Women in the Church

Photo by Rosie Fraser on Unsplash

I had an interesting conversation with a customer from work about “Female Deacons” the other night at dinner. She had attended a workshop at the LA RE Congress where the presenter shared the case for why it would be a good thing for the Church and the evidence that exists for Female Deacons in the New Testament. She then proceeded to tell me about a woman she works with who would make a great Female Deacon. She said it in a way that sounded like this woman was being held back from ministering because she wasn’t able to be ordained a Deacon. The question she was asking is “why does the Catholic Church (the organization, not the people) hold women back by not letting women be ordained to the diaconate?” Then she asked, “why can’t Deacons administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick?”

I think a lot of people are asking these questions (more the first than the second, but still). However, when it comes to women and the Catholic Church, I believe these are the wrong questions. If you’re shouting at me right now, just calm yourself and give me a minute to flush this out.

Let’s start with the second question first. Deacons aren’t able to administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick (I think) because it involves a full absolution of sins and only priests can administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I believe in the power of the Sacraments, and have found the Sacrament of the Anointing to be extremely comforting in my own life when I’ve had to have major or minor surgeries. I’ve also recommended family and friends to ensure they are anointed when experiencing the major sickness or facing surgery. With all that being said, I think the better question is “Why do people think the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is the only form of comfort and consolation that can be provided when you are ill?”

I mean, you can only be anointed once per illness/surgery/year/or so, not daily or even weekly. Is the Church providing comfort and consolation to the ill person if she only visits them once per year? I would say no. Can someone other than a priest visit with someone, encouraging them spiritually, pray with them, bring them Holy Communion, and provide comfort and consolation. Um, absolutely. So why does the fact that Deacons cannot administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick prevent them from providing comfort and consolation to the ill and informed? Why does not being ordained to the diaconate prevent someone from doing the same thing?

Now let’s tackle the first question. I have a few thoughts about this one. Let’s start with the argument that the Catholic Church hates women and treats them as second class citizens because they do not admit women to ordination (Diaconate, Priesthood, Episcopacy). Aside from the fact that I don’t feel like a second class citizen as a Catholic women, if the only way to be ‘first class’ would be to have the same opportunity for ordination that men have … that doesn’t change the situation. Why? If a woman has to do or have things that men have in order to be equally dignified, then women are not equally dignified … men still are. If I’m not dignified the way I am, but only if I become what a man can be, then I’m not dignified.

So I asked my dinner companion “What’s holding that woman back from providing amazing pastoral and spiritual ministry at your parish? I mean, we’ve already determined that Deacons can’t administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. So there are things she’s unable to do such as assist during Mass, Baptize people, and witness Marriages, but what you’re saying is more Pastoral Ministry rather than Sacraments and assisting at Mass.” (I was less direct than that.) I suggested that the real issue was that the Church has not encouraged the laity to do the things that lay people can do. The faithful have determined that only people with a collar can provide spiritual advice, give faith formation, and pray with you when you’re in need.

That’s my definition of clericalism, putting priests on a pedi stool, identifying them as a different class of Catholic citizen than you. I don’t mean to reduce the vocation to the priesthood or even deny the amazing spiritual gifts priests can help us experience including the Mass, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and other Sacraments. These are all amazing and unique things priests can do for us, and they should invite us to participate. However, just because priests have specific things only they can do in the Church doesn’t mean that the laity can’t do anything. It means we have a, wait for it, DIFFERENT role.

So I asked again, “what’s stopping her?”

My companion didn’t have an answer.

No one has an answer to that question because it requires us, the faithful, to do something. It changes the way we think about our spiritual life. It also compels us to do something instead of sitting around complaining about how the Catholic Church is discriminating against women and making them live as second class citizens by withholding ordination. Even if women are ordained Deacons in the future, if we don’t change the attitude we have about what lay men and women can do for our spiritual life, we won’t have gained anything at all.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, especially after reading Clare’s book Girl, Arise. I’m certain it’s not the last time I’ll think about it … and I’m not certain my thoughts on a Female Diaconate … but I am certain on my thoughts of how lay women (and men) can serve differently in the Church to build up the Kingdom. We need each other We are all called to be disciples, not just a select few. We are all commissioned to go out into the world and spread the Good News, not just a select few. We are all called to walk with one another on the spiritual journey, not just a select few. I’m going to strive in leading the way in my own community … it’s the only thing I can do.

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40 Reasons Why: no. 24

no. 24: the crucifix

I was at a parish last summer where the pastor was so proud that they “didn’t have the corpus of Jesus up there on the cross since He’s not there anymore.” This is the attitude of many Christian, non-Catholic denominations as well. The Crucifix is distinctly Catholic.

Why do we leave Jesus on the cross? Well, we don’t, not really – but we have this representation to remind us of what He did for us. The Resurrection is an important thing, but it’s not the most important part. Jesus dying on the cross is what saves us from our sins. Him taking the punishment that we deserve is our salvation.

The Resurrection is to show us that death is not the end. So that’s very important – maybe even one of the most important things – but we can’t forget the cross.

We can’t forget that we need to amend our lives, turn away from sin, and take up the Gospel. So we have the crucifix as our reminder.

This is the new crucifix at my parish after the sanctuary renovation. It’s quite striking and magnificent.

Also Happy Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross!

40 Reasons Why: no. 20

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no. 20: kneelers

What a weird thing to love, I know. But they go with pews (remember yesterday). I was just at our Eucharistic Congress this past weekend with the teens and we did a lot of kneeling sans kneelers. It really is hard on the knees.

So kneelers, with a little bit of padding (I say put all of that into the kneeler rather than the pew seat) are helpful when you are trying to make it through the whole Eucharistic Prayer I, before communion, and after!

One year for Lent I gave up using a kneeler because I wanted to remember that kneeling was a sacrifice. I also went to Stations (not one of my more favorite things) a few times that lent and really felt it. There is a LOT of kneeling during stations. People say Mass is “Catholic Calisthenics” but they are wrong, Stations of the Cross are!

40 Reasons Why: no. 19

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no. 19: adoration

My first experience with Eucharistic Adoration was in High School at a summer conference. It was the event for Saturday evening. We all gathered in the big tent after dinner, sang some praise and worship songs, and knelt to adore Our Lord in Adoration.

The devotion began back in the 1500s or so when parishes weren’t able to have Mass every week, it was another way to experience the beauty of Christ in the Eucharist. Today there are a few parishes around me that have 24/7 perpetual adoration. My parish has a few hours each day of the week.

We can be with God anywhere in His creation. It’s even more special to be with Him when He is present in the tabernacle in a Church. It’s most special to be with Him when He is exposed in Eucharistic Adoration. To sit with, pray with, and talk to Our Lord. Oh, what beauty! I do wish I took advantage of this more often – maybe a good practice for Lent this coming year.

40 Reasons Why: no. 18

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no. 18: the eucharist

As Catholics we believe that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of our Lord. Transubstantiation! Why? Well, John 6 to be honest. I know this seems crazy to the outside world, but when I look at it with the eyes of faith, I can’t imagine it being any different.

I find strength from attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist. I see how the Lord strengthens my weary soul. I see how much He loves us, that He would humble himself in this manner to be with us. To become one with us.

An infinite number of words could be said about this, but I just have these. I can’t live without it, and I don’t want to try.

40 Reasons Why: no. 17

no. 17: pews

Pews are a weird thing to love, but I actually do. I like the ability to slide across when someone needs to come in. I like how uniform they are. I like that they make the space a permanent Church space. I don’t like when they are padded (I know I’m weird like that).

I think I like them because they differentiate a place as a Church, set apart. You can also squeeze more people in if necessary – if it’s a row of chairs, people won’t be sitting half on one, half on another. There’s a finite number of people who can sit in that row.

I also like that you can leave just a little space between you and the stranger your sitting next to at Mass without leaving a whole chair empty. We shouldn’t get rid of them! (Not that my particular church is, but some people say they are too old fashioned, and that’s just the reason why I like them!)

I also think we can use pews to be more welcoming to people at Mass, part of my quest for parishes to seek out radical hospitality.

40 Reasons Why: no. 16

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no. 16: purgatory

There are no pictures of purgatory, but I imagine it as a colorless place where you can’t see very far in front of you. There are also images from saints about the “fires of purgation.” Not my favorite image, but probably a better one.

Either way, the purpose is the same. Purification so we are ready to walk into Heaven with a pure spirit so we can be with God for the rest of eternity. The final mercy from a merciful and just God. He gives us a chance to work through the final things that we didn’t work through on earth.

Do we all go to purgatory? We aren’t sure. How long do we stay in purgatory? As long as we need to. If we go to purgatory, will we get into Heaven? YES!

At the end of time, only two places remain: Heaven and Hell. We will live for eternity in one of those places. Purgatory will not remain when time has ended.