Why the Church doesn’t ordain women; disrespect in church

| Father Kenneth Doyle | September 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

Q. As a practicing Catholic, what should be my answer when my Protestant friends ask me why my Church does not ordain women to the priesthood?

A. Catholics believe that the ordained ministry has its origin in Christ’s choice of the Twelve Apostles. Why Jesus selected only males for this sacramental and teaching ministry, no one can say with certainty. But the Church feels bound by the decision of its founder and by its earliest and consistent tradition.

There were proponents of female priests in the first four centuries of the Church’s history, but always the response from Church leaders was the same: That’s not our call to make, not our prerogative; the action of Jesus is normative.

Even Eastern Orthodox churches, which split with Catholics on several theological issues, never questioned that the priesthood was reserved to males.

Some would argue that if Jesus were alive today when society has a greater appreciation of women’s dignity and gifts, he would have picked some women among his apostles.

But that forgets the fact that the historical Jesus had no problem being controversially countercultural: he chose Matthew — scorned by society as a tax collector — and welcomed several women, including Mary Magdalene, as close companions and friends.

So the Church’s teaching has nothing to do with gender equality and everything to do with Jesus and the history of the Church. St. John Paul II in a 1994 apostolic letter explained that since even the Virgin Mary was not given the ministry and mission proper to the apostles, the decision by Jesus was surely not a statement on the relative dignity and holiness of the sexes.

Pope Francis, in his 2013 exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” even while reaffirming the teaching on a male-only priesthood, added a critical nuance. He said that decision-making should not be linked to ordination and urged that women be given a greater voice in Church deliberations.

Q. Within the past year, I have seen a tremendous amount of talking and socializing while people are seated in church awaiting the priest’s arrival for Mass. Parents are even conversing with their children during the priest’s homily.

In the Communion line, individuals stop to shake the hand of someone they know and chat while the Eucharist is being distributed. One man, arriving in church and walking up the aisle to find a pew, was talking on his cell phone as if he were out on the street. What kind of example does this set for the young people in attendance?

Thank you for addressing this total lack of reverence.

A. The real “villain” in your story is the man on the cell phone: That is not only irreverent, it is downright rude. Nearly three years ago in this column, I addressed the importance of quiet before Mass in answer to a similar question from a different reader, but perhaps we all need a reminder.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal in No. 45 express it this way: “Even before the celebration itself, it is a praiseworthy practice for silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred celebration in a devout and fitting manner.”

Certainly the goal of a parish is to create a community of faith, so it is natural and good for people to greet each other and “catch up a bit” when they meet at church. For that reason, newer churches are often constructed with a larger “lobby” so that folks can chat when they first arrive and then be quiet once they enter the church proper.

In the parish where I serve, our church was built in the late 1990s, at a time when we were being encouraged to create a separate chapel for the Blessed Sacrament (as a sign of special reverence and as a more intimate space where parishioners could stop for daily visits).

The downside, though, when the Eucharist is not reserved in the church proper, parishioners may regard the larger space as an “auditorium” and converse at sidewalk decibels.

So just before Mass is to begin, I announce something like this: “We are gathered this morning to share our faith in the risen Lord and to thank God for the blessings in our lives. Let’s take a moment now to quiet our hearts and to place ourselves consciously in the presence of God.”

Then we have 20 or 30 seconds of complete silence before the procession to the altar begins.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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