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The Roman Catholic leadership still refuses to ordain women officially or even to recognize that women are capable of ordination. But is the widely held assumption that women have always been excluded from such roles historically accurate?

In the early centuries of Christianity, ordination was the process and the ceremony by which one moved to any new ministry (ordo) in the community. By this definition, women were in fact ordained into several ministries. A radical change in the definition of ordination during the eleventh and twelfth centuries not only removed women from the ordained ministry, but also attempted to eradicate any memory of women’s ordination in the past. The debate that accompanied this change has left its mark in the literature of the time. However, the triumph of a new definition of ordination as the bestowal of power, particularly the power to confect the Eucharist, so thoroughly dominated western thought and practice by the thirteenth century that the earlier concept of ordination was almost completely erased. The ordination of women, either in the present or in the past, became unthinkable.

References to the ordination of women exist in papal, episcopal and theological documents of the time, and the rites for these ordinations have survived. Yet, many scholars still hold that women, particularly in the western church, were never “really” ordained. A survey of the literature reveals that most scholars use a definition of ordination that would have been unknown in the early middle ages. Thus, the modern determination that women were never ordained, Macy argues, is a premise based on false terms.

The Roman Catholic leadership still refuses to ordain women officially or even to recognize that women are capable of ordination. But is the widely held assumption that women have always been excluded from such roles historically accurate?

In the early centuries of Christianity, ordination was the process and the ceremony by which one moved to any new ministry (ordo) in the community. By this definition, women were in fact ordained into several ministries. A radical change in the definition of ordination during the eleventh and twelfth centuries not only removed women from the ordained ministry, but also attempted to eradicate any memory of women’s ordination in the past. The debate that accompanied this change has left its mark in the literature of the time. However, the triumph of a new definition of ordination as the bestowal of power, particularly the power to confect the Eucharist, so thoroughly dominated western thought and practice by the thirteenth century that the earlier concept of ordination was almost completely erased. The ordination of women, either in the present or in the past, became unthinkable.

References to the ordination of women exist in papal, episcopal and theological documents of the time, and the rites for these ordinations have survived. Yet, many scholars still hold that women, particularly in the western church, were never “really” ordained. A survey of the literature reveals that most scholars use a definition of ordination that would have been unknown in the early middle ages. Thus, the modern determination that women were never ordained, Macy argues, is a premise based on false terms.

The Roman Catholic leadership still refuses to ordain women officially or even to recognize that women are capable of ordination. But is the widely held assumption that women have always been excluded from such roles historically accurate?

In the early centuries of Christianity, ordination was the process and the ceremony by which one moved to any new ministry (ordo) in the community. By this definition, women were in fact ordained into several ministries. A radical change in the definition of ordination during the eleventh and twelfth centuries not only removed women from the ordained ministry, but also attempted to eradicate any memory of women’s ordination in the past. The debate that accompanied this change has left its mark in the literature of the time. However, the triumph of a new definition of ordination as the bestowal of power, particularly the power to confect the Eucharist, so thoroughly dominated western thought and practice by the thirteenth century that the earlier concept of ordination was almost completely erased. The ordination of women, either in the present or in the past, became unthinkable.

References to the ordination of women exist in papal, episcopal and theological documents of the time, and the rites for these ordinations have survived. Yet, many scholars still hold that women, particularly in the western church, were never “really” ordained. A survey of the literature reveals that most scholars use a definition of ordination that would have been unknown in the early middle ages. Thus, the modern determination that women were never ordained, Macy argues, is a premise based on false terms.

Oxford University Press

Thomas Groome is one of the signs of hope in the Catholic Church. He teaches at Boston College,  speaks at religious educator conferences, works on the editorial board of a catechetical publishing house and continues to publish in religious education. Among Catholic educators he is lauded as a visionary and leader. Among the less well-educated, Catholic, conservative internet communities he is depicted as a corruptor of Catholic Truth. Why? Perhaps because he is not a hater of women or gays. Or perhaps because he encourages Catholics to think critically about important issues and not abdicate that responsibility to the clergy and heirarchy. Or maybe because he has the temerity to criticise the culture of clericalism that currently reigns.

For all of these reasons he is a hero. Below is an excerpt from an interview in which he expresses his views on clericalism.

 Catholic New Times, Nov 16, 2003 by Ted Schmidt

Excerpt:
I asked Groome at breakfast what he believed were the “thought patterns” we had to rise up against to become “tomorrow’s Catholics.”

Chuckling at this early morning cut to the chase, he did not dodge the question. “One of the obvious ones I am going to address with the teachers today is clericalism, the whole clericalist culture which has become inimical to authentic priesthood. It is anything but the priesthood model of Jesus Christ ,who came not to be served but to serve. There is a whole elitist, pedestalized ideology of preference, deference, accepting that there is a real ontological difference between the ordained and the baptized.

Certainly this pope has augmented it and heralded it. Read his Holy Thursday statements on priesthood. They all champion clericalism. It is an exaggerated and inflated sense of priesthood, rather than seeing this ‘holy orders’ as helping maintain good relations in the community, which the old sacramental name meant.

The Greek hierarchy does not refer to the level of command on a power pyramid but rather to a ministry of helping a Christian community work well together–” holy order.”

“Too often it has become an elitist sect, clique or club that is imposed on the Christian community. It militates against the authentic priesthood of the ordained which I deeply value and the priesthood of all believers. It kills both. A structural change is needed to help the demise of clericalism but also we need a change of ideology, a change of outlook, a change of consciousness.

The scandal in the Boston area is one of the best examples of debunking clericalism that we’ve had in a long time. However, it is sad to see it come that way. In a sense the pope’s exaggerated and inflated clericalist ideas are part of this scandal. Not only did it happen on his watch, but he created an ethos around priesthood. So when the scandals began to be evident, the bishops’ tendency was to cover them up. You could not allow these to become public because this is not what the Holy Father understood by priesthood. It is all a Potemkin village, a fake, a sham. It’s the elephant in the living room which Rome won’t address.”


What is it that we want from our church?

  • A system to educate our children
  • A ritual to honor our marriages, our births, our deaths
  • A representative from our church to help us with deaths and burials
  • Someone to listen to us when we have a personal crisis

 Where do we go for these things if we don’t go to the church? 

  • We go to public schools and complain about the lack of a morality curriculum, and lament the lack of  values in the sex education program.
  •  We go to our therapists for counseling and become frustrated at the lack of spirituality in the process of   
     therapy.
  •  We go to funeral homes and work with funeral directors who are strangers, at a time when what we
     desperately need are people who know us and know our loved one.
  •  We use event planners for our weddings and shop around for a pretty church and a minister willing to fit in
     with our “vision” of our wedding, all the while complaining that the priest at the church we were baptized
     in, and haven’t attended since graduating grammar school, wasn’t willing to witness our marriage without a
     preparation process and a commitment to start attending mass again.

What are we willing to give to our church in order to maintain the functions we want it to offer?

  • Are we willing to become professional teachers and administrators in the Catholic school system?
  • Are we willing to volunteer our time with bereavement ministries?
  • Are we willing to enter the diaconate program?
  • Are we even willing to attend mass and pray for each other?

What are we willing to do in order for there to be a church for our own children to cynically dismiss as young adults?

 

When I was a child I loved the mystery of the rite of Benediction. I loved the candles and the incense and the beautiful singing of the choir. It moved me to want to be a better person, to love others and make God proud of me. It touched my heart. 

Today there is a resurgence of interest in the rite of Benediction and the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. I find myself shrinking in horror now. Why? Is a young person today any less likely to be moved to be become a better person and to love God and others than I was?  Of course not. So why do I find it abhorrent, as a middle-aged Catholic, that people should be bowing before the consecrated host?

Maybe I am just too judgmental. Maybe I assume the worst instead of the best of these young, idealistic Catholics. Or maybe I am simply jaded! I have lost my faith in my Church so I assume that anyone who still has faith in the Catholic Church is misguided, dangerously naive, or hiding from prosecution.  And I am WRONG to assume this.

On the other hand, and I believe it is a big hand, there is the very real danger that rituals such as these are in effect (if not in essence) actually idolatrous, and the absolute opposite of what Jesus would have wanted his last Shabbat supper to have resulted in.

So my question for teachers and for young Catholics is: what difference does this ritual make to who you are, how you live, and how you love?  Is the effect of this ritual a sense of self-satisfaction and complacent contentment or is it the discomfort born of the experience of grace? Are you moved to engage in the world more fully or to retreat from the community in judgment?  Do you leave with a greater sense of self-love resulting from the experience of God’s unconditional love, or a greater sense of self-loathing born of a ritual in which you see an ideal of priestly perfection that taunts you and damns you?

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