Why are the functions for man clear in the Catholic Church leading and decisive hierarchy, but there is no corresponding function for women?
I am answering this question the best I can and do so desiring not to get into a debate on the issue. The reservation of priestly ordination to men is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and seemingly controversial teachings of the Church.
Jesus could have chosen women to be priests, but he did not. Surely the first woman chosen would have been his very own mother, the Most Holy Virgin Mary.
Jesus, the second Person of thr Blessed Trinity, knew exactly what he was doing when he instituted the priesthood and the Holy Eucharist. Nevertheless, proponents of a female priesthood will always say that Jesus Christ was only acting according to the customs of his times, but that goes against the solid teachings of the Catholic Church.
Simply put, the Church believes that Christ willed it so.
Although there is still no "corresponding" specific function in the Catholic Church for women, that must not be looked on the Church leaders or even Our
Lord love women any less. As Catholics, we believe that the ecclesiastical roles within the Church are different as willed by the Divine Trinity. Women should not be looked on as inferior or loved less.
Keeping all this in mind, we can see that Christ choosing only men as Apostles was a deliberate action. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger noted before his election as Pope: “One forgets that in the ancient world all religions also had priestesses. All except one. The Jewish. Christianity, here too following the ‘scandalous’ original example of Jesus, opens a new situation to women: it accords them a position that represents a novelty with respect to Judaism. But of the latter, he preserves the exclusively male priesthood.” What Cardinal Ratzinger is pointing out here is that if Jesus did choose women to be priestesses, it would not have been as much as a shock as people think. All religions had priestesses. The astonishing thing was that they were absent from the community of Jesus Christ. As clearly stated in Scripture, Jesus broke many Jewish customs; however, here he deliberately retains it.
We must also look at the Priesthood as a Sacrament. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each Sacrament.” The Sacraments are outward “signs” which represent spiritual realities. For example, washing with water at Baptism signifies cleansing from sin, regeneration, and participation in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. The water is an outward “sign” of what is really taking place spiritually. In the incarnation, Christ was born male and the priest is a sacramental sign or “icon” of Jesus Christ. Pope John Paul II alludes to this when he states that the apostles and their successors were given the mission of “representing” Christ. The Priest at Mass stands in Persona Christi (in the person of Christ); and Christ the Head and Mediator is male; therefore, the priest who represents Him must be male. Bonaventure adds to this a theological argument based on the long-standing tradition of regarding the bishop as the “spouse” or “bridegroom” of his diocese. Because of this, only a male should receive priestly ordination. Crucial to this theological argument is his suggestion that the sacramental symbolism of the priesthood reflects the bishop (or priest) in relationship with the Church, the “Bride of Christ”.
I would like to close with an excerpt from “Light of the World,” an interview with Pope Benedict XVI. In this book Pope Benedict XVI explains the Church’s position on the matter. “John Paul ll’s formulation is very important: The Church has ‘no authority’ to ordain women. The point is not that we are saying we don’t want to, but that we can’t. The Lord gave the Church a form with the Twelve and, as their successors, with the bishops and the presbyters, the priests. This form of the Church is not something we ourselves have produced. It is how He constituted the Church. Following this is an act of obedience. This obedience may be arduous in today’s situation. But it is important precisely for the Church to show that we are not a regime based on arbitrary rule. We cannot do what we want… Incidentally, women have so many great and meaningful functions in the Church that there can be no question of discrimination.” Finally, if there is any doubt of the Church’s respect for women, we need only look at Our Holy Mother, whom the Church formally declared to be the Queen of Heaven (Oct. 11, 1954, Pope Pius XII).
We can see that in the Early Church, women deaconesses existed. However, we must keep in mind that such deaconesses were non-ordained deaconesses. This role for women was instituted by some Church leader to aid in areas to help in where the employment of women would be more prudent than the usage of male deacons.
At this point, attentive readers of the New Testament will note that in a few cases, women are called diakonoi, which is the term that came to be used for members of the first degree of holy orders (i.e., deacons). For example, there is Romans 16:1:
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant [diakonon] of the church at Cenchreae (ESV).
The problem is that, as the ESV suggests, the term “diakonos” was much broader in meaning in Koine Greek than it is today: it essentially meant “servant.” (For example the servants who fill the water jugs at the wedding at Cana, in John 2:5, are also called diakonoi.)
There is evidence that the early Church had orders of “deaconesses” who would, for example, assist adult women in their full-immersion Baptisms (which was the norm back then). It is clear by all accounts, however, that the deaconesses never received the Sacrament of Holy Orders through the imposition of hands, as (male) deacons do. Again, the term “deaconess” was applied before the term “deacon” came to have the technical use it has today. (There is a good summary of this issue in the old Catholic Encyclopedia).
The International Theological Commission: From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles explains that the role of deaconesses was one of service, yet were not ordained as their male counterparts were.
The Ministry of Deaconesses
Deaconesses should carry out the anointing of women in the rite of baptism, instruct women neophytes, and visit the women faithful, especially the sick, in their homes. They were forbidden to confer baptism themselves, or to play a part in the Eucharistic offering (DA 3, 12, 1-4). The deaconesses had supplanted the widows. The bishop may still institute widows, but they should not either teach or administer baptism (to women), but only pray (DA 3, 5, 1-3, 6, 2).
The deaconesses were named before the sub-deacon who, in his turn, received a cheirotonia like the deacon (CA 8, 21), while the virgins and widows could not be "ordained" (8, 24-25). The Constitutiones insist that the deaconesses should have no liturgical function (3, 9, 1-2), but should devote themselves to their function in the community which was "service to the women" (CA 3, 16, 1) and as intermediaries between women and the bishop. It is still stated that they represent the Holy Spirit, but they "do nothing without the deacon" (CA 2, 26, 6). They should stand at the women's entrances in the assemblies (2, 57, 10). Their functions are summed up as follows: "The deaconess does not bless, and she does not fulfil any of the things that priests and deacons do, but she looks after the doors and attends the priests during the baptism of women, for the sake of decency" (CA 8, 28, 6).
This is echoed by the almost contemporary observation of Epiphanius of Salamis in his Panarion, in around 375: "There is certainly in the Church the order of deaconesses, but this does not exist to exercise the functions of a priest, nor are they to have any undertaking committed to them, but for the decency of the feminine sex at the time of baptism." 67A law of Theodosius of 21 June 390, revoked on 23 August of the same year, fixed the age for admission to the ministry of deaconesses at 60. The Council of Chalcedon (can. 15) reduced the age to 40, forbidding them subsequent marriage.
For more information about this topic, perhaps the following articles would be considered of interest: