Lately, I’ve been spending my Monday afternoons on campus drinking coffee and getting reading done. I’ve started to attend 5:30pm mass at St. Ignatius’ Chapel on these days. Study break with Jesus- sure, why not? I can always use some divine guidance!
Anyway, this past Monday, I arrived at St. Ignatius around 5:25, said hello to my friends, and sat down to pray. We were sitting there until 5:45, when finally everyone realized that the priest was not showing up. At that time, a nun (I wish I knew her name) got up and said that we would be holding a communion service instead of a mass. There is no other way to put it except to say that this woman seemed to radiate holiness. She led us through a beautiful service. As she read from the Gospel, sang, and handed out the already consecrated hosts for Communion, a pin drop could not be heard in the entire Chapel. She did not want us to leave without something, as she said, “You all came hungry, hungry for Jesus.”
Before proceeding, I just want to point out that my reflection on this experience is entirely on my own. I do not intend to speak for the thoughts of the nun who lead us or the rest of the congregation. The service was a far cry from a call for women’s ordination or any sort of change in the Church. The nun explained to us why we could not have mass, since we lacked a priest. At the end of the service, she gave thanks to God for the priests who consecrate the host for us so we can receive Jesus. She prayed for the priest who did not show up, that he was safe and healthy. She did not do anything that would be considered against Church teaching.
One of the main “theological” reasons women are barred from ordination is that Jesus was a man. Therefore, only a man can act in persona Christi. However, as I watched this beautiful women led us through an uplifting service, I could not help but think of how much she imaged Christ. I wondered- had she been celebrating mass, had she given a homily and then consecrated the Eucharist herself, would it not have been valid? By the Magisterium’s standards, it would not have been. But I would have believed. I cannot accept the idea that Jesus would refuse to be present in the Eucharist because the consecration was performed by a woman. The presence of Jesus, for me, cannot be restricted by rules and doctrines.
This also made me feel sad for the priest. The only thing barring an intelligent woman like this nun from being a priest was simply her womanhood. How sad for these male priests that a beautiful service can take place in their absence, but their hands are needed to consecrate the Eucharist simply because female hands could not perform this same holy action. It made me think of why I love the priests in my life. It is not their masculinity, but their kindness, compassion, sense of humor, etc. How much more lovely for the whole Church would it be if gender was not a qualification for the priesthood. For then we could appreciate priests for their Christ-like qualities of love and service, rather than using them as means to an end (namely, to perform sacraments that only ordained men can perform). Then I thought about what makes Jesus the Christ. Its not his masculinity. It is his love, the alignment of his will with that of God’s.
After communion, I did a lot of praying on these thoughts, namely, asking that God guide me in the right direction in my words, actions, and studies. When all had received and it was time for mass to end, the nun lead us in singing to the Blessed Mother. As we all joined together singing Gentle Woman, many of us were so touched that we remained on our knees. While I was kneeling, I noticed that a icon of Mary was right across from me. I was suddenly overcome with the realization that a woman’s body, a body like my very own, carried the Savior for nine months and brought him into the world. So I wonder, if a woman can carry Jesus in her womb, could a woman not also hold Jesus in her hands and lovingly distribute him to his disciples?
I did not share these thoughts with the nun who led this wonderful service. I did not even get her name, though I wish I did. Also, I certainly do not want to turn what was a beautiful experience into a divisive debate on women’s ordination, as I respect my friends who emphasize the importance of listening to the Magisterium in this regard. However, I would like to tell this nun one thing if I ever do get to see her again, namely, that she is right, I did come hungry for Jesus that night. And, after leaving, I was filled.