Pope Francis has taken ordination of women off the table, so perhaps it is time to put some shared gifts of the spirit and the theology of the sacraments on the table and include women.
There are seven sacraments and often priests are overburdened with the sacramental system now in place. The hold on the sacraments demands so much from the parish priest that often there is little time for visiting with parishioners, time spent on liturgy and homily preparation, and just time for spiritual renewal. Deacons now share the ability to administer some sacraments, but sometimes they, too, are distracted from their primary goal of ministering to the poor and those in need in the parish.
Perhaps the theology of the sacraments is a better approach than years spent developing a theology of women, who are, after all, humans and part of the laity. A theology of gifts would open the door to sharing the sacramental life of the church with women. The laity, especially women, have gifts that could be shared in administration of sacraments, and the theology surrounding the sacrament supports this sharing. The diaconate has opened the door and now it is only women that are excluded.
Baptism: Laywomen often are the persons preparing both adults and children for this sacrament. In the theology of the sacrament, anyone can baptize in case of death. Why wait? After all the time spent in preparing persons for the sacrament, wouldn't it be exciting to actually administer it and celebrate with them? Instead, often those who prepare the participants stand in the background as the priest or deacon, who does not have time to really meet these persons or families who are having their children baptized, administers the sacrament. Where are the women?
The sacrament of reconciliation: I wonder how many women have been trained in spiritual direction. This gift of listening and helping adults with their spiritual growth is becoming more and more a part of people's lives. Women are preparing and using this gift in greater numbers.
Every 400 years, the sacrament of reconciliation has changed. It was the Irish monks who suggested lists of sins and allocating penance according to the gravity of the sin. Now we experience the sacrament as a one-to-one conversation or a general absolution after a short interaction with a priest. Although now the one-to-one part has been included, again, the priest is still the only one allowed to administer the sacrament.
Sharing the sacrament with spiritual directors (many of them women), could resurrect a sacrament that continues to decline in use.
Sacrament of the sick: Many women act as chaplains and spend time visiting the sick and dying at home and in hospitals. The ability to be with persons who are ill or dying and anoint them and pray with them and their families makes sense. Why wait for an overburdened priest to show up when the relationship has been established with the regular visitor? In many places, the priest is not able to attend this sacrament.
Matrimony: Here again, deacons are witnesses of this sacrament. I wonder what the sacrament would be like if the deacon and his wife were the administrators of the sacrament? Often the program for preparation for matrimony is given to married couples. In matrimony, two persons are ready to make a formal commitment to one another in the midst of the community. They are marrying one another with the community as a witness. The theology of the sacrament allows for those with the most understanding of the gifts and challenges faced to administer the sacrament. This sacrament is best administered by couples who are in the community and can share the wisdom of the sacrament with the couple who are making the commitment.
Sharing these sacraments with the laity (including women) opens the community to the best use of gifts and gives priests time to be present in the community in a new way.
[Sr. Susan Olson, a School Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, has lived in Watsonville, Calif., for 30 years, providing services for low-income families.]