The priest's action in the person of the
Church is less important
From INTER INSIGNIORES:
(The hyper-linked comments in italics are by John
33. However, it will perhaps be further objected that the
priest, especially when he presides at the liturgical and sacramental
functions, equally represents the Church: he acts in her name with the
intention of doing what she does. In this sense, the theologians of the
Middle Ages said that the minister also acts in persona Ecclesiae, that
is to say, in the name of the whole Church and in order to represent her. And
in fact, leaving aside the question of the participation of the faithful in a
liturgical action, it is indeed in the name of the whole Church that the action
is celebrated by the priest: he prays in the name of all, and in the Mass he
offers the sacrifice of the whole Church. In the new Passover, the Church,
under visible signs, immolates Christ through the ministry of the priest.(20)
And so, it is asserted, since the priest also represents the Church, would it
not be possible to think that this representation could be carried out by a
woman according to the symbolism already explained? It is true that the priest
represents the Church, which is the Body of Christ. But if he does so, it is
precisely because he first represents Christ himself, who is the Head and the
Shepherd of the Church. The Second Vatican Council (2l) used this phrase to
make more precise and to complete the expression in persona Christi. It
is in this quality that the priest presides over the Christian assembly and
celebrates the Eucharistic sacrifice in which the whole Church offers and
is herself wholly offered.(22)
34. If one does justice to these reflections, one will
better understand how well-founded is the basis of the Churchs practice;
and one will conclude that the controversies raised in our days over the
ordination of women are for all Christians a pressing invitation to meditate on
the mystery of the Church, to study in greater detail the meaning of the
episcopate and the priesthood, and to rediscover the real and pre-eminent place
of the priest in the community of the baptized, of which he indeed forms part
but from which he is distinguished because, in the actions that call for the
character of ordination, for the community he is-with all the effectiveness
proper to the sacraments-the image and symbol of Christ himself who calls,
forgives, and accomplishes the sacrifice of the Covenant.
Note 20. Cf. Council of Trent, Session 22, chap.
1: DS 1741.
Note 21. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic
Constitution Lumen Gentium n. 28: Exercising within the limits of
their authority the function of Christ as Shepherd and Head; Decree
Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 2: that they can act in the person of
Christ the Head; n. 6: the office of Christ the Head and the
Shepherd. Cf. Pope Pius Xll, Encyclical Letter Mediator Dei:
the minister of the altar represents the person of Christ as the
Head, offering in the name of all his members: AAS 39 (1947),
p.s56; 1971 Synod of Bishops, De Sacerdotio Ministeriali, 1, 4:
The priestly ministry] . . .makes Christ, the Head of the community,
present . . ..
Note 22. Pope Paul Vl, Encyclical Letter
Mysterium Fidei, 3 September 1965: AAS 57 (1965), p.761.
For the full text, see: INTER INSIGNIORES.
Commentary by the Sacred
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Declaration Inter
95. In various fairly recent publications attempts have
been made to reduce the importance of the formula in persona Christi by
insisting rather on the formula in persona Ecclesiae. For it is another
great principle of the theology of the sacraments and liturgy that the priest
presides over the liturgy in the name of the Church, and must have the
intention of doing what the Church does.
96. Could one say that the priest does not represent
Christ, because he first represents the Church by the fact of his ordination?
The declarations reply to this objection is that, quite on the contrary,
the priest represents the Church precisely because he first represents Christ
himself, who is the head and shepherd of the Church. It indicates several texts
of the Second Vatican Council that clearly express this teaching.
97. Here there may well be in fact one of the crucial
points of the question, one of the important aspects of the theology of the
Church and the priesthood underlying the debate on the ordination of women.
When the priest presides over the assembly, it is not the assembly that has
chosen or designated him for this role. The Church is not a spontaneous
gathering. As its name of ecclesia indicates, it is an assembly that is
convoked. It is Christ who calls it together. He is the head of the Church, and
the priest presides in the person of Christ the head (in persona
For the full text, see: Official Commentary on INTER INSIGNIORES.