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268 • Part II. The Sacraments: The Faith Celebrated

42). But it was only men whom he chose to be the Twelve Apostles and

the foundation of the ministerial priesthood.

Although after the Ascension, Mary occupied a privileged place in

the little circle gathered in the Upper Room, she was not called to enter

the college of the Twelve at the time of the election of Matthias. The

Apostles continued Christ’s practice and so, too, did their successors

through the centuries.

The Church has the power to determine the way in which the

Sacraments are to be celebrated, but she has no ability to change the

essential aspects established by the Lord Jesus. Sacramental signs are

natural, but they also carry a divine meaning. Just as the Eucharist is not

only a communal meal, but also makes present the saving sacrifice of the

Lord Jesus, so too ministerial priesthood is more than pastoral service:

it ensures the continuity of the ministry Christ entrusted to the Apostles.

The priesthood has a sacramental nature. The priest is a sign of what

is happening. Sacramental signs represent what they signify by a natural

resemblance. This resemblance is as true for persons as for things. When

the priest acts in the person of Christ, he takes on the role of Christ,

to the point of being his representative. He is a sign of what is happening

and must be a sign that is recognizable, which the faithful can see with


An image used to explain this reality talks of a priest as an “icon” of

Christ. An icon is a religious painting that is considered to make pres-

ent the mystery of salvation or the saint it depicts. To say a priest is an

icon of Christ means, then, that a priest is not just a reminder or image

of Christ but is also a real means by which a person can be touched by

Christ. Because Christ is a man, it is fitting that a priest as the icon of

Christ should also be a man.

Another reason why the Church understands that ordination is

reserved to men is the recognition of the priest’s responsibility to reflect

Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church. This image and understanding

can be reflected most truly only when the priest is a man.

The teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone

has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church

(cf. Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,

Declaration on the