Magazine article by Fr. Paul – September 2013

It is well known that traditional Anglo-Catholics believe that the restriction of the sacred priesthood to men rests on the will of our Lord himself, and cannot be changed by the Church. While many Anglicans disagree about this, most accept that Christian marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and that the government-introduced “same-sex marriage” is not Christian marriage at all. Is there any connection between these two questions?

The Bible (Old Testament as well as New) speaks of the relationship between God and his people both in terms of parenthood and in terms of marriage. Israel is both God’s beloved son, and also his (sadly often unfaithful) bride. Christ who is both God and man is essentially the link between these ideas, a mediator who is Son of God and also Spouse of the Church. St Paul in particular uses the marriage imagery to teach husbands and wives how they must love and cherish one another as Christ loves the Church. Apart from its obvious biological aspect, the relationship of male to female in the human race, a partnership that shows complementarity but not equivalence, reflects this more fundamental relationship between Christ and ourselves.

St Paul speaks of the husband as “head” of his wife, just as he speaks of Christ as head of his body the Church. Husband and wife are “one flesh”, as Christ and the Church are one. Nevertheless they have distinct roles in the relationship that should not be muddled. There cannot be two husbands, or two wives, without destroying the balance.

The ministerial priesthood (received by ordination) represents Christ as head in relation to his body the Church. At the altar, the priest acts in the name and person of Christ as he consecrates bread and wine to be the Body and Blood of Christ, which are then shared among all the faithful, to show and effect that they are “very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people,” as the Book of Common Prayer puts it. As an individual, the priest is one member of the Body; as representative, he stands for the Head. That is why (we believe) he must be male.

None of this implies that husbands should be domineering over their wives, or that priests should monopolise all the ministries of the Church. Partnership and complementarity imply mutual but differentiated action. In today’s world, husbands and wives have to work out their specific responsibilities in the home much more flexibly and subtly that was the case in past ages: but still respecting their specific gifts as men or women. Similarly, the Church’s ministry has to be shared more widely and more imaginatively that it has been, but still respecting the sacramental symbolism involved in priesthood and Eucharist.

And if anyone is tempted to say that this is just another excuse for men running everything, I will quote words of Pope Francis: “The Madonna is more important than the apostles.” Mary is the New Eve, just as Christ is the New Adam. The ministry of motherhood has its own dignity, to which no man can aspire. Women can be real mothers, carrying, bearing and nurturing new images of God, as Mary bore Jesus Christ. Jesus taught that we have one Father; men are just shadows and surrogates for the Father in heaven. Motherhood is real; priesthood is symbolic.

Fr Paul