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The Vocation to the Priesthood and Women by M <SUP>a </SUP>Jose Arana

The Vocation to the Priesthood and Women

by M a José Arana

translation from the Spanish Mujeres Sacerdotes ¿Por qué No...?

Original text: Publicaciones Claretianas, Madrid 1994; ISBN: 84-7966-078-3;
republished with the permission of the author.

Is it Possible for a Woman to have a Vocation for the Priesthood?

“Give me the opportunity to prove my vocation to the ministry!” was the emotional demand of one of the women, a female Deacon and member of the Anglican Synod, who was present at Lambeth during one of the last debates on the admission of women to the Priesthood in November 1992. And, since this decision by the Church of England, there has been no shortage of Catholic women making declarations in the same vein. But, this is not a new thing; in fact, many women have felt or feel what they say is, not only a certain attraction, but an internal and personal vocation towards the priesthood and its ministry.

1. Holy Women with a Priestly Vocation

Throughout the ages, there have been lots of women who have found themselves very limited by the fact that they could not directly participate in the preaching of the Gospel and sacramental activities. These “pure and devout women”, were confined, both in civilian and ecclesiastical society, and were prevented from carrying out any activity, which was “inappropriate to their sex” and were prevented from having any responsibility or credibility whatsoever.

Even the Lord himself reminded Saint Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380) of something like this, (she must have had concerns along these lines) “Since you were a child, I have instilled into you religious fervour towards other souls; you used to dream of being a man; at least of disguising yourself, as a man; of going to far-off lands and turning yourself into a Friar Preacher, to be more useful, yourself and for those other souls”...But it seems that she felt insecure seeing the real limitations that her sex imposed on her and explained her difficulties to the Lord “I am a woman; not only do men ignore me, but it is not acceptable for a woman to walk amongst them...” (2).

Did Saint Catherine have a true priestly vocation?; it is very possible; preaching, which women were also repeatedly forbidden to do in the past, has in fact been closely linked with the ministry of the priesthood; but in addition, through the work of the Saint, we find that her theology and her concerns are very much directed in this way. (3).

On the other hand, we also find, by examining the lives and texts of other saints and mystics, that a certain spirituality of Eucharistic sacrifice, has, in more than one case, been a form and/or an exaltation of a hidden and profound vocation to the priesthood which some even manage to clearly express. In fact Paul VI also explained this: “A woman cannot be a priest. She does not offer sacrifices. But a woman can be the victim” (4).

Sister Isabel of Trinidad (1880-1906), is, in my opinion, one of the clearest examples “.... At the heart of the silent sacrifice of a consecrated wafer – she says - a mysterious and real calling springs forth, a vocation to the priesthood....” (5). Her spiritual life is centred around that despair of the victim who sacrifices themselves: “The priest and the victim are inter-related beings...”, and she finds that the vocation she is contemplating is intimately related with the priestly one: “The life of the priest, is like that of the Carmelite Monk”; “That is how I understand the apostolate of the Carmelite and that of the priest”; “How sublime is the mission of the Carmelite!”; it has to be one of a mediator”. All these affirmations are deeply connected to the centre of her spirituality: “”May I never cease to devote myself to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, so that I can be a Host of eulogy for the glory of God”. Together with the one they call “Priestly Virgin”, she is overwhelmed, full of piety, in Christ, and, although happy her contemplative vocation, nevertheless, she reveals, like an unfulfilled desire, that almost secret “vocation to the priesthood”: “Outside the priesthood, I cannot see anything more blessed on the earth” (6).

Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus (1873 – 1897) perceived something similar within her, and shortly before dying, she wrote to her sister “I feel within me a vocation to be a Priest”, and at another point she exclaims, completely spontaneously: “However I feel within me other vocations; I feel the vocation to be a warrior, a priest, a doctor and a martyr”. She experienced a special satisfaction from “having to touch, like priests do, liturgical vessels” (7). She also yearned for the apostolate by means of ministerial preaching and writes: “If I had been a priest, how I would have spoken about It!” (8). However, from the bottom of her heart, she never renounced this true vocation; she knew how to integrate it into her spirituality and experiences. Neither did she ever rule out the intuitive feeling that her wishes might one day come true “I walk around with the idea that those who have wanted it on earth, will participate, in heaven, in the honour of priesthood” (9).

From childhood, Mother Ignacia Nazaria (1889 – 1943) “believed she had a vocation to the priesthood”. She wanted to be a Jesuit Missionary”. (10) Founder of the Institute of the Missionaries of the Papal Crusade, she branded her work with a exceptional “priestly” and ecclesiastical spirit: “Following the norms of the Church – it says in the Constitutions – we take responsibility for the spreading of the Gospel, insofar as this is allowed for our sex, forming a new priesthood or Feminine Deaconry” (11). The originality and depth of these expressions – in pre-Vatican II times – is evident. In her we also discover that spirituality of active sacrifice, which we referred to previously: “My entire has been placed on the paten, to become the sacrificial Host for the Church”. And, in this way this mysticism is fundamental to its Constitutions to “identify oneself with Christ and transform oneself into him”.

“The life that was the Mass” is the very eloquent title which captures the life of this woman; her “daughters” certainly felt that way (12).

In fact, all of them experienced at least something of what Saint Magdalena Sofia Barat (1779 – 1865), founder of the Nuns of the Sacred Heart said to her nephew, in a gesture of spontaneity: “I envy you because you men can become priests” (13); she too would have liked to be a priest.

2. But is this possible in a woman?

We could find others, but of course, not the type of women we are referring to. Neither through the ages, nor the theological and spiritual meaning they are expressing, could we interpret that this inclination might be influenced or motivated by questions of a vindictive nature; we could not adduce that they are people who brand themselves with a similar ideology, nor that they lived “in a time when women are becoming aware of the discriminations that they have suffered in civil society and are leaning towards wanting to join the very ministry of the priesthood”, as is interpreted by this Roman document (14). It is something much more profound. And these exclusions and judgements are painful for many women.

It is strange, but, according to the Vatican, these and other women could not have authentic vocations to the priesthood because “such an attraction, although very noble and understandable it might be, is not enough to be a genuine vocation”. In effect: this cannot boil down to a mere inclination of the mind, which could simply be subjective. As the priesthood is a specific ministry, the safekeeping and administration of which have fallen to the Church, the authority and faith of the Church is so necessary that it transforms itself into an essential part of the vocation itself, because Christ chose those he wanted (15).

Nevertheless some women, nowadays do still demand this vocation for themselves, and, in different ways, they feel it within their being and have no difficulty in showing it publicly, as many did with regard to ordinations in the Anglican Church:

  • “I always wanted to be a priest...”;
  • “I have always felt, within me, a calling towards the ministry...”;
  • “My devotion to God...... would be fulfilled with the priesthood...”;
  • “Since I was a young girl I have wanted to be a priest..”;
  • “I want to be a priest, not because of a personal desire, but in order to fulfil my solemn pledge to Jesus Christ...”;
  • “Despite everything, I keep alive the dream of being a priest; no one can destroy my vocation....”

In short, as another female highlights points out, what happens is: “That which in a boy would be seen as a sign of his vocation, in a woman provokes the comment “look at that eccentric..” (16). In summary, we could say what these women who define themselves as having a vocation, say: “They tell us that we cannot represent Jesus Christ, but we read Matthew 25, 31ss and we cannot remain silent or lose hope” (17).

Certainly, the vocation to the priesthood is not only an attraction towards the ministry of the Apostles; it is something deeper and involves a mysticism, a spirituality which embraces the whole being, thus lots of women have felt it, and they feel as though they are “cut off”with something very intimate and deeply painful. Like Mary, they want, with their hands, to make Christ even more present in the world; they want to bless, forgive and accompany people from the heart of the ministry of the priesthood; they want to sacrifice themselves with Christ for the salvation of the world, but not only as passive victims but also as agents and priests of the Lord, devoted to him, as a person and to his work. From their priestly devotion, they want to provide places of healing, and reconciliation; they want to be agents of salvation and communion in Humanity, “with Christ, for Him and in Him”....

Because the majority of these and other women are not convinced by the idea we mentioned previously: “A woman cannot be a priest. She does not sacrifice herself. But a woman can be a victim” (18). What is more, they see it as blatant injustice and inequality.

The famous Carmelite philosopher and lay sister Edith Stein (1891 – 1942) has already pointed out, as a major contradiction, the position of the Canon Law, which excludes women, because of their sex, from all consecrated duties within the Church. “Why is this?”, she asked herself; because, certainly, as well as not being able to find reasons against feminine priesthood from a dogmatic, anthropological or biblical point of view, she thought that it was a matter “which has not yet been taken seriously” and she hoped to be welcomed into the Church in the future (19).

But why were there so many difficulties? This is precisely what Saint Teresa says, referring to other matters related to women and the Church (20), but targeting the root of the problem: “Ah, poor women! How scorned they are! And yet they love God much more than men do. And during the Passion of Our Lord women had more courage than the very Apostles... Perhaps the Lord allows scorn to be the only heritage for women on earth, precisely because it was also his. But in heaven, He will be able to show that his thoughts are not like those of men, as there, the last will be the first” (21).

3. This is “Why Jesus did not Ordain Women”

Even the selfsame Duns Scotus must have realised certain difficulties and contradictions which were at the heart of this question of feminine ordinations, and he expressed them saying “The Church would not have assumed the right to deprive the whole of the feminine sex, through no fault of their own, from a lawful function, intended for the salvation of women and others in the Church. This would seem supremely unfair not only for the whole sex, but also for lots of other people. But... “, and here he alludes to Saint Paul to justify the fact, giving rise to the Apostle’s ban on women teaching (1 Timothy 2,12), on behalf of Jesus himself: “Because Christ did not allow it” (22). He explains it in more detail elsewhere: “Because I don’t believe that through an ecclesiastical institution or an apostolic order, a useful tool in the salvation of a person, and what is more, of a whole sex, could be removed, for life. If, therefore, the apostles or the Church could not justifiably remove from any person a useful tool for their salvation, then Christ, who is their Leader, would not have established, much less removed it from the entire feminine sex” and he again insists on deducing from that same argument, but without proving it at all, or indicating the “source” from where he takes this conclusion: “Then Christ, by establishing this sacrament, first of all ordered this” (23). The question is serious.

Something similar was said in the 16th century by Gabriel Vazquez: “Because, if the feminine sex could receive this sacrament by virtue of the divine institution, the Church would have unjustly deprived and excluded an entire sex by its legislation...” (24).

Indeed, Scotus himself (which is something that doesn’t happen with Vazquez), saw an exception in Mary Magdalene, a “personal privilege” as a real “female apostle” –“ Apostle of Apostles”, according to the Holy Fathers – but this peculiarity, he says, “disappeared with her...”.

So then, according to these two authors, the fact that Jesus did not ordain women, would be, practically, the only thing which would free the Church from real culpability and injustice. And for them it is very clear that that injustice does not exist, as Jesus, although being able to do it, did not do it, and the Church follows his footsteps. This is the exact argument, in the different writings and declarations, which is defended most fiercely by Rome today: (25) Jesus did not ordain women, nor did they form part of the Twelve, so the Church does not feel “authorised” to make a change to this. And this argument is still prevalent, in spite of the Biblical Commission, nominated by the Vatican itself to study these matters, unambiguously declaring that: “As there is insufficient evidence in the Scriptures to make a decision on the matter, the Church is able to modify its secular practice and allow women to be ordained as priests”; however, these historical- biblical arguments are still prevailing (26). But it should also be pointed out that the general public scarcely knows anything about the work of this Commission.

As we will see later on, Jesus, certainly, did not “ordain” a single woman, however he did not ordain any males either.


1. Todo ello aparecido en la prensa, diarios y revistas, durante los meses de noviembre y diciembre 1992.

2. SANTA Catalina DE SIENA, Obras de. El Diálogo, BAC, Madrid 1955. Cita un trozo de la biografia del B. RAIMUNDO DE CAPUA, ed. P. Álvarez, Santa Catalina de Siena, Vergara 1926, v. 2, c. 1, pp.87 y ss.

3. Ibid. Cfr. sus obras.

4. J. GITTON, Dialogues avec Paul Vl, Fayard 1967, p.304.

5. I. DE LA SANTÍSIMA TRINIDAD, Obras Completas, Madrid 1958. pp. 171, 173, 185, 192, 223, 254, 365, 369, 541, 547, etc.

6. Ibid., 904-905.

7. SANTA TERESITA DEL NIÑO JESÚS, Manuscritos Autobiográficos (Historia de un alma), Burgos 1958, p. 242.

8. Se refiere a la Virgen, p. 373.

9. Proceso diocesano, 2741, Sor Genoveva.

lO. GARCÍA GUTIÉRREZ, NAZARIA IGNACIA MARCH, Mujer de Iglesia en el corazón del pueblo, Madrid 1992. p. 49. AZUARA, M. V. Bajando la calle, Madrid 1992. MISIONERAS CRUZADAS DE LA IGLESIA, La vida que fue misa, Madrid 1964.

11. Ibid., p. 96.

12. MISIONERAS CRUZADAS DE LA IGLESIA, La vida que fue misa, Madrid 1964.

13. M. WILLIAMS, Sofía Barat, p.30 ciclostilado.

14. ASS 69 (1977) 115).

15. ASS 69 (1977) 114).

16. "Tribuna", n. 241, "Panorama", 7, XII, 1992, "Tiempo", n. 553, "El País", 15, XI, 92, etc.

17. M. CARRIZOSA y P. YUSTE, "De hecho presbíteras", AA. VV. El sacerdocio de la mujer, cuadernos Verapaz 11, 1993, p.78.

18. J. GUITTON, o. c., p. 304.

19. C. FELDMANN, Edith Stein, Judía, Filósofa y Carmelita, Barcelona 1988, p.72. A. JIMÉNEZ VICENTE, Destellos en la noche, Publicaciones Claretianas, Madrid 1990, p. 70.

20. Se refiere a la excomunión de las mujeres por cualquier causa.

21. Historia de un alma, o c., p. 175. Citas bíblicas, cfr. Is. 55, 8-9; Mt. 20, 16.

22. J. DUNS Scotus, IV, Sententiarum, 25, 2, Opera omnia, París 1984.

23. Ibid, 24.

24. D. H. MAES, O. PRAEM, La Femme et le sacerdoce d’aprés Gabriel Vázquez, Studia Moralia 1972, p.280-330.

25. Cfr. en algunas declaraciones: "Ministeria quedam" (1972)."Declaraciones sobre la cuestión de la Ordenación de las mujeres al sacerdocio ministerial" (1976). "Inter Insignores" (1976). "Mulieris dignitatem" ( 1988), etc

26. H. LEGRAND, en "Le ministère ordonné dans le dialogue Oecumenique", Bulletin d’Eclésiologie, Rev. Sc. Ph. Th. 60 (1976), p. 669.

Translated by Lisa Mullins

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