A former associate pastor at my parish once addressed a question about offering communion to anyone who would like to receive it by relating it to the question “What would Jesus do?” He said to consider a slightly different question; “What did Jesus do?” If the last The Last Supper was essentially the first Eucharist, it seems Jesus was very particular about who was in attendance and thus able to receive; much different than the Eucharistic foreshadowing that occurred at the multiplication of loaves in today’s Gospel reading, which was kind of a free for all (see John 6:1-15).
There were also no women at The Last Supper, which is a strange thing according to this article I happened upon about the Passover Seder meal. Apparently, Jesus broke with tradition and did not celebrate the Passover with family even though Jewish tradition holds that the mothers of the house and the children have an important role to play. Why would Jesus not invite his female relatives and followers? Not even his mother. No doubt he would have been with them at previous seder meals and knowing this would be his last, wouldn’t it have been even more appropriate to invite them all? It all points to the fact that his was no ordinary seder. This time he was conferring the Eucharist and the priesthood to his apostles and to no one else; this is the most reasonable explanation.
The Church is clear about the ordination of only men to the priesthood (see CCC, par. 1577). Jesus and his followers chose men to be their successors. Some might say that is only because they were bound by the times; people in those days would never accept women as leaders. But if Jesus is Lord then he is not “bound” by anything unless he chooses to be, like choosing to feel hunger, thirst and pain just like we do; and I don’t think he cares so much what people think in terms of social norms. It seems to me that if Jesus really wanted women to be his successors it would have happened.
Men as priests also connects with the idea that being male or female is not only a physical reality, but also a spiritually reality. As a priest, the man acts in the person of Jesus offering the Eucharist to his Church, which is literally the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. If Jesus is “The Life”, then this giving and receiving of Jesus mirrors the giving and receiving that happens between a husband and his wife to bring about new life. No wonder the Catholic Church takes the definition of marriage so seriously!
If we view male and female as something only physical, we miss the greater reality. This not only leads to thinking a male-only priesthood is evidence of bigotry and a way to suppress woman, but also leads to confusion about marriage, gender and a whole host of other Church teachings on what it means to made in the image an likeness of God.
“For, once the idea is abroad that the changeless things can be subject to change, no peace is possible”