Only a male priest can signify Christ at the Eucharist
From INTER INSIGNIORES:
(The hyper-linked comments in italics are by John Wijngaards)
24. Having recalled the Church’s norm and the basis thereof, it seems useful and opportune to illustrate this norm by showing the profound fittingness that theological reflection discovers between the proper nature of the sacrament of Order, with its specific reference to the mystery of Christ, and the fact that only men have been called to receive priestly ordination. It is not a question here of bringing forward a demonstrative argument, but of clarifying this teaching by the analogy of faith.
25. The Church’s constant teaching, repeated and clarified by the Second Vatican Council and again recalled by the 1971 Synod of Bishops and by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its Declaration of 24 June 1973, declares that the bishop or the priest, in the exercise of his ministry, does not act in his own name, in persona propria: he represents Christ, who acts through him: ‘the priest truly acts in the place of Christ’, as Saint Cyprian already wrote in the third century.(l5) It is this ability to represent Christ that Saint Paul considered as characteristic of his apostolic function (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20; Gal. 4:14). The supreme expression of this representation is found in the altogether special form it assumes in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the source and centre of the Church’s unity, the sacrificial meal in which the People of God are associated in the sacrifice of Christ: the priest, who alone has the power to perform it, then acts not only through the effective power conferred on him by Christ, but in persona Christi,(16) taking the role of Christ, to the point of being his very image, when he pronounces the words of consecration.(l 7)
26. The Christian priesthood is therefore of a sacramental nature: the priest is a sign, the supernatural effectiveness of which comes from the ordination received, but a sign that must be perceptible (18) and which the faithful must be able to recognize with ease.
27. The whole sacramental economy is in fact based upon natural signs, on symbols imprinted upon the human psychology: ‘Sacramental signs,’ says Saint Thomas, ‘represent what they signify by natural resemblance.(l9) The same natural resemblance is required for persons as for things: when Christ’s role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally, there would not be this ‘natural resemblance’ which must exist between Christ and his minister if the role of Christ were not taken by a man: in such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains a man.
28. Christ is of course the firstborn of all humanity, of women as well as men: the unity which he re-established after sin is such that there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all are one in Christ Jesus (cf. Gal. 3:28). Nevertheless, the incarnation of the Word took place according to the male sex: this is indeed a question of fact, and this fact, while not implying an alleged natural superiority of man over woman, cannot be disassociated from the economy of salvation: it is, indeed, in harmony with the entirety of God’s plan as God himself has revealed it, and of which the mystery of the Covenant is the nucleus.
32. Could one say that, since Christ is now in the heavenly condition, from now on it is a matter of indifference whether he be represented by a man or by a woman, since ‘at the resurrection men and women do not marry’ (Mt. 22:30)? But this text does not mean that the distinction between man and woman, insofar as it determines the identity proper to the person, is suppressed in the glorified state; what holds for us holds also for Christ. It is indeed evident that in human beings the difference of sex exercises an important influence, much deeper than, for example, ethnic differences: the latter do not affect the human person as intimately as the difference of sex, which is directly ordained both for the communion of persons and for the generation of human beings. In Biblical Revelation this difference is the effect of God’s will from the beginning: ‘male and female he created them’ (Gen. 1:27).
Note 16. Second Vatican Council Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium (CTS Do 386) n. 33 (4 December 1963): ‘ . . .by the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ . . .’; Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium (CTS Do 349) n. 10 (21 November 1964): ‘The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, moulds and rules the priestly people. Acting in the person of Christ, he brings about the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. . .’; 28: ‘By the powers of the sacrament of Order, and in the image of Christ the eternal High Priest…they exercise this sacred function of Christ above all in the Eucharistic liturgy or synaxis. There, acting in the person of Christ…’; Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis (CTS Do 357) n. 2 (7 December 1965): ‘ . . .priests, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are marked with a special character and are so configured to Christ the Priest that they can act in the person of Christ the Head’; 13:’Asministersof sacredrealities, especially in the Sacrifice of the Mass, priests represent the person of Christ in a special way’; cf. 1971 Synod of Bishops, De Sacerdotio Ministeriali 1, 4; Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaratio circu catholicam doctrinam de Ecclesia, 6 (24 June 1973).
Note 17. Saint Thomas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 83, art. l, ad 3: ‘It is to be said that [just as the celebration of this sacrament is the representative image of Christ’s Cross: ibid. ad 2], for the same reason the priest also enacts the image of Christ, in whose person and by whose power he pronounces the words of consecration.’
Note 18. ‘For since a sacrament is a sign, there is required in the things that are done in the sacraments not only the “res” but the signification of the “res”,’recalls Saint Thomas, precisely in order to reject the ordination of women: In IV Sent., dist. 25 q. 2. art. 1. quaestiuncula la, corp.
Note 19 Saint Thomas In IV Sent., dist. 25, q. 20 quaestiuncula 1a ad 4um
For the full text, see: INTER INSIGNIORES.
From the Commentary by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Declaration Inter Insigniores:
85. The declaration therefore suggests that it is by analysing the nature of order and its character that we will find the explanation of the exclusive call of men to the priesthood and episcopate. This analysis can be outlined in three propositions: (1) in administering the sacraments that demand the character of ordination the priest does not act in his own name (in persona propria), but in the person of Christ (in persona Christi); (2) this formula, as understood by tradition, implies that the priest is a sign in the sense in which this term is understood in sacramental theology; (3) it is precisely because the priest is a sign of Christ the saviour that he must be a man and not a woman.
86. That the priest performs the eucharist and reconciles sinners in the name and place of Christ is affirmed repeatedly by the magisterium and constantly taught by fathers and theologians. It would not appear to serve any useful purpose to give a multitude of quotations to show this. It is the totality of the priestly ministry that St Paul says is exercised in the place of Christ: ‘We are acting as ambassadors on behalf of Christ, God, as it were, appealing through us’-in fact this text from 2 Corinthians has in mind the ministry of reconciliation (5: l 8-20)-’you have received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 4:14).
87. Similarly St Cyprian echoes St Paul: ‘The priest truly acts in the place of Christ.’(44) But theological reflection and the Church’s life have been led to distinguish the more or less close links between the various acts in the exercise of the ministry and the character of ordination and to specify which require this character for validity.
88. Saying ‘in the name and place of Christ’ is not however enough to express completely the nature of the bond between the minister and Christ as understood by tradition. The formula in persona Christi in fact suggests a meaning that brings it close to the Greek expression mimema Christou.(45) The word persona means a part played in the ancient theatre, a part identified by a particular mask. The priest takes the part of Christ, lending him his voice and gestures.
89. St Thomas expresses this concept exactly: The priest enacts the image of Christ, in whose person and by whose power he pronounces the words of consecration.’(46) The priest is thus truly a sign in the sacramental sense of the word. It would be a very elementary view of the sacraments if the notion of sign were kept only for material elements.
90. Each sacrament fulfils the notion in a different way. The text of St Bonaventure already mentioned affirms this very clearly: ‘the person ordained is a sign of Christ the mediator.’(47)
91. Although St Thomas gave as the reason for excluding women the much discussed one of the state of subjection (status subjectionis), he nevertheless took as his starting point the principle that ‘sacramental signs represent what they signify by a natural resemblance,’’(48) in other words the need for that ‘natural resemblance’ between Christ and the person who is his sign. And, still on the same point, St Thomas recalls: ‘Since a sacrament is a sign, what is done in the sacrament requires not only the reality but also a sign of the reality.’(49)
92. It would not accord with ‘natural resemblance,’ with that obvious ‘meaningfulness,’ if the memorial of the supper were to be carried out by a woman; for it is not just the recitation involving the gestures and words of Christ, but an action, and the sign is efficacious because Christ is present in the minister who consecrates the eucharist, as is taught by the Second Vatican Council, following the encyclical Mediator Dei.(50)
93. It is understandable that those favouring the ordination of women have made various attempts to deny the value of this reasoning. It has obviously been impossible and even unnecessary for the declaration to consider in detail all the difficulties that could be raised in this regard. Some of them however are of interest in that they occasion a deeper theological understanding of traditional principles.
94. Let us look at the objection sometimes raised that it is ordination-the character-not maleness, that makes the priest Christ’s representative. Obviously it is the character, received by ordination, that enables the priest to consecrate the eucharist and reconcile penitents. But the character is spiritual and invisible (res et sacramentum). On the level of the sign (sacramentum tantum) the priest must both have received the laying on the hands and take the part of Christ. It is here that St Thomas and St Bonaventure require that the sign should have natural meaningfulness.
Note 44. Epist. 63, 14: ed. Hartel, CSEL t. 3, p.713: sacerdos vice Christi vere fungitur.
Note 45. St Theodore the Studite, Adversus Iconomachos cap. 4; PG 99, 593; Epist.
Note 46. Summa Theol., 111 q. 83, a. I, ad 3-um
Note 47. Above, note 32: persona quae ordinatur significat Christum mediatorem.
Note 48. In IV Sent., Dist. 25, q. 2, a. 2, qa 1, ad 4-um: signa sacramentalia ex naturali similitudine repraesentent.
Note 49. Ibid. in corp. quaestiunculae: Quia cum sacramentum sit signum, in eis -quae in sacramento aguntur requiritur non solum res, sed significatio rei.
Note 50. II Vatican Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium on the Liturgy no. 7 (CTS Do 386); Pius XII, Encyclical Mediator Dei. 20 November 1947.
For the full text, see: Official Commentary on INTER INSIGNIORES.
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