Today I went to a community Mass presided over by a Roman Catholic woman priest. These are women ordained as priests by male bishops or by women priests who were ordained by male bishops or, increasingly, women bishops. The important thing (to them) is that they retain legitimate succession back through ordained bishops. However, they are not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. A few years ago there was even a pronouncement that the act of being a woman ordained automatically excommunicates both the woman and whoever ordains her. So, officially, she is an excommunicated woman, completely outside the official communion of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Mass, which takes place once a month in a rented room at a local Episcopal church, was not radical. The women’s theology reflects their desire for more participation by the people, and their sensitivity to gendered language in the Mass. However, it is still a Mass, with all the parts and prayers and responses, though some of them are altered. We sang hymns related to the readings of the day, and the service followed the standard lectionary.
The priest who officiated was an ordinary, Minnesota woman. She is a full-time trauma nurse, in her 50s, who felt a strong call to be a priest that she felt it would be wrong to ignore. This is her vocation, and she has sacrificed a lot to realize it. She celebrates in places like this, with wrinkled tablecloths over folding tables set up as altars, without assistance from altar servers or a procession.
I have to admit, it brought back my experience as a teenager in our Assembly of God church that met in a rented Lutheran school room. We also had about 100 people in attendance, though more young parents with children. This space felt more like home to me, more comfortable. It is, in the end, just a group of Catholics saying Mass together. Though not as liturgically rich as other Masses in the area, it was warm and friendly.
I knew many of the women in the room, though about half were people I had never seen or met. My sister-in-law’s mother wrote the music we sang and led the worship. Many are professional women in their 60s and 70s known for their fundraising, their volunteerism, but primarily for their faith, which most of them practice in their parishes.
In the end, this is what is most important about this movement. These are faithful men and women who are willing to risk, willing to sacrifice, to support their idea of the future Church. They are taken by the simple belief that women have vocations to be priests that are as valid as men’s vocations. It seems so obvious, and so not subversive, that the whole thing has an air of unreality about it. How could anyone get in trouble for this? This is also part of my Assembly of God legacy… there is wide variety in our experience of worshiping and knowing God. I like to have a liturgy, and I like my liturgy to have a presider, and good music, and Scripture, and Eucharist. But I don’t see anything gender-specific in the role of priest, and have never heard an argument to make me think for one second anything different.
by Susan Sink
POLITICS – RELIGION – POETRY – PRAIRIE
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2011
Susan Sink is currently Communications Director at Saint Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Susan Sink has written several books about the St. John’s Bible. [ View ]
[Webmaster’s Note: Ms. Sink’s blog post on woman priests (above) was removed from the Internet on the morning of Monday, April 25, 2011. Her post was added to this web site on April 24, 2011. A cached version of the page can be viewed here. ]