St. Mary Magdalene’s feast day this past year was greeted not only with the sing-ing of the Gloria at Mass, but also with a “Twitter-storm.” Father James Martin — a Jesuit priest who’s one of the most famous and influential priests in the United States — released the following tweet on July 22:
“It is stupefying to me that women cannot preach at Mass. The faithful during Mass, as well as the presiders, are missing out on the wisdom, experience and in-spired reflections of half of its members. St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us.”
Preaching the homily at the celebration of Mass is intrinsically tied to the Eucharistic sacrifice. In fact, the one who offers the sacrifice of the Mass, who is an ordained priest or bishop, is ordinarily the homilist.
The “General Instruction of the Roman Missal,” number 66, states: “(T)he homily should ordinarily be given by the priest cele-brant himself or be entrusted by him to a concelebrating priest, or from time to time and, if appropriate, to the deacon.”
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in his 2007 post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, “The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of Church,” wrote about the connection between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist:
“First of all, there is a need to reflect on the inherent unity of the rite of Mass. Both in catechesis and in the actual manner of celebration, one must avoid giving the impression that the two parts of the rite are merely juxtaposed. The liturgy of the word and the Eucharistic liturgy, with the rites of introduction and conclusion, ‘are so closely interconnected that they form but one single act of worship.’ There is an intrinsic bond between the word of God and the Eucharist. From listening to the word of God, faith is born or strengthened (cf. Rom 10:17); in the Eucharist the Word made flesh gives himself to us as our spiritual food. Thus, ‘from the two tables of the word of God and the Body of Christ, the Church receives and gives to the faithful the bread of life.’ Consequently it must constantly be kept in mind that the word of God, read and proclaimed by the Church in the liturgy, leads to the Eucharist as to its own connatural end.”
Why is the homily at Mass reserved to the bishop/priest and the deacon? It has nothing to do with gender or politics or power. It has everything to with the way the church envisions the Mass; the one who breaks the Bread that is the Word of God Incarnate is the one who breaks open the Word of God present in holy Scripture.
That is affirmed by Pope Francis, who stated in 2016 at a question-and-answer session with the International Union of Superiors General:
“Then there is the problem of preaching at the Eucharistic Celebration. There is no problem for a woman — religious or lay — to preach in the Liturgy of the Word. There is no problem. But at the Eucharistic Celebration there is a liturgical-dogmatic problem, because it is one celebration — the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic Liturgy, there is unity between them — and He Who presides is Jesus Christ. The priest or bishop who presides does so in the person of Jesus Christ. It is a theological-liturgical reality. In that situation, since women are not ordained, they cannot preside.”
Women have a key role in the church, and leadership in the church does not only mean the ordained. The issue, however, is a theological one, involving the Catholic Church’s understanding of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Let’s not forget the deep theological nuances in this issue.