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The priest's action 'in the person of the Church' is less important. From INTER INSIGNIORES

The priest's action ‘in the person of the Church’ is less important

From INTER INSIGNIORES:

(The hyper-linked comments in italics are by John Wijngaards)

Arms of John Paul II

33. However, it will perhaps be further objected that the priest, especially when he presides at the liturgical and sacramental functions, equally represents the Church: he acts in her name with ‘the intention of doing what she does’. In this sense, the theologians of the Middle Ages said that the minister also acts in persona Ecclesiae, that is to say, in the name of the whole Church and in order to represent her. And in fact, leaving aside the question of the participation of the faithful in a liturgical action, it is indeed in the name of the whole Church that the action is celebrated by the priest: he prays in the name of all, and in the Mass he offers the sacrifice of the whole Church. In the new Passover, the Church, under visible signs, immolates Christ through the ministry of the priest.(20) And so, it is asserted, since the priest also represents the Church, would it not be possible to think that this representation could be carried out by a woman according to the symbolism already explained? It is true that the priest represents the Church, which is the Body of Christ. But if he does so, it is precisely because he first represents Christ himself, who is the Head and the Shepherd of the Church. The Second Vatican Council (2l) used this phrase to make more precise and to complete the expression in persona Christi. It is in this quality that the priest presides over the Christian assembly and celebrates the Eucharistic sacrifice ‘in which the whole Church offers and is herself wholly offered’.(22)

34. If one does justice to these reflections, one will better understand how well-founded is the basis of the Church’s practice; and one will conclude that the controversies raised in our days over the ordination of women are for all Christians a pressing invitation to meditate on the mystery of the Church, to study in greater detail the meaning of the episcopate and the priesthood, and to rediscover the real and pre-eminent place of the priest in the community of the baptized, of which he indeed forms part but from which he is distinguished because, in the actions that call for the character of ordination, for the community he is-with all the effectiveness proper to the sacraments-the image and symbol of Christ himself who calls, forgives, and accomplishes the sacrifice of the Covenant.

Note 20. Cf. Council of Trent, Session 22, chap. 1: DS 1741.

Note 21. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium n. 28: ‘Exercising within the limits of their authority the function of Christ as Shepherd and Head’; Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 2: ‘that they can act in the person of Christ the Head’; n. 6: ‘the office of Christ the Head and the Shepherd’. Cf. Pope Pius Xll, Encyclical Letter Mediator Dei: ‘the minister of the altar represents the person of Christ as the Head, offering in the name of all his members’: AAS 39 (1947), p.s56; 1971 Synod of Bishops, De Sacerdotio Ministeriali, 1, 4: ‘The priestly ministry] . . .makes Christ, the Head of the community, present . . .’.

Note 22. Pope Paul Vl, Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei, 3 September 1965: AAS 57 (1965), p.761.

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:

Sacred Congregation for Doctrine

95. In various fairly recent publications attempts have been made to reduce the importance of the formula in persona Christi by insisting rather on the formula in persona Ecclesiae. For it is another great principle of the theology of the sacraments and liturgy that the priest presides over the liturgy in the name of the Church, and must have the intention of ‘doing what the Church does.’

96. Could one say that the priest does not represent Christ, because he first represents the Church by the fact of his ordination? The declaration’s reply to this objection is that, quite on the contrary, the priest represents the Church precisely because he first represents Christ himself, who is the head and shepherd of the Church. It indicates several texts of the Second Vatican Council that clearly express this teaching.

97. Here there may well be in fact one of the crucial points of the question, one of the important aspects of the theology of the Church and the priesthood underlying the debate on the ordination of women. When the priest presides over the assembly, it is not the assembly that has chosen or designated him for this role. The Church is not a spontaneous gathering. As its name of ecclesia indicates, it is an assembly that is convoked. It is Christ who calls it together. He is the head of the Church, and the priest presides ‘in the person of Christ the head’ (in persona Christi capitis).

For the full text, see: Official Commentary on INTER INSIGNIORES.



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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