Friday, October 14, 2011

The Bride of Christ

Church leaders seem very preoccupied with marriage, a state of life most clergy do not experience.  For example, in the United States, one of the bishops' five published priorities and 6 of their 25 published objectives are on marriage.  Their marriage priority includes two goals: one to increase Catholics’ value of marriage and one to influence civil legislation pertaining to marriage.   Their objectives cover topics like human sexuality education, addressing marital challenges, strengthening family life, and defining marriage as one man and one woman.

Though a group of unmarried men asserting themselves as subject matter experts on marriage confuses many people, clergy believe they derive authority on marriage from their experiences metaphorically wed to the church.  They believe this metaphorical relationship truly gives them marital insight and experiences.  A priest’s parish is his spouse, its congregants his children. 

They base these beliefs upon theological foundations they constructed.  In a nutshell, the theology goes like this:  Jesus compares himself to a bridegroom (MT 22, 25).  Church leaders assume the church is his bride.  Since Jesus is a boy, the church must be a girl.  The Mass perpetuates Jesus marrying the church.  During Mass the part of Jesus is played by a priest, so the priest must be a boy.  The priest’s relationship with his parish is supposed to be a model for marriage much like Jesus marrying the church is.  According to the hierarchy’s teaching, salvation history crumbles if the priest is not male because it violates what they believe to be a “natural law” - that marriage is between one man (Jesus played by the priest) and one woman (the church played by the laity). 

All this hinges on church leaders’ assertion that Jesus, the bridegroom, marries the church.  The curious thing is that Jesus likens the faithful to wedding guests or bridesmaids, not his bride (MT 22:1-14, MT 25:1-13).  Actually, Jesus never used the analogy of the faithful as his bride.  Church leaders just assumed it and based extensive theology on it.   Laypeople unfamiliar with scripture never stopped to question or challenge it.

Furthermore, Jesus is considered present at Mass in four ways: in the priest, the Word, the faithful, and the consecrated bread and wine.  The church teaches Christ is most perfectly present, not in the priest, but in the Blessed Sacrament.  The Blessed Sacrament is supposed to be the most perfect presence of the “body, blood, soul and divinity” of Christ.   Thus if Jesus did think he married the church and did want his maleness preserved in the Mass, it would seem he most perfectly does this via his physical presence in the Blessed Sacrament, not the priest. 

As mentioned in a previous blog, many hierarchy members’ actions indicate they incorrectly believe that the church is the hierarchy rather than the people of God.  Regardless, the official voice of the church is the all-male hierarchy.  Thus, using the hierarchy’s logic, if the Mass emulates Christ marrying the church via priests marrying the church, we have a group of men marrying a group of men.  Actually the same group of men marry themselves as the hierarchy representing Jesus, marries the same hierarchy representing the church. 

First this sets an example of a many-to-many, same-sex marriage rather than a one-to-one, male-female relationship.  Perhaps of greater importance though, somehow a marriage that is nothing more than someone falling in love with themselves seems more reminiscent of the tragic Greek story of Narcissus’ meaningless death than of the joyful gospel messages about Jesus’ salvific death and resurrection. 

For those unfamiliar with the story of Narcissus, this mythical Greek hunter was very proud.  Nemesis saw Narcissus’ immense pride and lured him to a still pond where Narcissus saw his own reflection.  He subsequently fell in love with his own reflection not realizing it was just a mirror image of himself.  He became so enraptured by the beauty of his own reflection that he could not move from the pond and died staring at himself. 

As people increasingly flee the church due to a hierarchy, seemingly enrapt with itself, detached from and out of touch with the laity, is this analogy something worthy of deeper thought?  Have the clergy fallen in love with themselves and their thoughts?  Have they caused a deadly paralysis by their inability to move from positions of self-adoration and absorption? 

Laying aside the questions of foundational theological validity and possible narcissistic implications, if priests believe they marry their parish, much like Jesus married the church, what example have they set?  Priests often abandon one parish “wife” when they have the opportunity to wed a different parish more to their liking.  A pastor moves from one parish to another; a priest leaves a parish pursuing opportunities for hierarchical advancement; a bishop leaves his diocese for another larger one or to become a cardinal.  Dioceses actually have policies to move priests regularly so that they don’t become too attached to any one parish. 

It would seem therefore that priests provide a marriage example of divorcing wives to marry “trophy wives” rather than marriages of everlasting commitment.  One pastor, when he left my parish for another, explained to the parishioners that we were his family and would always be his family.  Perhaps for priests of that mindset, rather than divorcing one wife and marrying another, they adopt the ancient Middle Eastern practice of marrying multiple wives and establishing a harem.  In either case, does this set a good example for marriage?

Do we really want to fashion marriages after priests’ examples “marrying” their parishes?  If we want to strengthen marriage, do we first need to re-examine the underlying theology?  If the hierarchy have become enrapt with their own culture, what should the laity do? 


  1. Fantastic reflections. I couldn't help but roar with laughter - but you are dead on with your reflections on the implication of this dubious theology!

  2. I agree with Anonymous' comment. I think you've characterised the (il)logic of the theology of an all-male priesthood accurately. I cannot see how those espousing (no pun intended) it cannot see that all their theology is a human construct. I look forward to reading more of your reflections.

  3. "All metaphors limp." "You can't carry a metaphor to its end. It won't hold up." These are two maxims I learned in high school to always remember when applying metaphors. The hierarchy and clergy do certainly seem absorbed in themselves, narcissistic, no doubt. They carry the metaphor too far to the point of ridiculous.