New Son, a new loving companion, a new head and Savior." So the Son of God volunteered to become the Son of Man. He took a body from a woman (Gal 4:4), Mary, so as to redeem the human family of which He was now the new Head.

And so, it is incorrect to assert, as the individual at the HCCNS website does, that: "Christ's sex played only a minor role in his ministry compared to his Semitism.." The original Adam came directly from the hand of God through creation, while Eve, created for love of him, came directly from the body of Adam. The new Adam Christ reversed the process. He came by the power of God alone from the body of Mary Immaculate. He came for the love of Mary and of all men. The first priest depended for his existence on the love of God alone. The perfect priest Christ depended not only on the love of God but also on the love, humility and obedience of the new Eve Mary for His existence as Man, Priest and Divine Savior. In the economy of divine mercy Christ, the new Head of man and always Head of all creation, restored divine life to His brethren through the death He offered once for all on the Cross and the life He now lives forever unto God. By means of a woman, a priest and man destroyed divine life in men. By means of another woman, a priest and the Son of Man restored this life to men. The priesthood, therefore, from the beginning was irrevocably affixed to man who, as son of God, had been officially called from the beginning to give glory to the Holy Trinity through creation, incarnation and re-creation. The holiness the first Adam failed to preserve for his children through a priesthood of obedience, just such a holiness, raised to divine perfection, was won for all men by the natural Son of God made Man through a priesthood of obedience unto death, even death upon a Cross.

Secondly, the individual posting at the HCCNS website asserts that, in the early Church, "Women were deacons" and had "many different roles as spiritual leaders." This argument is flawed because the terms diakonos, diakonein, and and diakonia were applied to very different sorts of functions and activities. Both the servants at the wedding feast in Cana and Christ Himself, the apostles as well as their coworkers and the Christians who performed any sort of ancillary services whatsoever in the community all were called "servants" (diakonos) on account of their service, without this being understood, of course, as the designation for an office or ministry within the one Sacrament of Holy Orders.

The institutionalization of charitable services performed by widows in the Christian community, of the assistance rendered by women during baptismal ceremonies, and of liturgical functions in a convent of consecrated virgins is apparent from the beginning of the third century in the ecclesiastical neologism: diaconissa/diacona. For Koine Greek, unlike Latin, could not construct the female form of "servant" by a change of ending, but could only indicate it with the feminine article (cf. Rom 16:1). Aside from that, we also encounter the title diaconissa (and similarly, presbyterissa and episcopissa) as a designation for the wives of deacons - for example, in papal instructions or conciliar canons that admonish higher clerics to practice celibacy, in the sense of continence.

Although there are records of the liturgical installation of deaconesses dating back to the fourth century, one must not overlook the fact that the selfsame authors who testify to this practice also make clear that the consecration of deaconesses was not the ordination of women to the diaconal ministry; on the contrary, it was a question of a different ecclesiastical office. To te early Church, it was clear that without prejudice to the various degrees of bishop, presbyter and deacon, which assumed a definitive form in the transition to the postapostolic age, these ministres owe their existence to the historical initiative of the apostles and to the special presence of the Holy Spirit in the foundational phase of the Church; whereas the latter, so-called nonsacramental consecrations were introduced by ecclesiastical authorities and thus are not matters of divine law but only of Church law.

Lastly, our friend at the HCCNS forum writes that, "It does not seem that appealing to Tradition can prove that God did not intend women to become priests in the future or even the present."

This betrays an inadequate understanding of what Tradition really is. The word "tradition" is derived from the Latin tradere - "to hand on." Tradition is literally a "handing on, a passing down of God's revealed word. The Second Vatican Council, referring specifically to how Christian tradition was handed on, says that: "It was done by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received - whether from the lips of Christ, from His way of life and His works, or whether they had learned it by the prompting of the Holy Spirit" (Dei Verbum, II, 7).

Fr. John Hardon, in his excellent work entitled "The Catholic Catechism - A Contemporary Catechism of the Teachings of the Catholic Church," explains that: "..the Church is no mere custodian of the Gospel. No doubt, her divinely appointed function is periodically to determine in precise and even technical language what God has revealed, and what his revelation means. But the word of God is also a living voice, ever active and 'alive within the Church.' Let us remember that the same Christ who revealed himself to the Church as Truth is also the Life who animates the Church he founded and the Way who leads to his heavenly Father" (p. 43).

It is this same Christ who leads our Church today. Christ is Truth. The Church is His Mystical Body. To assert that Christ would lead us into error (through His Church, the Church He continues to animate) is to attack His very Person.

God love you all,
Until next time
Paul Anthony Melanson

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