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Can Women Represent Christ at the Eucharist?

Image of Christ

Women too bear Christ's image Women reflect Christ's feminine traits Women too can act as another Christ Women too represent Christ's love Women are equal 'in Christ'

Can Women Represent Christ at the Eucharist?

Rome says that women cannot be ordained priests because the priest acts ‘in the person of Christ’. Christ, who was a male, can only be adequately represented by a male priest. Read the full argument in Inter Insigniores, § 24-28.

The argumentation is wrong for the following reasons

  1. The argument as presented by Thomas Aquinas and his followers is seriously flawed and cannot be accepted as valid today.
    A woman too can act in persona Christi because women and men are equal in Christ.
  2. Being the ‘image of Christ’ both in Scripture and Tradition does not refer to resemblance to Christ’s maleness, but to Christ’s personhood as Child of God.
    Women too bear Christ's image as adopted children of God.
  3. Christ has feminine traits as well as masculine traits.
    A woman represents Christ better in his feminine traits and the feminine symbolism of his life giving mission.
  4. In baptism and marriage women fully represent Christ.
    As ministers of these sacraments women already act as ‘other Christs’.
  5. The essence of Christ’s priesthood demands ‘signifying’ his love, not his male gender.
    A woman, as much as any man, can represent Christ’s love, which is the essence of his priesthood.

Note. The reasons are presented here without any implied priority in their sequence and admitting of some overlap.

It should be noted also that Rome's ‘iconic’ argument is not ‘traditional’. We do not find it until the Middle Ages.

“As for the argument of a male priest needing to represent Christ, it may be noted that the NT does not seem to have any theological interest whatever in the maleness of Christ. I have found only three texts in which the word aner is used of Christ (Lk 24:19; Jn 1:30; Acts 2:22), and none of them exploits Christ’s “maleness.” It is interesting that in Rom 5, where Christ is presented as the “one man” through whose obedience the disobedience of the “one man,” Adam, was undone, the word for both figures is anthropos, not aner. The point, obviously, is not to question Christ’s maleness nor to suggest that one’s relationship to him is not affected by it, but simply to show that theological emphasis on the maleness of Christ’s humanity is foreign to the NT.”

Joseph A. Komonchak, ‘Theological Questions on the Ordination of Women’, in Women and the Catholic Priesthood, pp. 241-259; here p. 250.

“The argument based on the need of male representation is virtually unprecedented in Tradition. It does not in fact state any of the traditional grounds on which ordination to presbyterate or episcopate has been denied to women. To accept the argument and its practical consequence, therefore, is not to maintain tradition, but to alter it by altering its meaning. It is to accord a quite new sense to the Church’s long-standing refusal to ordain women. This is not only, or even principally, because the idea that a presbyter or bishop somehow ‘images’ Jesus in a special way is one which arrived rather late on the scene in Christian history. What is genuinely novel in it is the idea that Jesus’ maleness is at least one of the crucial things about him which ecclesial priesthoods must image. This novelty, furthermore, does not fall into the category of minor and peripheral products of pious musing. It touches ultimately upon questions having to do with Christology and with the economy of salvation; and for that reason it demands the most careful and sceptical scrutiny.”

“. . . Thus [after studying the sources] we may say quite firmly in summary that the maleness of Jesus is of no christological interest in patristic tradition. Furthermore, it is possible to detect in the development of patristic ideas on the subject a logic which suggests why it never occurred to the Fathers to make any more play with Jesus’sex than they did with his race. What the Fathers learned to understand by ‘incarnation’ was the likeness of the Word of God in his humanity to all those who are included within the scope of his redemption. It is this likeness, expressed in the word anthropos, which for them explains the logic of the Word’s becoming flesh. ‘For he became human that we might become divine,’ said one of them (Athanasius, De Incarnatione § 54). And presumably this ‘we’ (and therefore this humanity) includes women. To make of the maleness of Christ a christological principle is to qualify or deny the universality of his redemption.”

“ . . . . In the light of these considerations, it must be said that as from a strictly christological, so from a theological, perspective the fact of Jesus’ maleness is not, for the classical tradition, a constitutive factor in the meaning of ‘God-with-us’. It is definitive neither of what is meant by ‘us’ in that expression, nor of what is meant by ‘God’. So we are left roughly where we were at the end of the last section. Maleness is not constitutive of Jesus as the Christ. On the contrary, Christology envisages him as the representative human being - a category which presumably includes female human beings. The question then arises: Why would maleness be significant among the conditions which qualify a person to ‘represent’ the Christ in the ministry of Word and Sacrament?”

R.A.Norris, ‘The Ordination of Women and the Maleness of the Christ’, in Feminine in the Church, ed. by Monica Furlong, SPCK, London 1984, pp. 71-85; here p. 73, 78, 80.

John Wijngaards

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

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