The Marital Meaning of the Priesthood – Why the Priesthood is for Men

Genevieve S. Kineke
From the May/Jun 2003 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

How saturated we are with lewd pictures, sexual innuendo, and suggestive themes. These images are all around us, revealing an infatuation with affairs of the flesh. Yet, there obviously is little understanding of authentic love, lifelong commitment, or the actual consequences of promiscuity. For a society that spends so much time pondering the mechanics and emotions surrounding the sexual embrace, it’s amazing that we don’t seem to have the slightest clue as to its spiritual dimension. Present day academics and politicians cannot even agree that there are two sexes ordered to one another, which is fundamental for a proper understanding of the human person.

Thankfully, Holy Mother Church knows better and will hold fast to this truth despite the confusion surrounding the definition of the family and the nature of the priesthood. God has shown His care for man by entering into a lasting and fruitful covenant with him. This covenant—a nuptial relationship—provides the backdrop to all human history: The Bible opens with a wedding, as Adam awakens to find a breathtaking bride at his side to share his dominion over the earth. God mystically refers to His bride Israel as “Daughter Zion” and other similar titles throughout the Old Testament, and Christ performs His first miracle at a wedding banquet. Finally, the Bible ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb—drawing to a close the Book of Revelation and the divine mystery that is this created world.

Christ repeatedly referred to Himself as the Bridegroom and His words have a literal meaning. In the New Testament it is made clear that God now wishes to embrace mankind in a more complete way, offering to all persons the Church as His Spouse and their mother. She was drawn forth from His side as He offered up His life for her and her children (Catechism, no. 766). We are still part of the nuptial covenant which reveals God’s mysteries in a most profound way.

Who Is the Bride?

Knowing the perfection of Christ’s generous love, it follows that His bride will be worthy of His total gift of self, and will imitate Him in all things. As the eyes of the handmaiden are on her Lord, she—the Church—seeks to do His will in all things and to make His goodness known to all. What bride is not thrilled with her groom and would not sing his praises to all who would listen? Christ and His Bride are united in their love of truth, their affection for
each individual, and their desire to bring God’s mercy to a world in dire need of its healing balm.

So, what do the images of bride and groom have to do with the everyday life of the Church? In a word, everything. The life God offers to this world is a collaboration between His Son and the Church. Jesus is the head and guides her—hand in hand—over the rocky terrain between this world and the next. He has poured Himself out for her so that she can be a channel of grace for all in her care. Grace is the life-blood of their children and sustains the Mystical Body until all its members arrive home.

Does this imagery matter? Is it real? The nuptial love of Jesus and the Church which echoes throughout the universe is every bit as real as the laws governing physics—and matters more—because that love is the exchange that will outlast all others. Because of this nuptial mystery, it is necessary that the Bridegroom—and those who stand in His place—be male.

The priest is another Christ who cherishes his bride, the Church. He protects and provides for her as any husband would for a wife and family. Instead of seeing the priest as “perpetual bachelor,” the flock should keep in mind that he is married to the Church and should be consumed with a husband’s duties toward spouse and children. Through the sacraments, new family members are welcomed and washed clean, and healing of mind and body are offered whenever needed. Within the sanctuary, the bride and groom make manifest God’s truth through Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and feed their family with bread from heaven. They witness and provide graces for their children to enter into committed, fruitful unions reflective of their own and they mourn as a family the deaths within the flock. The house of the Lord is a joyfilled and hopeful place—with two spouses who are deeply in love and committed to each other.

Misunderstandings on Every Level

Isn’t it interesting that the push for women to be received into Holy Orders comes at the same time that the secular world is clamoring for same-sex unions? The world that has ignored the complementarity between men and women insists that the differences between the sexes are a social construct that can be dismantled and recreated to order. The fundamental premise of both opening the priesthood to women and accepting homosexuality as “normal” is the same, and thus reveals the world’s confusion about human sexuality. Rather than seeing sexuality as a gift of self for the other, it is viewed as an urge whose end is pleasure. Instead of the gaze of affection and desire for the lifelong good of the other, there is the leer and the desire for instant gratification. “Male and female He made them” means little to a world taken with disordered passion and which largely disregards the sacred dimension of life.

And so how do we remind this world of the responsibilities of husband and wife? How do we bring stability back to the family so that it can thrive and sustain its members? How can we restore the respect and reverence for Holy Orders so that men can serve the flock without rancor from those who misunderstand the office of priest? These sound like farreaching, even disconnected, questions with a broad scope but Holy Matrimony and priestly vocations go hand in hand. The answers to each lie in our grasp of the nuptial meaning of the body. Furthermore, both marriage and the priesthood will be enhanced when we delve more deeply into what is happening on the altar.

The Answer Lies in the Mass

The culmination of Christian life—its source and summit—is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and it is here that the nuptial relationship between the priest and Christ’s Church comes to its fulfillment. The language of the Church resonates with meaning as a profound connection has been forged between the consummation of a marriage and the Eucharistic banquet. Both actually echo the words of Christ from the Cross, “it is consummated,” in which He verbally betrothed Himself to His mystical bride. What a tremendous love we are called to witness and share.

Far from being uncomfortable about marital love and prudish in matters of sex, the Catholic Church is the keeper of the mysteries in their richest sense. She turns on his head Freud, who attempted to categorize everything as repressed sexual urges. Instead, the theology of the body is revealing that sex—as a good itself— echoes throughout creation when Christ loves His Bride and we the Church respond in kind. Both the Mass and the marital embrace bring life to the world, each in its own way, and the male-female encounter is essential to our generative nature.

Women who clamor for ordination must understand that their vocation is to image the Bride in all her splendor. Holy Mother Church—who welcomes and feeds, forms and heals, washes and reconciles—is the paradigm for every woman and there is room in this “world of bride” for every woman to be unique, appreciated, and totally fulfilled. As the first to greet each new person and to introduce him to the world, as the bearers of love in its most refined and motherly sense, women have a tremendous influence and responsibility that cannot be expressed effectively through masculine imagery.

Pope John Paul II goes so far as to say that in this highly ordered universe, women are first in the order of love: the everlasting treasure. With this privilege in mind and the broad and rich model of the Church on which to pattern their lives, women will see that “playing bridegroom” is far from what God would want for His daughters. Women who understand their femininity are the keys to stronger families and to strengthening the virtue of chastity
in both men and women, which will in turn free all people to find salvation in God.

Genevieve Kineke, a wife and mother of five, is the founder and editor of  Canticle Magazine for women. Information may be found by visiting their website at www.canticlemagazine.com.

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