Marian Profile of Ministry is Basis of
Woman's Ecclesial Role1
The decision of the General Synod of the Church of England to ordain women
to the ministry (11 November 1992) will not fail to create serious problems
for ecumenical dialogue. Certainly the Anglican Communion is bound to
experience new internal difficulties, and ecumenical solidarity demands an
increase in our prayer and fraternal affection for so many Christian
brothers and sisters who will suffer from this. The ecumenical movement has
taught us, as Christians united by the sacrament of Baptism, to share joys
and trials. Even if it is difficult to understand this choice of the Church
of England, the bonds between it and the Catholic Church continue to exist
despite this recent decision regarding the ordination of women. Theological
dialogue should continue, perhaps by deepening the concept of the
priesthood. The official dialogue on ministry made us hope in a greater
convergence perhaps than there really was (cf. ARCIC I).
is clear that in recent years both sides have felt a great desire to
rediscover the full dignity of woman and to use all of her potential in the
area of the Church's mission and service (cf. John Paul II, Mulieris
dignitatem). Some have held that we ought to go so far as to admit women
to the ordained ministry. One can say that the ecclesial communities lacked
theological imagination in this case. There was the possibility of creating
new ministries, suited to the nature and the gifts of woman. Why should we
wish to ordain them to the "priesthood," which has assumed the form of a
male service in the whole course of the Judeo-Christian biblical tradition,
as well as throughout the entire history of the Church? To impose a male
form of ministry on woman is to fail to respect her specific dignity. There
are many ministries which would be far more consonant with woman’s nature
ministerial profiles exist in the Church
might well ask here if there was not some confusion between the priesthood
properly speaking, which conforms a man to Christ, the one and only Priest,
the Bridegroom of the Church (cf. Pastores dabo vobis, 12, 16), and
the various forms which ministry took on in the ancient Church: prophecy,
catechesis (didascalia), pastorate, diaconate. The ecclesial
communities which accept the ordination of women to the ministry do not
recognize a ministerial priesthood and they thus ordain to a ministerial
function rather than to a priestly state. For the Catholic Church, the
priest is in the Church and for the Church as a sacramental representation
of Christ, the one high Priest of the new and eternal covenant: he is a
living and transparent image of Christ the Priest. He is a derivation, a
specific participation and an extension of Christ himself (Pastores dabo
vobis, 12). For this reason, it is natural that as a "sacrament" of
Christ the Priest, the Catholic priest should correspond precisely with
Christ himself, in his nature as man.
should come as no surprise that non-Catholic ecclesial communities that do
not have this sacramental conception of the priesthood accept the idea of
ordaining women to the ministries of the word and of Church leadership which
do not imply a sacramental configuration to Christ in his whole person. This
merely emphasizes the difference existing between the Catholic sacramental
priesthood and non-Catholic ecclesial ministry.
One could speculate about ministries that would correspond to the nature and
the charismas of woman and which could be of great service to the Church.
One can say that there are two ministerial profiles in the Church: the
apostolic and Petrine one, which stands at the origin of the sacramental
priesthood of the presbyterate and the episcopate, and the Marian one of
spiritual maternity, of contemplation and intercession (cf. Address of John
Paul II to the Roman Curia, 22 Dec. 1987). It is to this Marian profile of
the Church that we should look to discover in depth the role of woman in the
Church and her possible ministry. "This link between the two profiles of the
Church, the Marian and the Petrine, is therefore profound and complementary.
This is so even though the Marian profile is anterior not only in the design
of God but also in time, as well as being supreme and pre-eminent, richer in
personal and communitarian implications for individual ecclesial vocations."
(Address to the Roman Curia, Dec 22, 1987 n. 2; L'Osservatore Romano
English edition, 11 Jan. 1988, p. 6)
Catholic Tradition is rich in all these forms of woman's ministry and the
Holy Spirit could reveal others for the needs of our time.
How many nuns and women religious have exercised this ministry of spiritual
motherhood, contemplation and intercession! How many communities, how many
secular institutes, how many movements today are discovering this ministry
of woman, religious and lay, which, without being the sacramental
priesthood, serves Christ and today's Church in the Marian line of ministry.
Spiritual movements offer new possibilities
is absolutely necessary to preserve and develop in the Church, which is a
mother, the characteristic of femininity which is of her essence. To confer
the ministerial priesthood on women would contradict their proper nature and
the specific gifts which they possess. "By virtue of this consecration
brought about by the outpouring of the Spirit in the sacrament of Holy
Orders, the spiritual life of the priest is marked, molded and characterized
by the way of thinking and acting proper to Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd
of the Church, and which are summed up in his pastoral charity." (Pastores
dabo vobis, 21) It is clear that the ministerial priesthood as it has
been conceived for centuries does not conform to the proper nature of woman.
is in the Marian nature of the Church, as Virgin, Bride and Mother, that the
source of women's vocations and ministries in service to the Church should
is rather striking to see how the ecclesial communities which are more
orientated toward the pastoral consecration of women are those which have no
experience, or only very limited experience, of the monastic or religious
life. On the contrary, for the Catholic Church the monastic and religious
life is an immense field in which the feminine ministries serving the Church
Today the communities of modern foundation, the secular institutes, the
spiritual movements at the heart of the Church are offering new
possibilities for vocations and ministries in the Church to women, whether
they are single or mothers of families.
the light of the Marian nature of the Church as spiritual Mother, vocations
and ministries proper to women can be identified in great numbers in the
Church. The ministry of woman is charac-terized by spiritual motherhood:
gifts of acceptance, spiritual discernment, counseling, etc. The
contemplative life and the spiritual combat of intercession are also among
the specific gifts of the Christian woman who can be led to exercise a true
ministry of leadership in the heart of the Church. Could not the
catechetical ministry be further improved, and even the ministry of
preaching on the part of women, not to mention teaching theology?
The coming Synod on religious life will have an immense field for reflecting
on how to develop all the potential of women's ministry in the Church as a
complement to the ministerial priesthood of presbyters.
Fr Max Thurian - Member of the International Theological Commission
L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English. 24 March 1993.
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