Should Catholic women preach at Mass? Here’s a better question.

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Catholics who have sat through enough bad homilies can find it difficult to understand why the church does not allow women (or laymen) to preach about the good news at Mass. We all know women who are knowledgeable in the Catholic faith and who could probably give a more engaging homily than Father who is struggling through his fourth Mass of the weekend. Besides, other Christian denominations allow women to preach in a ministerial role, and they do a fine job of it, bringing many souls to a greater love of God.

There is also the obvious reality that the church has been enriched by the witness of many brilliant women, above all Mary the Mother of God. And it is no accident that the risen Lord sent Mary Magdalene to tell the apostles of his resurrection. Because of this unique mission, St. Thomas Aquinas called her the apostle to the apostles (apostola apostolarum). The Samaritan woman at the well becomes a proto-evangelist when she goes back to her town to invite others to come to see Jesus. The past two millennia have seen women doctors of the church, women saints and countless holy women.

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Catholics who have sat through enough bad homilies can find it difficult to understand why the church does not allow women to preach about the good news at Mass.

To be clear, the Catholic Church does allow women and non-ordained men to preach at the discretion of the local bishop. Laypeople may preach at retreats, offer reflections and so on, as clearly stated in Canon Law (No. 766). Nevertheless, Canon Law also specifies that the homily is a particular type of preaching, part of the liturgy of the Mass, and is reserved for the ordained—deacons and priests (No. 767). The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has further clarified that Canon No. 766 cannot be used in the space reserved for the homily during the Mass. In 2004, the Vatican also issued the instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” which reiterates this continued teaching and practice, underscoring that wherever the practice has been changed it must be returned to the consistent teaching of the church (No. 64-66, 74 and 161).

We live in a culture that views and values persons in terms of their function—what they can do. And in the United States today, women and men can do most of the same things. Frequently, women surpass men with their abilities and academic accomplishments, making it all the more difficult to understand why a woman who could certainly write and deliver a better homily than a particular priest would not be allowed to do so.

Herein lies a significant challenge to understanding the situation. We have to move beyond our functional world to a more metaphysical world. In other words, we have to shift the conversation from doing to being. This is all the more difficult when our surrounding cultural norms maintain sexual differentiation as something fluid and not definitive.

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We have to move beyond our functional world to a more metaphysical world. We have to shift the conversation from doing to being.

When it comes to the priesthood, the priest stands in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) in relation to the faithful, particularly in the Mass and in the sacrament of reconciliation. By virtue of his ordination, the church teaches that his soul has been indelibly marked. An ontological change has taken place. In effect, this means that no matter how wonderful or how terrible the priest may be, when he says the words of the consecration, he is able to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, by virtue of his ordination, not his moral character. So, too, with the words of absolution, the priest is able to forgive our sins. He is truly another Christ and able to do the things that only Christ could do. What he does is inextricably tied to who he is.

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While some may be quick to identify this as a form of clericalism, I would offer that it is a grace and a mercy. If the priesthood depended on the character of the priest, history suggests that humanity would be found sorely lacking in acceptable candidates. Most of us, lay and cleric alike, have a long way to go in our personal sanctification.

The reality of the priest in persona Christi also has to do with Christ’s relationship to the church, namely that of the bridegroom to the bride, a specific image that points to a reality. In a 2015 interview, Pope Francis returned to this 2,000-year teaching when answering a question about the possibility of women’s ordination. “[It’s] not because women don’t have the capacity. Look, in the church, women are more important than men, because the church is a woman. It is ‘la’ church, not ‘il’ church. The church is the bride of Jesus Christ.”

In our marriages, we crave the same intimacy and love that exists between Christ and his church.

Countless works of art depicting Christ as the bridegroom, frequently with his mother representing the church as his bride, underscore a tradition and teaching that arguably predate the birth of Christ. The Old Testament introduces the idea of a marriage between God and his people and builds up the expectation of its fulfillment in the New Testament, both in Christ’s sacrifice and in the coming into being of the church.

Given our experiences of marriage, this teaching can be all the more challenging to grasp. But it can help to look to St. Thomas Aquinas, who identifies it as the perfect spousal relationship. In other words, our human experience is analogous. In our marriages, we crave the same intimacy and love that exists between Christ and his church, between God and his people, but our human imperfection will limit even the best marriages.

In the liturgy of the Mass, the priest stands not only as Christ but as Christ in relation to the church. Every part of the Mass reserved to a priest or deacon corresponds with an action that Jesus himself engaged in as the bridegroom of the church. That is why the Gospel cannot be read by a non-ordained person. And while many women and men are involved in the teaching of the Gospel in myriad ways, the specific form of the homily in the context of the Mass is about Christ’s spousal relationship to his church.

We have to advance the conversation beyond one that limits women to emulating male models but instead understands women and men in relation to one another.

This reality should serve to encourage our priests and deacons to prepare with the utmost care for the homily. As the priest is called to offer himself in persona Christi in the eucharistic sacrifice, he must do the same in his preaching. This sometimes means that he must preach a difficult message and be prepared to be persecuted as a result, just as Jesus was persecuted for his preaching, particularly his challenges to corrupt powers and authorities.

But the fact that some priests do not do homilies well or that some women could write and deliver them better does not change the reality of the spousal relationship of Christ and, in turn, the priest, to the church.

When Pope Francis gave his answer above, he also rearticulated the need for the development of a theology of women. I continue to maintain that we have to advance the conversation beyond one that limits women to emulating male models but instead understands women and men in relation to one another. We have already proven that women and men can do many of the same things. Now we need to advance the conversation to one of being. Specifically, how does the reality of being a specific sexually differentiated human person—a woman or a man—impact what a person does? Maybe the first question we need to ask is: Does being a woman or a man affect what I do?

Judging from our cultural perceptions of men, which limit in harmful ways what is considered to be properly masculine, we need to do this work as it relates to both women and men. Maybe even together.

Nora Bolcon
1 week 2 days ago

Anyone can cherry pick one sexist study. The vast majority of studies found that there is little difference in how male and female brains work, therefore also how their emotions work. What has been discovered is that there actually exist greater differences between different groups of men in how they think and react than between groups of men and women.

Misogyny tells us we can treat men and women differently and not do real harm to either group. The Gospels, taught by Christ, tell us we must treat all others the same as us or we sin because discrimination of treatment always causes harm to one side or both.

Nora Bolcon
1 week 2 days ago

Thanks B ts for your supportive comment. It does make a difference.

Yeah, I notice America nailed me on the Wacko comment since it has obviously disappeared.

When women like me are struggling to stay and struggling with the question is it really healthy to continue to bringing my teenage son and daughter to church in this environment, it helps to see that the majority of comments support women's same ordination as men. People like you offer hope.

arthur mccaffrey
1 week 2 days ago

@BTS--sounds like you need to read some Carl Jung and try to understand the difference between animus and anima.

B TS
1 week 1 day ago

Arthur, It would be more helpful if you just tell us the differences. What are they? What are the characteristics other than sex organs that all men have that no women have, and that all women have the no men have? Just name them. That's all I am asking.

Fr. Ronald G Schmit
1 week 2 days ago

The teaching is the priest stands in persona Christi capitis, in the person of Christ the head. Every baptized person stands in persona Christi. As the Council (Vatican II) instructs that Christ is acting through the whole assembly of the body of Christ.
Appealing to Thomistic metaphysics means nothing to contemporary people. We need a historical consciousness not metaphysical. And as history has taught us that separate is not equal.
Furthermore we need to accept candidates to priesthood who actually have gifts of preaching, proclaiming and teaching not just piety. We cannot just rely on metaphysical magic to transform incompetence into something else. The people have suffered enough from over reliance on piety and magical thinking. Let us rely on discerning gifts. As we learned from Thomas grace builds on nature.

J Jones
1 week 2 days ago

Blessed be the truth tellers.

arthur mccaffrey
1 week 2 days ago

hope you are in charge of screening seminary candidates--and thank you for acknowledging that all the People of God (Lumen Gentium) stand in persona Christi

S Glav
1 week 2 days ago

Twice the article mentions that a woman could "write" the homily and proceeds to demonstrate why a woman cannot. Is a priest the only one who can write a homily? Is a priest obligated to write his own homily or can he read the homily written by another priest?

Chris Christenson
1 week 2 days ago

I'm confused.
What about Paul

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Oz Jewel
1 week 2 days ago

is that the same Paul who said women should hide their glorious hair and remain silent in the liturgical assembly?

Nora Bolcon
1 week 2 days ago

Women should be silent in church was added later on to Paul's letter experts believe. The hair thing was suggestion and Paul made fun of the Galatians for treating faith in Christ like Jewish legalists. Paul never intended his letters to be used as scripture. Paul supported women leading churches in their homes in Acts so the misogyny is really later on in our church history as there were restrictions Paul offered for males in dress and behavior too.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 1 day ago

Nora
Your suggestion of an “add on” to Paul’s 1 Corinthians runs into the problem that apparently ALL the original Greek manuscripts contain that verse concerning a woman’s silence. So there are no provable scribes’ amendments to those texts.
And again in 1Timothy 2:12 Paul states: “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man ( her husband?), but to remain quiet”
No sense in excusing Paul to insist that “the misogyny is really later on in our church history”. If it is misogyny now , it was misogyny back then.

B TS
1 week ago

Stuart, Paul did not write either 1Timothy or 2Timothy. It's not one of the letters generally attributed to genuine Pauline authorship. Look it up.
It's not even a controversial statement to assert as such.

Nora Bolcon
6 days 14 hours ago

You see your problem with that Stuart is that the experts in translation disagree with you (again not my opinion) more than I.

Bts is also correct, scripture experts also agree that at least 1st Timothy and Titus were not actually written by St. Paul (its it is undecided if 2nd Timothy was written by St. Paul). This is because the style, language, and description of background, within the letters, do not match Paul's other main letters (or in the case of Titus where Paul was believed to have traveled) Romans thru Thessalonians are believed to be his. It was not uncommon for writers to falsely use a famous person's name during this age in order to ensure people read your works. Also, since St. Paul also lauds women in Acts for leading churches and refers to them as deacons with the same title he refers to himself, it makes Paul self-contradictory if this addition were deemed correct in Corinthians. Also, St. Paul literally tells women to prophesy in church in the same letter Corinthians which is a physical impossibility to perform without speaking in church. Add to this that even St Paul would tell you, when in doubt, follow the Gospels, and always treat people the way Jesus commanded, and again we are back at all must treat all others (including women) the same as one wishes to be treated (including St. Paul). Women do not wish to be told to be silent and we do not wish to be kept from any sacraments anymore than any men do. So this again helps you understand right from wrong. Sexism is wrong and Love and Justice and Equality are always right!

Stuart Meisenzahl
5 days 10 hours ago

Nora
Once again your purposefully miss the point ....
You had argued that misogyny was a development removed far from the roots of Christianity in its earliest years...an obvious appeal to the argument that Our Church Magisterium has no real roots.
My contradictory quote from “Timothy” is not an argument for authorship (whether or not disputable), I quoted the age of the Timothy verses (as well as the Greek texts for 1 Corinthians) because it is a pointed rejection of your position that “misogyny” ( your tribute) was “a late Church development” and not there in its earliest years.

Chris Christenson
1 week 2 days ago

I'm confused.
What about Paul

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Nora Bolcon
1 week 2 days ago

That is accurate. The apostles and st. Paul supported women leading in churches in their homes which is where all the churches were according to Acts. Misogyny came later on.

arthur mccaffrey
1 week 2 days ago

this article is a piece of propaganda masquerading as insightful commentary. All it does is reinforce the status quo of the "system".

Jacqueline Baligian
1 week 2 days ago

This is really mind boggling. A priest is supposed to be a moral role model yet, oh well, if he is an awful, terrible person w/out a moral bone in his body, he still gets to be a priest simply for the fact that he is male. That is NUTS. “ If the priesthood depended on the character of the priest, history suggests that humanity would be found sorely lacking in acceptable candidates.”

Oz Jewel
1 week 2 days ago

Main point.
Mass is sacramental liturgy.
Priest performs this liturgy.
Homily is priestly expounding of liturgy of word.
Homily done by priest or deacon.
Full stop.
Outside of liturgy, anyone competent may say what they like and be judged on their merits without reference to ethnicity, gender or social standing.

Chorus of offence takers, you are welcome!

Nora Bolcon
1 week 2 days ago

None of your list gives any justifiable reason, in Christ, to keep women from same ordination as men in our church. The End.

Oz Jewel
1 week 2 days ago

If I recall, the first man to listen to a woman preach brought about the fall and expulsion from Eden. Is that a lesson or what?

All this talk of inequality and misogyny and rationality and disrespect is rubbish.

As far as instruction is concerned, what standing under the above headings did the embargo on eating the particular fruit have?

It was an authoritative command to be obeyed.

Likewise with this issue.

Nora Bolcon
1 week 2 days ago

Ahh Oz,

And here we have proof positive how some men really should never attempt to interpret scripture.

Eve and Adam both sinned the same sin which was not eating the fruit they were forbidden to eat, that was a result of their equal sin of not believing God spoke the truth. Eve disbelieved in taking the fruit from the snake and choosing to eat it and Adam performed the same sin of not having faith when he took the fruit from Eve and chose to eat it. The choice to doubt God was the sin and they both sinned equally. After which both wrongly blamed someone else for their sins. Adam blamed Eve to avoid responsibility and Eve blamed the snake to avoid responsibility. Both were equally guilty because the scripture states outright that Adam was present for the conversation between Eve and the snake and he did not interrupt it, or impede it, or refute it.

don ttouchme
1 week 2 days ago

What does the "spousal relationship" mean anymore since JPII annihilated the role of the husband as the head and made husabnd and wife universally subject to each other? If mutual subjection is the nature of the "spousal relationship" then the difference between doing and being is irrelevant with regard to teaching since the man isn't ontologically in authority. You can't use "spousal relationship" as an analogy anymore because you eviscerated the symbol.

Annette Magjuka
1 week 1 day ago

Misogyny, bigotry, and discrimination are antithetical to Christ’s teachings, even when cloaked in an “academic” article. Women should be afforded every opportunity (all the sacraments) as men. We are not just “brides” to men, even if the man is Christ.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 1 day ago

Editors
Perhaps you could collectively enlighten your readers as to why you chose to publish an article whose argument is based solely on Thomistic Metaphysics.
This question is especially relevant because even your Jesuit Colleges have abandoned their decades long requirement that Metaphysics was a required course for graduation. I am reminded of my own time when even then students derided such courses with parodies on an Ethel Merman hit song...“There is no business like show business 🎼”) ... with:
”There is no Ism like Thomism, there is no Ism I know.....everything about it is revealing while concealing the debate below...etc.”

As a course of study Thomistic Metaphysics had many positive aspects but all of those required broad based readings, probing of historical antecedents , and an understanding of the historical times in which Thomas worked. None of these are present factors in the Solenni Article and as such simply expose the author’s thesis to rebuke as an unsubstantiated conclusory philosophical argument.

J Jones
1 week 1 day ago

My guess? This is in lieu of circulating the author's resume.
Clues:
"I continue to maintain" which links to her previous America article in which she makes the same argument. This is a regurgitation of the first article, published a few months ago.
- That article begins with her extraordinarily unpleasant story about chastising other theologians - her female academic peers - on a panel at Notre Dame for not giving her to the attention she thought deserved in their presentations about the lack of women in senior leadership and institutional positions in the RCC. She wrote that she "had" to correct their presentations by giving herself the attention she believed she deserved for her Diocesan job as Chancellor and theological consultant to her Bishop (who appears to have created that position for this apparently very wealthy woman who, according to one of her social media accounts, is married to a man who dines with tech industry elites.) The chip on her shoulder practically exploded off the page. It was wildly uncollegial behavior from an Catholic moral theologian/academic. That story would have likely died a natural death in academic circles until the author herself repeated it, with seething bravado, in the opening paragraph of an article here. And now I suspect she is stuck with it.
- In that article, after a tantrum in which she told every America Magazine reader a two year old story about her public and arrogant demand for attention from her academic peers on a Notre Dame panel, she then immediately wrote that Catholic women need to accept the very reality about which her academic peers had presented on that panel at Notre Dame. She proceeded to tell Catholic women to stop complaining, adopt her instruction on God's ways and instead start being the good Catholic social workers, teachers, parents, volunteers, etc, that many times a million of us already are.
- A few months later, per the author's Twitter account, she no longer has that Diocesan job.
- My guess is this is a second try at that earlier article, without the wholly unnecessary and wildly unpleasant and likely-relationship-damaging introduction followed by a lecture to other Catholic women to quit bellyaching about equality and start doing the work millions and millions and millions of Catholic women are doing and have been doing since forever. A second try without what would have been a wise air-clearing acknowledgment of the rank arrogance and professional disrespect and the unconvincing, condescending lecture to the rest of Catholic women which dripped from the first.

And through it all, the author is still standing on her head to convince us (and herself?) that gender discrimination in the Church is God's wish and plan and requirement.

It is endlessly fascinating to me that America publishes so many of these problematic articles by traditional professional Catholic women (the economist who cited woo-woo blogs and decades' old sources on mental health treatment in an article that started out focused on youth suicide; the think tank employee who massaged the latest CDC failure rates natural family planning methods until a 2 to 23% failure rate was cited "as low as 2%" as if the low end of a 21 point spread failure rate for ANYTHING is the salient value, let alone anything in healthcare interventions; and now we have this former diocesan chancellor who demanded acknowledgement of her "function" in the Church and then demanded other women get metaphysical and quit focusing on "function" in the Church. )

For Christ's sake! No pun intended.

Is this the quality of work by Catholic professional women America ****attracts* or are they just the Catholic professional women writers America *publishes*?

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 1 day ago

J Jones
Thanks for your insight on Pia’s previous article but was it really necessary to refer to her as “ very wealthy woman ....whose husband dines with tech industry elites”. As to your reference to “The Chip on her shoulder exploding off the page” I respectfully refer you to a number of the reactive Comments herein which seem far more worthy of that observation.
Ultimately the question remains for the Editors .....”Why publish a Thomistic exegesis on feminism in the Church when your own Universities have abandoned the value of Thomas’ insights?” Clearly it has not served any positive purpose, unless you view the conjuring of ad hominem diatribes as positive.

J Jones
1 week 1 day ago

The author chastised her Catholic female academic peers on a panel at Notre Dame for their presentation of the reality that there are very women in senior leadership and institutional positions in the RCC. She wrote she "had" to chastise them because they did not acknowledge HER position as theological consultant to a Bishop and chancellor. (The consultancy came first, by roughly a year. According to the website directory, she no longers holds either position but she is still listed on the website as a member of the Diocesan finance committee). It strikes me as an extraordinarily relevant detail, as she was publicly chastising her academic peers for not acknowledging HER leadership role as a Catholic woman, that the theological consultancy appears to have been created just for her (proving the point that there are not enough leadership positions for women) and, in the real world where money buys influence and honorary roles, etc, THAT detail makes her apparent wealth notable (and would further prove the point of the female academic peers she chastised and then chastised again two years later on these pages).
I hope the editors answer your question.

Re: other chips. Nora wrote a bunch of misogynist stuff the Editors removed. As they should have.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 1 day ago

J Jones
I am guessing but I don’t think you are planning on attending Pia’s lecture on “Women in the Body of Christ” on October 10,2019 ...7Pm At The College of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame Ind.😇
If. one is going to tar Pia DeSolenni with the implication that she is a wealthy woman with connections who most likely “bought her job” as a Diocesan Chancellor and Theological advisor, then in fairness it should be noted that she holds two theological degrees (Ba Sacred Theology and Phd Theology) from two different Pontifical Universities in Rome. Reviewing the comments posted here concerning her theological analysis I am at least passingly interested in the credentials of her critics, but then again 90% of her on site critics just skip over her theological argument in favor ad hominem bashing and innuendo for which no educational degrees are required..

L Hoover
1 week 1 day ago

Long story, short: Yes, women should be accorded opportunities to give homilies at mass. We can argue both sides and in-between.....but ultimately, Jesus did not say women should not read from the Gospels, nor did He say they should not preach. Human interpretations are typically skewed by human desire.

FRAN ABBOTT
1 week ago

After reading the nasty personal attacks on this author, I wonder why anybody would want to write for this magazine.

J Jones
5 days 9 hours ago

Fran, the author is responsible for her work here being read in this way. Please read the first paragraph of her first version of this article, published a few months ago (click the "I continue to maintain" link in the article). She positioned herself as a public rebuttal to her academic peers' academic argument two years, and she positioned herself again as the rebuttal argument in the opening paragraph of a theological argument here.

There she is, placed there by herself.

And, unfortunately for her, the rest of her rebuttal argument (and the details of the job for which she so unpleasantly demanded recognition from from her peers) documents nothing more than that she is the exception that proves the rule her academic peers were addressing.

There were comments here that were sexist and misogynistic, engaging in the demeaning and sexist practice of labeling as mentally ill women whose thinking is controversial. That was outrageous and was rightly removed by the editors.

Criticism of an individual's work product is criticism of an individual's work product and is not "a personal attack". This author's work is sexist and, thus, harmful. Her thinking about feminism is reductive and sexist.

Again, the author made her own (now former) Diocesan roles her rebuttal to her peers' academic argument that there are too few women in high level positions of leadership in the Church. That made her and her role and how she got her role (and why she no longer has those roles) wholly relevant. She and she alone is responsible for that.

FRAN ABBOTT
2 days 1 hour ago

There are personal insults and attacks that have no place in an academic discussion.

J Jones
6 days 8 hours ago

Another response to this mess:
https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Women-Will-Not-Be-Silent--Catholic-Women-Do-Preach---A-Response-to-Pia-de-Solenni.html?soid=1101674625527&aid=MZBZMvXJsYo

J Jones
6 days 8 hours ago

And another. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/suspendedinherjar/2019/09/yes-catholic-women-should-preach-but-why-is-this-so-frightening/

Stuart Meisenzahl
4 days 15 hours ago

Editors

Still waiting for why you would publish an Article based on a Thomistic Theology to a great number of your readers who have neither the educational background or interest in Thomas’ methodology, the context of his writing; the historic reasons for his raising and addressing both epistemological and metaphysical issues; and their relevance today.
Absent such background, your readers Inhale a broth of “nouvelle theologies” promulgated and expressed by the liberal theologians at Vatican 11 as the final word of that Council when in fact the great debate between the relevance and position of Thomistic Scholasticism and the New Theology continues to rage on ..See Fr Codina Article on “People Who Oppose the Pope” where he demonstrates that Francis has one foot planted firmly in the New Theology and the Other foot in the conclusions offered by Scholasticism. What is not yet clear is how Francis can reconcile this split position since he he suffers the critiques of both sides.
Do not blame Francis but rather Vatican 11 for its own failure to resolve the theological tension which plaques Francis’ Papacy.
I note in particular that Francis has canonized the Pope who “Threw Open the Windows” and the Popes who subsequently thought the resulting draft required shutters to temper the blast.

Helen Liu
4 days 14 hours ago

The problem is that some priests give very poor homilies. They paraphrase the Gospel, and tell us, the parishioners, what we ought to do to follow Christ. Rather condescending. we heard the Gospel all our adult lives. No other insight, no attempt to challenge us to make changes for the better and grow closer to God. We are being told week after week as five-year-olds what to do, I wish we could have 'simple silence' and listen from 'within' what Jesus would like us to hear. I suppose we could ignore the celebrant and listen to our heart during these 'poor homily time'. so, the question is: shouldn't the Celebrant make an effort to go a little deeper? Isn't that considered time well spent? it's interesting to see the large number of empty seats during Mass by some Celebrants.

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