Saturday, September 04, 2010

Women at the service of the Gospel - the Prophetic Charism or Voices ?

"Hildegard von Bingen - Kyrie Eleison
From Marriage of the Heavens and the Earth (O Ecclesia) available from and

Marriage of the Heavens and the Earth, an album by Catherine Braslavsky and Joseph Rowe contains some of von Bingen's best known compositions. For more than 15 years, Catherine Braslavsky has been playing Hildegard von Bingen's music. Herself a composer and Greogorian chant enthusiast, she also studied Indian, Judeo-Spanish and harmonic chant. She is currently pursuing her research on ancient music. Soloist, musical director, and teacher, she has performed all over Europe, the United States and Japan."

It has always struck me as rather strange that Pope Benedict was the subject of such harsh and savage criticism when it was recently announced that the Code of Canon Law was to change so that the "attempted ordination" of women was declared to be one of the gravest crimes under church law.

While on the one hand he is firmly ruling out the ordination of women on the grounds simply that the Church has no power to do so, and backing it up with the full force of Canon Law, he is also setting out the boundaries for an enhanced role for women in the Church. This would appear to be a wise and prudent course to take having seen what the issue has done to the Anglican Communion.

One point which the Pope has repeatedly referred to is the "prophetic charism" of certain woman saints in Catholic history

Here are perhaps a few source documents to ponder:

"[W]ithout the generous contribution of many women, the history of Christianity would have developed very differently.

This is why, as my venerable and dear Predecessor John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem:

"The Church gives thanks for each and every woman.... The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine "genius' which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness" (n. 31).

As we can see, the praise refers to women in the course of the Church's history and was expressed on behalf of the entire Ecclesial Community. Let us also join in this appreciation, thanking the Lord because he leads his Church, generation after generation, availing himself equally of men and women who are able to make their faith and Baptism fruitful for the good of the entire Ecclesial Body and for the greater glory of God."

Also See:

Letter of the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, May 31, 2004 by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the World and in the Church

From The Homily of Pope Benedict XVI at the International Stadium - Amman  Fifth Sunday of Easter, 10 May 2009):

"From the very first pages of the Bible, we see how man and woman, created in the image of God, are meant to complement one another as stewards of God’s gifts and partners in communicating his gift of life, both physical and spiritual, to our world. Sadly, this God-given dignity and role of women has not always been sufficiently understood and esteemed. The Church, and society as a whole, has come to realize how urgently we need what the late Pope John Paul II called the “prophetic charism” of women (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, 29) as bearers of love, teachers of mercy and artisans of peace, bringing warmth and humanity to a world that all too often judges the value of a person by the cold criteria of usefulness and profit."

Address of Pope Benedict XVI to Members of the Roman Clergy Thursday, 2 March 2006

7. Question: Hearing of a mother and some women Religious who have helped priests through a crisis prompts me to ask: why should not women also have a hand in governing the Church? Women often function charismatically, with prayer, or on a practical level, like St Catherine of Siena who obtained the Popes' return to Rome. It would be right to promote the role of women in institutions too, since their viewpoint, which is different from that of men, could help priests in decision-making.

Answer by Benedict XVI: I now reply to the parochial vicar of St Jerome's - I see that he is still very young - who tells us how much women do in the Church and for priests themselves.

I can stress that in the First Canon, the Roman Canon, the special prayer for priests: "Nobis quoque peccatoribus", always makes a deep impression on me. Here, in this realistic humility of priests, precisely as sinners, we pray to the Lord to help us to be his servants. In this prayer for the priest, precisely only in this prayer, seven women appear who surround the priest. They show themselves to be the believing women who help us on our way. Each one of us has certainly had this experience.

Thus, the Church has a great debt of gratitude to women. And you have correctly emphasized that at a charismatic level, women do so much, I would dare to say, for the government of the Church, starting with women Religious, with the Sisters of the great Fathers of the Church such as St Ambrose, to the great women of the Middle Ages - St Hildegard, St Catherine of Siena, then St Teresa of Avila - and lastly, Mother Teresa. I would say that this charismatic sector is undoubtedly distinguished by the ministerial sector in the strict sense of the term, but it is a true and deep participation in the government of the Church.

How could we imagine the government of the Church without this contribution, which sometimes becomes very visible, such as when St Hildegard criticized the Bishops or when St Bridget offered recommendations and St Catherine of Siena obtained the return of the Popes to Rome? It has always been a crucial factor without which the Church cannot survive.

However, you rightly say: we also want to see women more visibly in the government of the Church. We can say that the issue is this: the priestly ministry of the Lord, as we know, is reserved to men, since the priestly ministry is government in the deep sense, which, in short, means it is the Sacrament [of Orders] that governs the Church.

This is the crucial point. It is not the man who does something, but the priest governs, faithful to his mission, in the sense that it is the Sacrament, that is, through the Sacrament it is Christ himself who governs, both through the Eucharist and in the other Sacraments, and thus Christ always presides.

However, it is right to ask whether in ministerial service - despite the fact that here Sacrament and charism are the two ways in which the Church fulfils herself - it might be possible to make more room, to give more offices of responsibility to women.