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The Nuptial Nature of the Church

5/7/2005 - 8:00 AM PST

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By John Mallon
© 1996, 2005 by John Mallon
Catholic Online

Would you rather be born and grow up in a “corporate entity” or in a happy home—in a big happy family issuing from parents who are crazy about each other—madly in love—in a happy marriage? I would prefer the latter. A staggering misunderstanding about the nature of the Church has been brewing for a long time now with this question at stake. It has been illustrated most plainly in the rebellion of those demanding a female priesthood. It is easy to understand why they are upset if they view the Church as a political or corporate body like General Motors or IBM. This erroneous view of the Church is a case of bad ecclesiology, which emerged in the social revolution of the 60s when the Church was wrongly lumped in with what was then contemptuously referred to as the “establishment.” Many people still hold this false view of the Church as a huge, heartless, top-heavy bureaucracy, uncaring and out of touch with “the people.”

Great advances have been made in our time in women’s equality in employment opportunities and appropriate respect in the workplace. So if our view of the Church is based on this model it is easy to understand the dismay of women at their exclusion from the ordained priesthood. But it is an erroneous view of the priesthood to see it as some sort of executive, or “power” position, or, on the other hand, that of a mere functionary.

Certainly a woman could don vestments (just as she can don a business suit) and speak the words and juggle cruets, but there is more than mere gestures occurring in the Mass and sacraments. Much more. The Church is not based on the model of corporate business structure nor is it based on the model of the human family; rather the human family is based on Christ’s relationship to the Church. That is, The Second Person of the Holy Trinity and His relation to creation came first. Families, like the Church, are not “gender neutral” (nor, for that matter, is anything else).

Families have mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. The sex of a person in a family matters in a way it does not matter in the corporate, or business world. No one would ever question the importance of a woman’s role in a family, or view it as being of secondary importance. Mom is needed, she is crucial. She is not dad but different from dad, and has a different role to play which is indispensable. (But don’t take my word for it, ask any two-year-old.) The Church, far from being a bloodless institution, is a living breathing organism, the Body of Christ. She is Christ’s Bride.

From the very beginning Scripture has spoken of God’s people in very tender terms. We see the pain of God when His people are unfaithful in the Old Testament, where Scripture speaks of the “harlotry” of God’s people, while He still yearns to receive them back and heal them and tenderly restore them. In the New Testament, bridal imagery is constantly employed, by John the Baptist for instance, and in the Book of Revelation. The events at the wedding at Cana have strong symbolic significance as Jesus performs His first miracle. It is no accident that this miracle, with its strongly Eucharistic implications, takes place at a wedding.

Browsing through the Catechism of the Catholic Church I came across the section on liturgy. It struck me that it does not take up space detailing the rubrics of the Mass, as important as they are, but rather it speaks of it in terms of the great Wedding Feast of the Lamb in Revelation, Chapter 20. It speaks of how every Mass is a participation in that. The Church is not a boring corporate structure but a dazzling royal wedding! Every Eucharist is a wedding night, where Jesus the Bridegroom gives himself to us, His Bride, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, and where we offer ourselves unreservedly, as a bride, to Him. This is a consummation. It is a participation in Christ’s sacrifice for us on Calvary and in the consummation of all things in Heaven depicted in Revelation 20. Christ is the High Priest and Bridegroom.

Rather than holding an “executive job,” the priest acts in Christ’s place as the Bridegroom in the celebration of the Eucharist, the Eternal Wedding Feast, here, in time. The spiritual life is a courtship. Priesthood is not a job, like a corporate executive position which a woman could attain by breaking through the glass ceiling. The Church is female, a family, a home, a bride, a mother, not a business.

We do not have female bridegrooms. We do not have female husbands. We do not have male maids of honor or bridesmaids. This is precisely the principle of the male-only priesthood. The priesthood is a husbanding role and fathering role to the Church, and also follows the Biblical principle of male headship in the family, which must be sacrificial, not self-seeking, domineering, or ...

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