Did Christ ordain Mary Magdalene?


#1

Several years ago in a discussion about female ordination I ran into an arguement for female ordination that I couldn’t counter. The person pointed out that Christ told Mary to tell the apostles that he had risen from the tomb. She pointed out that this seems to be very close to a commission or an ordination. I couldn’t counter the arguement and so I conceded the point.

Since then I have to admit that my position on female ordination has evolved and to some extent vacillated. Some of the female priests I have known have been very good in the performance of their duties. Others have been utter embarrassments. But then I can say the same for a few of the male priests I have known.


#2

[quote=Zoomie]The person pointed out that Christ told Mary to tell the apostles that he had risen from the tomb. She pointed out that this seems to be very close to a commission or an ordination.
[/quote]

Actually, there are several Gospel accounts of what happened that Easter morning, and in only one of them does Jesus specifically commission Mary Magdalene to tell his apostles that he has been raised from the dead (cf. John 20:17). The other Gospel accounts tell the story slightly differently. Matthew recounts that Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” were told of Jesus’ Resurrection by an angel and told by the angel to inform the disciples; later Jesus commissioned the women himself when he appeared to them (cf. Matt. 28:1-10). Mark also mentions that the women as a group were first told by “a young man” who told them to tell the disciples; later Jesus appeared specifically to Mary Magdalene (cf. Mark 16:1-11). Luke recounts that the women as a group were informed of the Resurrection by “two men” and that they told the Eleven and everyone else. Luke does not speak of a specific commission or of a specific appearance of Christ to the women (cf. Luke 24:1-11).

These passages can be reconciled, of course. For example some of the Gospel writers may have left out details other writers felt to be important, such as the specific appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene. The point is that there is no agreement on precisely what the appearance to Mary entailed, and whether Christ himself gave her a specific commission to tell the apostles of his Resurrection. Compare this to the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper – where Christian tradition holds that the apostles were ordained – and note that all of the synoptic evangelists and the apostle Paul were very careful to give the precise words of institution (cf. Matt. 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Cor. 11:23-25). In other words, the Gospel writers and the apostles were very careful to record specific commissions precisely (as another example, this time of baptism, also see Matthew 28:19-20). If the evangelists were not specific about a commission to Mary Magdalene, it is likely because there was no such commission beyond the literal request to tell the disciples of the Resurrection.

This does not mean that Christ’s request that the women tell the apostles of his Resurrection was not important. Mary Magdalene is sometimes called in a poetic fashion “the apostle to the Apostles” because she was the primary witness of the Resurrection to the initially unbelieving apostles of Christ. It is also indicative of the historical reality of the Resurrection that the message was entrusted to women. Had the whole thing been fabricated by the apostles, it is likely that the evangelists would have put the message of the Resurrection in the mouths of men, who would be given credibility in a court of law and in the court of public opinion. However, it does not mean that Mary Magdalene or the female disciples were ordained.

(Continued below.)


#3

(Continued from above.)

[quote=Zoomie]Some of the female priests I have known have been very good in the performance of their duties. Others have been utter embarrassments. But then I can say the same for a few of the male priests I have known.
[/quote]

The primary thing to remember is that priesthood is not simply a matter of service (although it does entail service). It is a matter of configuration to the person of Christ so that the priest may represent Christ to the people. He is an alter Christi (i.e., “another Christ”) who acts in the person of Christ (i.e., in persona Christi). Because of the Incarnation, Christ chose to become a man, specifically a human man. Man, a human man, is the proper “matter” for the priesthood, just as wheat bread and grape wine are the proper matter for the Eucharist. Just as potato chips and beer cannot be confected into the body and blood of Christ, so a woman cannot be “confected” into a Christian priest.

Some male priests may be a disgrace to their priesthood, but their legitimacy as priests is not dependent upon personal holiness. In the same way, even faithful women “priests” do not become priests simply because they are personally sincere and faithful according to the light that they have.

In short, when you are told that a particular scriptural passage appears to support something that Christian tradition has never held it to support, check it out against parallel Scripture passages and against Christian tradition. It is likely that the person making the claim is trying to use the Bible to justify an agenda, rather than drawing from the Bible clarity on what Christianity teaches.

Recommended reading:

Women and the Priesthood
Ordination Is Not a Right by Mark P. Shea
Why No Women’s Ordination by Michael J. Tortolani


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.