I used to joke with my friends that if God made me a man, I would’ve become a priest in a heartbeat. But I have an easier time imagining myself as a man than not being Catholic. So here’s the question: Why doesn’t the Catholic Church allow for female priests? There are a lot more answers that go beyond misogynistic misunderstandings.
I watched the ordination of the auxiliary bishops of Los Angeles. It was my first time watching an ordination. Like the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation, the sacrament of Holy Orders is a sacrament of initiation. The Catechism says “Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time.” (CCC 1536)
The role of a priest is to act in the person of Christ. It’s the most literal form of imitating Christ that a person can be. And like Christ, most Catholic priests don’t marry or have families because they’re already married to the Church, who is feminine. They are literally married to their job. The feminine aspect of the Church is also why women can’t be priests, since women cannot marry women in the Catholic Church. Instead, women can choose to represent the Church and marry Christ through becoming a nun or a consecrated virgin.
One major part of the ordination was the laying of hands and the greeting of the new bishops with a handshake and kiss. Like many traditions, the laying of hands represents an aspect called “apostolic succession.” Today’s priests and bishops are all descendants of the apostles, carrying on the mission of going out into the world, baptizing and preaching. Bishops have the added responsibility of ordaining new priests and giving the Sacrament of Confirmation.
But it wasn’t watching the ordination that made me realize the responsibilities of priesthood. It was two books: To Save a Thousand Souls by Fr. Brett Brannen and Geekpriest by Fr. Roderick Vonhogen. Although the book is for those discerning diocesan priesthood, it gives a lot of insight to everything a priest does and once I finished reading it, I realized that there was no way I could do everything a priest does.
I said before that being a priest comes with a lot of responsibilities and it’s true. Priests don’t just celebrate Mass, write and preach homilies, and pray. They also baptize, celebrate marriages, visit the sick, stay with the dying, bury the dead, instruct others, counsel and guide the suffering, evangelize, perform exorcisms, and act as father figures to their flock. Fr. Roderick said that the life of the priest stressed him out. He wanted to be there 24/7 for everyone and he had a bit of a meltdown from all the stress he experienced. But once he realized that he didn’t always have to say “yes” to everything and accept the reality of his situation, things got better.
Ladies, we already stress ourselves enough as it is. I don’t know about you, but we constantly worry about other people already and like Fr. Roderick, we tend to say “yes” to everything, even when it’s more than we can handle. We carry emotional burdens from our friends and coworkers and sometimes that emotional support can drain us. Now imagine trying to do that as a 24/7 job and being expected to be a leader and defender of the Church on top of that. I’m not saying that we can’t already do it as women, but as members of the laity, we have the advantage of having emotional support from other people and coming home or calling someone who will listen and help us carry our burdens. The priests of religious orders can come home and support each other, but it’s not the same as having a family or a spouse. Not to mention diocesan priests live alone. All priests need the support of the people.
Once I learned the number of responsibilities a priest takes on, I realized that I am blessed to be someone who could support my priests in their journey of holiness. I may not be able to consecrate the hosts or officiate weddings, but I can still represent the church by caring for those in need, defending the church, and making sacrifices and make ordinary things sacred. All of us can do the same.
Today, dear readers, I want to ask you to pray for your local pastor and reach out to them. Send them a card or a gift that lets them know how much you appreciate them. If you have a friend who’s a priest, call them up and spend some time with them. I know that I benefited greatly by having priests as friends. I got to know them as people.
The power of a priest isn’t an authoritarian kind of power. It’s the kind of power that requires having a servant’s heart, the strength to carry that emotional burden and responsibility . Today, I hope that you will pray for your priests and for an increase in vocations to priesthood and religious life.