O.K., I didn't see this one coming. I knew about the Womenpriests movement, a small number of Catholic women who have either ordained themselves or gotten themselves ordained (about 100 of them now worldwide, 37 in the U.S.), and I knew that the Pope had banned the first seven of these ordinands from the Catholic Church several years ago, but none sense (by which I do not mean 'nun sense' :). These women are tired of waiting for the Catholic Church to recognize the call of God on their lives and their gifts and graces. The article in the NY Times this morning tells us of two more '60 something' Catholic women pursuing ordination in a city that is a Catholic stronghold-- St. Louis. Here is the link----
What is unique and remarkable about this story is that these women sought out a female Jewish rabbi in a Reform synagogue for permission to have their ordination service in their sacred building, and the rabbi said yes. She knew the cost, and the cost is the severing of the good ecumenical relations she had had with the local Catholic Church heretofore. Yet in some ways this was a very appropriate place for such an ordination to transpire, since these womens' vision of ministry is right out of the Hebrew Bible-- they want to be priests, offering the sacrifice, in this case the sacrifice of the mass. Not surprisingly when Rabbi Susan Talve informed the Catholic office of ecumenical relations of this, she was told that it was unacceptable and violated Catholic theology and praxis.
What do I think about this? Well, several things. Firstly, I think it would have been better and wiser for these women to seek ordination through an appropriate channel such as one of the many Protestant denominations that ordain women. But I suspect they did not see this as an option since they are Catholic through and through.
The problem in this case, in my view, is actually generated by the Catholic theology of Christian ministry, which I find inconsistent with what the NT says about ministers. If one has an overwhelmingly OT vision of ministry, informed largely by Leviticus, then it is understandable that one would argue-- 'ministry involves priesthood, in the OT only men could be priests, ergo, no women can be ordained to such a post'. I understand this logic perfectly well, my problem is that it is a logic grounded in the old covenant, and not in the new covenant where we have a very different vision and praxis of ministry.
For one thing, in the NT ministers are not priests offering sacrifices, and they are not called priests. The only priesthood in the NT is the high priesthood of Christ in heaven (see Hebrews) which is said to eclipse and make obsolescent all OT priesthoods, including the Levitical one. It is hard to escape that this is the core message of the discourse found in Heb. 3-10. The only other priesthood mentioned in the NT is the priesthood of all believers (see 1 Peter), and I do mean all believers. What Peter is talking about there is that all Christians have an obligation to intercede for others and to offer true worship to God, and as Paul was to say, to present themselves as living sacrifices to God (Rom. 12). What Peter is not talking about is a class of clergy between Christ the high priest and us, the laity. In fact the whole clergy--laity distinction is not found in the NT. The LAOS is the whole people of God, whether they are ministers or not. There is a sense then in which we are all laity, and we are all priests. What the NT does not authorize is a new class of priests, much less an all male priesthood to lead the Christian flocks.
In the NT, what determines who can minister is whether one is called, gifted and graced to do some ministerial task, and whether the church has recognized those gifts in the person or not, and so laid hands on them. Mainly the NT talks about elders and deacons, and it certainly talks about female deacons, for example Phoebe in Rom. 16. It also talks about women prophetesses, and women apostles, but that is a story for another day. So, part of the problem here in my view is a failure of the Catholic Church to have an adequately New Testamental theology of ministry.
Read the story, and see what you think. I must admit that my heart is mostly on the side of these women, though I wish they had pursued ordination through more legitimate channels.
In a related story, authorization has been given from the Vatican for priests to celebrate the Tridentine Latin Mass once more, something that caused various French Catholics priests to lose their orders after Vatican II because they refused to stop using this ritual. This of course demonstrates that the Vatican is perfectly capable of changing its praxis, and the way the Mass is celebrated, if it wants to do so. The link for the story is below. What is of interest to me is that in a post-modern situation, the Catholic authorities have recognized the interest in and love for more 'mystery' in worship especially among the young, and presumably this is one reason why this practice has again been authorized.