The Devotion to Mary Priest is a ‘latent’ tradition that implies that women can be ordained
The implicit Tradition
Throughout the centuries the faithful have had a devotion to Mary as priest. They intuitively saw, with their ‘Catholic sense’, that Mary shared in Jesus’ priesthood more than anyone else. Implicitly their devotion contained the strong but usually unspoken conviction that Mary, though a woman, could easily have been ordained a priest, as much as any man. At times this conviction was expressed explicitly.
The Church has always believed that its true Tradition is not fully expressed in external statements or practices only. Tradition also contains “the gospel which our Lord did not write, but taught by word of mouth and implanted in people’s hearts, and part of which the evangelists later wrote down, while much was simply entrusted to the hearts of the faithful” (Joseph Ratzinger, ‘On the Interpretation of the Tridentine Decree on Tradition’, in Revelation and Tradition, by K. Rahner and J. Ratzinger, Burns & Oates, London 1966, pp. 50-68.) This Tradition is known as ‘the Gospel in the Heart’.
It is my contention that, throughout the centuries, Catholics have known, in their heart of hearts and in the marrow of their bones, that women are equal before God and that there cannot be a fundamental objection to the ordination of women to the priesthood. This inner conviction was the ‘sensus fidelium’, the Christian sense of faith, the mind of the Church: Ecclesiae Catholicae sensus, or sometimes consensus Ecclesiae, remembering that in these last expressions ‘Church’ stands for the whole community of believers.
Read how Henry Cardinal Newman and Fr. Yves Congar described this ‘latent’ tradition.
As we examine the history of the Church — our history as Christ’s believing community –, we discover, underneath the cultural opposition against women priests, a constant awareness that ran counter to the officially sanctioned social and cultural ideas. One way in which this ‘sensus fidelium’ expressed its conviction is through the age-long acceptance of Mary as the most eminent of priests.
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The devotion to Mary Priest
The devotion to Mary as Priest can be documented in many ways.
- It consisted in the strong belief that Mary was, indeed, a priest.
Tradition indicates four main reasons: Mary belonged to a priestly family, Mary exercised priestly functions, Mary gave us the Eucharist and Mary procures forgiveness of sins.
- Tradition stressed especially Mary’s role as a sacrificial priest.
Mary’s role as Sacrificial Priest is seen particularly in her offering Jesus during the Presentation in the Temple and during his crucifixion on Calvary.
- Devotion to Mary Priest blossomed greatly among ordained ministers.
Mary was seen to have a special relationship to priests, not least in the celebration of the Eucharist.
- The devotion to Mary Priest has been present throughout the history of the Church.
Read the witness of theologians and spiritual writers, with references to extensive quotations.
- The devotion to Mary Priest was also expressed in religious art.
Visit our gallery of images of Mary Priest.
Mary and Holy Orders
The ancient writers were well aware of the fact that, according to the cultural and theological perceptions of the time, women could not be ordained priests. How did this relate to Mary?
They offer the solution that, though Mary did not receive the sacrament of Holy Orders as priests receive it today, she possessed the priesthood equivalently and eminently. In particular they state:
- Mary was ordained a priest through an interior anointing, as distinct from the external anointing given to present-day priests at ordination. It was the Holy Spirit himself who ordained Mary.
- Others say it was Christ who anointed Mary making her a priest. Christ extended his own priesthood to her. He deputed her spiritually and communicated his own dignity to her.
- Mary shared in Jesus’s own priestly character.
- Though Mary was not ordained sacramentally, yet she possessed the substance of the priesthood to the highest degree. The eminence of the priesthood resided in Mary.
- In Mary the obstacle of her sex was overcome.
Read Mary and Holy Orders for more details.
Read also the excellent article by Dr. Tina Beattie, Mary, the Virgin Priest?
The devotion to Mary Priest reveals a latent tradition according to which there is no valid reason to exclude women from ordination simply because they are women.
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