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