Why can’t women be priests? Isn’t that discrimination?
Well, if the priesthood was reserved to men because the Church thought that men were better or superior to women, then that would be discrimination. But, that’s not the reason why women can’t be priests. The crux of this issue is the nature of the priesthood and the sacrament that the priest makes present.
Every sacrament has symbols. A sacrament does what it symbolizes and symbolizes what it does. So, water is the “matter” of baptism because it most effectively symbolizes the spiritual cleansing that is taking place. Wine is the matter of the Eucharist because it most effectively symbolizes the blood of Christ. When the wrong symbol is used the sacrament is ineffective.
So, we can’t baptize people in honey and we can’t use Kool-Aid for the Eucharist. Similarly, women can’t be priests. This is because the primary function of the priest is to be the symbol of Christ in the Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Mass, the Bridegroom comes to meet his Bride. The Son gives himself to the Father. The King invites his subjects to the wedding feast. This symbolism is destroyed when the priest is not a man.
Some people respond by saying, “Aren’t women made in the image and likeness of God just like men?” but I think such people misunderstand what it means to be “made in God’s image.” This phrase simply means that we are all created by God, with an equal dignity before God, and with the purpose of being united with Him in heaven. Yes, both men and women, each in their own way, have the ability to make Christ present to us. But, a man, by nature, is better suited to make present God as man, as Son, as Groom, as King. These are manly characteristics of God that a woman is simply not naturally disposed to make present.
Some say Jesus only chose men because of the patriarchal society in which he lived. But, Scripture shows us that Jesus was not a slave to his culture. While he was in every way a faithful Jew, he also resisted the unjust prejudices of his day. He spoke with Samaritans, dined with tax collectors, healed people on the Sabbath, touched lepers and dead people, forgave all kinds of sinners, and did a host of other things that were considered culturally objectionable. This tells me that Jesus chose men not because his culture said so but because His Father said so. After all, it was after much deliberation and prayer (cf. Lk 6:12-13) that Jesus chose 12 men to follow him and to celebrate his sacrifice. This I think shows the expressed will of the Father regarding the new priesthood Jesus would establish.
We must also keep in mind that, in all things, the Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, can only do what Jesus does. The Church does not have the power to contradict Christ, or to reject the perennial teaching of the Church. The pope could not approve a female priesthood even if he wanted to. That’s how intimately tied the Church is to the teaching and example of Jesus.
Peace of Christ to you,
Nicholas Hardesty, WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church
Feel free to email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org