Editor’s Note: In light of the news that Pope Francis has changed canon law to accommodate official women “lectors” and “acolytes,” we are re-publishing this article, which originally appeared here on July 17, 2015.
In many contemporary debates concerning the priesthood, one rarely hears a genuinely theological account of what makes a priest a priest. This defect rests, at least in part, upon a failure to consider the metaphysical nature of the Catholic priesthood, as it can be defined from rational reflection on the data of revelation. Instead, one generally finds a parading of the supposed results of historical, biblical, psychological, or sociological “research,” most of which is pressed into the service of revolutionary proposals at odds with orthodox Christian tradition and dogma. Yet if we are to make any sense out of our doctrine and practice, the theological-metaphysical account cannot be left aside. We have to go back to the basic truths that occupied the minds and hearts of the great theologians of the past, focusing our attention on the permanent and perennial, the fundamentals of what our faith teaches us about our Lord.
This article will give the outlines of an approach which might be called incarnate realism—that is, a consideration of the link between the truth that Jesus Christ, as true God and true man, is the one Mediator between God and man, the Eternal High Priest after whom all priests must be modeled, and the truth that the Word became flesh not by assuming human nature in the abstract, but by assuming a concrete or individualized human nature—namely, as male, as a member of one of the sexes. By holding these two elements together, one can clarify the intrinsic rationale of our traditional teaching, making it easier in turn to assess the relative worth of other theories or of specialized research.