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Women Can Have a Natural Resemblance to Christ by Pauline Turner and Bernard Cooke from 'Women Priests'

Women Can Have a Natural Resemblance to Christ

by Pauline Turner and Bernard Cooke

from Women Priests, Arlene Swidler & Leonard Swidler (eds.), Paulist Press 1977, pp. 258-259.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

Bernard Cooke’s educational career included St. Louis University (A.B. and M.A.), St. Mary’s College in Kansas (S.T. Lic.), and the Institut Catholique de Paris (S.T.D.). For more than a decade he was chairman of the theology department at Marquette University; at the time he taught at the University of Calgary. His most recent publication were Ministry to Word and Sacraments. He was married to Pauline Turner.

Pauline Turner received her undergraduate education at Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania and received M.A.s in English and Theology at Marquette University. She has taught at Marquette and the University of Windsor, and was at the time teaching part-time at the University of Calgary.

The Declaration is correct in drawing attention to the matter of women’s capacity to symbolize the action of Christ in Eucharist. If there is any theological reason that can be adduced as argument against the full ministerial function of women in sacraments, it must lie somehow in the area of symbolic causality, since this is the distinctive mode of sacramental effectiveness. The Declaration’s reasoning, then, on this matter is crucial to the Vatican contention regarding the impossibility of ordaining women to the ministry of sacramental celebration.

The Declaration’s argument from “natural similitude,” if probative, must rest on the fundamental ability or inability of human persons and human actions to signify God’s creative activity. Interestingly, the basic biblical text in this regard (Gen 1:27) states that the male/female duality is required for humans to be “the image of God.” Moreover, as this Hebrew Bible text continues, it is clear that it is precisely the creative relationship between men and women that reflects and makes present (i.e., sacramentalizes) the continuing creative action of God in history. This inclusion of both men and women in “the image of God” continues in New Testament thought, where the Church as body that images forth the risen Jesus includes both. Nor is there any inequality or inappropriateness in Christian women’s share in this imaging of Christ, for Paul himself (Gal 3:28) insists that “in Christ” there is no distinction between male and female.

But can women sacramentalize what Christ does in Eucharist?—a question whose response depends upon our understanding of what it is that Christ does do in Eucharist. The action of Christ in Eucharist is basically one of giving himself (his body) as source of life to his fellow humans. According to New Testament thought, the principal analogue of this in human experience, an analogue so fundamental and intrinsic that it is itself a key Christian sacrament, is the relation between man and woman in marriage. In marriage (indeed in all human friendships) each of the persons gives himself or herself to the other, and this gift of self is a profound communication of personal life. Thus, it is the personal dialectic between men and women that points to, signifies, and sacramentalizes the role that Christ plays in Eucharist.

This seems to indicate that Christian eucharistic symbolism has to some extent been truncated up to the present, because only the masculine element in the man/woman “image of God” has been publicly represented in the official sacramental celebrants. The “similitudo naturalis” that underlies the eucharistic sacramentality deals precisely with human personhood, which includes and transcends all male/female distinctions.(1) Admitting women to full sacramental ministry will, of course, force upon us a thorough reconsideration of the operative sacramentalities of the eucharistic liturgy; but this should prove to be an enrichment.

Perhaps this is the place where another line of reflection should be introduced: the ordination of women to liturgical ministry in other Christian Churches presents the Roman Catholic Church with a fait accompli—at least if one is going to base one’s position (as the present papal document does) on the impossibility of ordaining women. After Vatican II’s decree on ecumenism (especially #3), Catholic theology can no longer deny all reality to eucharistic ministry in other Christian groups. Consequently, women are really exercising such ministry, for example in the Episcopal Church. One might contend that this ministry by women is ill-advised, that it raises psychological barriers to Church reunion, that it is premature; but it is difficult to see how one can contend that it is impossible.


1. In discussing the liturgical celebrant as image of Christ, and precisely in the distinctive act of consecration, the papal document appeals to Thomas Aquinas’ statement in the Summa Theologiae, q. 83, a. 1, ad 3; “. . . the priest also enacts the image of Christ, in whose person and by whose power he pronounces the words of consecration.” There seems to be no argument by St. Thomas at this point from “similitude”; rather he concentrates on “the power of consecration” which derives from ordination. In the previous question (III, q. 82, a. 1) it is quite clear that Thomas is grounding the power of consecration on ordination, without any reference to the symbolic aspects of the eucharistic action having an effect on the effectiveness of the celebrant’s action.

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