Understanding that the Catholic Church has its foundation in Judaism, which is a male based religion, how does she justify the fact that women cannot administer religious rites?

  • 2
    I think this is probably too big a question to get a full answer ("If you can imagine a book written on the subject..."). Answers will need to consider Gaudum et Spes, Lumen Gentium, Redemptoris Mater, Mulieris Dignitatem and Apostolicam Actuositatem. Not to mention Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Apr 28, 2014 at 22:59
  • Oh, and Inter Insigniores, Christifideles laici, and Presbyterorum ordinis. Apr 28, 2014 at 23:19
  • See 2Kings 22:14. Judaism is not male based. Jun 24, 2014 at 22:14

3 Answers 3


Short answer:

Jesus did not ordain women.

Long Answer:

It is because of Christ's example in sacred scripture and because of Apostolic Tradition (Tradition with a capital 'T'). The Church does not consider herself authorized to change this. Christ could have ordained women to priesthood. He had the power to do that and he chose not to. Christ chose those whom he willedMk 3:13-14; Jn 6:70, and he did so in union with the Father, through the Holy SpiritActs 1:2, after having spent the night in prayerLk 6:12. These chosen men were the one who were present at the institution of the Priesthood in the Upper Room on Holy Thursday.src1 src2 src3

There were women priests in other religion. So it wold not be a scandal if he did ordain women. Also priests are at mass in Persona Christi, so it would be proper for them to resemble Christ in body too.

Also remember that the perfect non-divine human being, the mother of God was not a priest.

  • 3
    "There were women priests in other religion. So it would not be a scandal if he did ordain women." - it wouldn't necessarily have been a scandal to the Gentiles, but it would certainly have been a scandal to observant Jews. Jesus did show consideration towards avoidng unnecessary offence - cf. Mathew 17:27 - 'Lest we offend them' Oct 7, 2014 at 22:08
  • What if women ordinals are hidden in later years.?
    – user43523
    Dec 5, 2018 at 15:56

Every sacrament requires the proper matter and form. For example, baptism needs water and the form "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." The sacrament of Holy Communion requires unleavened bread and the form "This is my body… etc."

The same goes for the sacrament of Holy Orders, whose matter is a male. One cannot ordain a female just like one cannot baptize with motor oil or consecrate a dorito chip.

Here's how St. Thomas Aquinas explains it, in answering the question "Whether the female sex is an impediment to receiving Orders?":

Certain things are required in the recipient of a sacrament as being requisite for the validity of the sacrament, and if such things be lacking, one can receive neither the sacrament nor the reality of the sacrament. Other things, however, are required, not for the validity of the sacrament, but for its lawfulness, as being congruous to the sacrament; and without these one receives the sacrament, but not the reality of the sacrament. Accordingly we must say that the male sex is required for receiving Orders not only in the second, but also in the first way. Wherefore even though a woman were made the object of all that is done in conferring Orders, she would not receive Orders, for since a sacrament is a sign, not only the thing, but the signification of the thing, is required in all sacramental actions; thus it was stated above (Question [32], Article [2]) that in Extreme Unction it is necessary to have a sick man, in order to signify the need of healing. Accordingly, since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order. Some, however, have asserted that the male sex is necessary for the lawfulness and not for the validity of the sacrament, because even in the Decretals (cap. Mulieres dist. 32; cap. Diaconissam, 27, qu. i) mention is made of deaconesses and priestesses. But deaconess there denotes a woman who shares in some act of a deacon, namely who reads the homilies in the Church; and priestess [presbytera] means a widow, for the word "presbyter" means elder.

  • 2
    You (and St Thomas) seen to be mostly answering the question "but why?" with "because that's the way it is" - hardly satisfactory in any degree. In regard to 'the woman is in the state of subjection' being an impediment, that clearly flies in the face of Matt 20:26 & 23:11 which indicate that such a state would actually be a supreme advantage. Oct 6, 2014 at 6:22
  • @bruisedreed: Woman being "in the state of subjection" is not an ideal but a punishment as a result of the Original Sin (Gen. 3:16). If Jesus, the author of human nature, wanted priestesses, why didn't He set a precedent and ordain women Himself?
    – Geremia
    Oct 7, 2014 at 17:07
  • @bruisedreed: St. Thomas wrote, addressing the question of "Whether the matter of Christ's body should have been taken from a woman?": «The male sex is more noble than the female, and for this reason He took human nature in the male sex. But lest the female sex should be despised, it was fitting that He should take flesh of a woman. Hence Augustine says (De Agone Christ. xi): "Men, despise not yourselves: the Son of God became a man: despise not yourselves, women; the Son of God was born of a woman."»
    – Geremia
    Oct 7, 2014 at 17:09
  • 2
    Two problems with "Jesus didn't set us the example to ordain women" are: a) It relies on an assumption or restriction of when Jesus was 'ordaining' and when He was not - He did explicitly grant Mary of Bethany the right to 'sit at his feet' (ie take rabbinical training - a precursor to ordination) and post-resurrection, he specifically commissioned Mary Magdalene with the role of evangelist; b) If we only relied on the type of person that Jesus commissioned as the twelve to determine who should be ordained now, then we would need to restrict ourselves to (Messianic) Jews - no gentiles. Oct 7, 2014 at 21:56
  • @bruisedreed: (a) Were women present at the Last Supper, when He instituted the Sacrament of Order, commissioning priests to do their principal act, offering sacrifice (Lk. 22:19: "Do this… etc.")? (b) The apostles themselves did not ordain women, yet they did ordain gentiles.
    – Geremia
    Oct 8, 2014 at 2:04

This answer builds upon and expands upon Jayarathina's answer

The following article does not include the reality though that Jayarathina brought up. This reality is that priestesses were common amongst the Pagan world, so for Christ to not have done so, it gives even more reason for why the Catholic Church does not ordain women (it is simply following the example of Christ

Priestly Ordination to Men Alone

The reason that women cannot be priests is theological and obviously historical as well. In his Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope Saint John Paul II talks about the reservation of priestly ordination to men alone. He mentions that it is not in the authority of the Church to ordain women priests, he states “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitely held by all the Church’s faithful.”1 The Nature of Priestly Ordination to Men Alone

1) A priest acts in “persona Christi” He is another Christ. Christ was a man and by that very nature a women being a priest would be incompatible. (The nature of the priesthood)

2) The scriptural accounts regarding the Gospels, of Christ choosing his apostles only from amongst men (The Scriptural Basis)

3) Throughout the centuries, even up to this day, the Church’s living and teaching authority has held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan (The Tradition of the Church)

A priest acts in “persona Christi” he is literally a second Christ. The son of God became flesh as a man, and therefore the priest’s maleness is essential to his priestly role. It is also to be held that although equal in dignity, the very nature of man and woman is different.

The fact is that women and men though equal in dignity in the eyes of God have different functions according to their vary nature. For example, “men were created to be focused more in the exterior, while women in the interior, men tend to look more on the physical, women more in the human person, men are mostly the provider, women the nurturer of the family, men are paternal, women tend to be maternal”2

This helps explain that the reservation of priestly ordination to men, is by no means a sort of anti-women attitude that the Church has against women. No rather it has to do with the very nature and the differences of those two natures between male and female.

Mary DeTurris stated “Pope Saint John Paul II has written and spoken often about the equality of women, their unique gifts and their role in the Church. The pope affirmed women’s central importance in history and said the Church believes the Gospel message of Christ is “ever relevant” when it comes “to setting women free from every kind of exploitation and domination.”3

DeTurris further explained that the role of the Virgin Mary was drastically different from that of the Apostles and Disciples. DeTurris stated “ The fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as a discrimination against them”4

The role of women in Church in Church and in the faith itself, is to be pursued by following in the footsteps of Mary. Mary grew in sanctification through her own personal holiness, by doing the will of God in her life. Her ceaseless prayers, for the Church and her own holiness in her daily life is basically that of the women’s role. Tradition and Scripture

First and foremost Saint Pope John Paul II states in his Apostolic Letter Ordination Sacerdotalis that in the Gospels themselves, Jesus chooses his disciples only amongst men. He further states that this has been the tradition of the Church even up to the present day. Pope John Paul states:

“The Church holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church”5

Similarly the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination.” The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ’s return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible. (CCC 1577)

The Early Church and the Church Fathers

Ever since the early church, leading up to the second and third century, there were heretical groups of Christians that started ordaining women to work priestly functions. Various Church Fathers and councils quickly condemned this practice as contrary to the nature of the priesthood.

Saint John Chrysostom

“[W]hen one is required to preside over the Church and to be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task, and the majority of men also, and we must bring forward those who to a large extent surpass all others and soar as much above them in excellence of spirit as Saul overtopped the whole Hebrew nation in bodily stature” (The Priesthood 2:2 [A.D. 387]).


“When a widow is to be appointed, she is not to be ordained, but is designated by being named [a widow]. . . . A widow is appointed by words alone, and is then associated with the other widows. Hands are not imposed on her, because she does not offer the oblation and she does not conduct the liturgy. Ordination is for the clergy because of the liturgy; but a widow is appointed for prayer, and prayer is the duty of all” (The Apostolic Tradition 11 [A.D. 215]).

Council of Nicaea I

“Similarly, in regard to the deaconesses, as with all who are enrolled in the register, the same procedure is to be observed. We have made mention of the deaconesses, who have been enrolled in this position, although, not having been in any way ordained, they are certainly to be numbered among the laity” (Canon 19 [A.D. 325]).

Council of Laodicea

“[T]he so-called ‘presbyteresses’ or ‘presidentesses’ are not to be ordained in the Church” (Canon 11 [A.D. 360]).

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