|Fr. John wearing a dunce cap. Haha.|
If we priests don't take priesthood seriously, no one will.
For the past several weeks I have been exploring the subject of the Eucharist and its worthy reception. One thing occurred to me while writing these columns, however, and that is the necessity of the priest in making the Eucharist present.
As most of us realize, there is a severe priest shortage, not just in this diocese, but also in many places throughout the country and the world. For many people, the priest shortage has yet to seriously affect them. For example, here at St. Josephs we have been blessed to have a consistent priest presence since the parish was founded. Other parishes in this diocese are not nearly as fortunate. For example, just up the road in West Point, that parish has been without a resident pastor for almost two years now.
In light of this, it is important to ask the question, what happens to the Eucharist and the Church with fewer priests? In our Catholic Tradition, only priests and bishops are able to confect (make present) the Eucharist. Without priests and bishops, we have no Eucharist. And without the Eucharist, the Catholic Church ceases to exist. It’s really that simple. But what is the solution? What should we as a Church be doing to get more priests?
One of the most common answers to these questions is, “Let married men and women be priests.” As most of us realize, the Roman Catholic Church has the rule of male-only mandatory celibacy for her priests (with very limited exceptions which I will explore later). This mandatory celibacy requirement is the reason most men give for not considering priesthood. Therefore, it seems to make sense that opening the priesthood to married men and to women would immediately solve the shortage problem.
The Catholic hierarchy (Pope and Bishops) have regularly addressed these issues and have consistently said that the male-only, celibate clergy will continue to be the ordinary expression of the ordained ministry. For many women, this is troubling and appears discriminatory. After all, many say, women can and would be able to do just as good a job as any man at being a priest.
What many people fail to appreciate, however, is that priesthood is more than just something one does. It is more than just a job with specific functions. If that were the sole criteria, I would agree totally that women would do just as good (or better) a job as men. For us Catholics, however, priesthood is about who one is, not just what someone does. The Catholic Church teaches that the priest, once ordained, undergoes an ontological change (a change in being) in which he is “conformed to Christ, the High Priest and stands in the person of Christ (in persona Christi) in his ministry.”
And since Christ was a male, His priests should be male, as were the Twelve Apostles he chose and empowered at the Last Supper to preside at the Eucharist. For the Church, the maleness of Christ and the Twelve Apostles was and continues to be seen as something indispensable and constitutive that His priests must continue to possess.
For many people, this reasoning is fine. For others, this reasoning is insufficient at best and just plain absurd at worst. Pope John Paul II, a few years before he died, wrote a defining letter regarding this very question in which he explained that the Church did not have the right to ordain women, even if we wanted to. I will pick up there next week.