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The Ordination of Queens by J. Massyngberde Ford from 'Women Priests'

The Ordination of Queens

by J. Massyngberde Ford

from Women Priests, Arlene Swidler & Leonard Swidler (eds.), Paulist Press 1977, pp. 303-305.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

(J. Massyngberde Ford received her B.A. from the University of Nottingham, a B.D. from King's College, London, and her Ph.D. from Nottingham. She had taught at Makere University College in East Africa and was at the time on leave from Notre Dame, teaching at the University of Santa Clara. She has written on Neo-Pentocostalism in the Catholic Church and on Death and Sickness as well as her special field of scripture.)

Towards the end of the Declaration the writers refer to “ruling power” within the Church. Yet jurisdiction is different from the ability to perform the sacramental and sacrificial duties of the priesthood. Church history can produce examples of lay (male and female) jurisdiction over ecclesial matters not only in the Roman Catholic Church but in other denominations; for example, in the parish of Lynby-cum-Papplewick in Nottinghamshire, England, the lay squire is rector of the tenth century church and the clergyman is subordinate to him, while the incumbent is rector of the eleventh century church in the same Anglican parish.

However, as well as jurisdiction held by Abbesses(1) even over double monasteries, perhaps the outstanding example of female ecclesial jurisdiction is that of Queens. In the ordination, coronation, or consecration of Queens and Empresses, the Church has a very ancient and unbroken tradition of liturgical consecration of a woman to govern men and women, clergy and lay; she is the image of kingship which we predicate of Jesus. The ceremony shows great affinity to that of the consecration of a bishop both in the ceremonies and prayers and in the investiture. Yet very few people, saving the famous John Knox,(2) objected to this ecclesiastical subordination of men to women. The Pauline texts were regarded as no hindrance to this ordination. Queen Elizabeth II of England, I of Scotland, is head of the Anglican church. Thus it is very peculiar that women are not ordained to the priesthood or the bishopric in England. Naturally, the Queen has powers of jurisdiction, not of administering the sacraments, but a bishop also has similar faculties of administration. In the ordination of kings and queens there is no discrimination; only one ceremony is omitted, that of the giving of the spurs, because the queen did not ride out to battle. The queen was a sharer in the regal power (regalia imperii . . . esse participem) even if she were the wife of a king.(3) The queen has her officials, her property, her revenue. She could issue charters and take over the regency as need be.

The anointing of monarchs was very important. By it she was inwardly and outwardly changed and became God’s office-bearer in the world, a ruler over his people in the divine plan of the cosmos. Any anointing set a person apart(.)4 Today and at other stages of history the queen is (was) anointed on the hands (like a priest) on the chest and on the head (like a bishop). At certain points in history, before the sacraments were reduced to seven, the ordination of a monarch was regarded as a sacrament. For example, Robert Grosseteste in 1245 wrote:

When receiving the ring the Archbishop says:

Receive the Ring of Kingly Dignity, and the Seal of. . . the Catholic Faith: that as You are this day consecrated Head of his Kingdom and People; so being rich in Faith and abounding in good Works, You may reign with Him who is King of Kings....

The ceremony ends with the homage of the clergy and the laity beginning with the Archbishop.

The preface for the Communion contains the exquisite words:

. . . God . . . who makest Kings to be the Nursing Fathers of thy Church, and Queens, her nursing Mothers, and both Defenders of thy Faith, and Protectors of thy Church....

Ratcliff observes that about the eleventh or twelfth century,

by concurrent processes of elaboration, the two Services of the Kings’s (Queen’s) coronation and the bishop’s consecration had acquired a distinct resemblance to each other, it is no matter for surprise that the ceremonies of coronation should be supposed to have been modelled upon those of the bishop’s consecration, and that a congruous theory of the King’s (Queen’s) quasi-ecclesiastical status should be formulated by those who had a political interest indoing so (13).

The royal vestments still correspond to a bishop’s. After the anointing, the Queen dons the colobium sindonis (a muslin undergarment like an alb), the supertunica or dalmatica made of cloth of gold (like a dalmatic worn by a deacon), a rich girdle (cf. the cincture), the armills (a piece of silk worn stolewise round the neck and tied to the arms), the royal stole, and the royal robe (which is the imperial mantle corresponding to the bishop’s ecclesiastical cope).

Thus ritual and ecclesiastical subordination of man to woman has been known and practiced continually down the age. There was a Jewish Queen, Salome Alexandra. It seems but a little step nowadays to ordain a woman to the priesthood or perhaps even more logically to the bishopric. At least it cannot be denied that in the historic churches a woman may have consecrated supreme headship over men and women. Thus to-day it might be possible to appoint female lay bishops or cardinals whose duties would be that of administration, not of serving through the sacraments. At least this would bring women into the decision-making policies of the Church.


1. See Joan Morris, The Lady Was A Bishop (New York: MacMillan, 1973).

2. John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women in The English Scholar’s Library of Old and Modern Works, ed. Edward Arber (London, 1878), pp. i-xviii and 1-62.

3. Percy E. Schramm, A History of the English Coronation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1937), p. 29.

4. Ibid., pp. 8-9.

5. 1bid., pp. 125-26.

6. 1bid., p. 121.

7. Ibid., p. 25.

8. 1bid., pp. 34-5.

9. 1bid., p. 135.

10. 1bid., pp. 34-5.

11. J; Wickham Legg, Three Coronation Orders, Henry Bradshaw Society, Vol. 19 (London, 1900), p. 23.

12. Ibid., p. 25.

13. Edward C. Ratcliff, The Coronation Service of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11 (London, 1953), p. 8.

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