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The Power to Create: Sacraments and Men's Need to Birth

  • Christine E. Gudorf (a1)


The sacraments represent some of the ordinary activities involved in sustaining daily life, activities which are understood to contain meaning and therefore power. These activities are for the most part the province of women in human societies, probably because of the biological role of women in procreation. One of the ways that men have responded to the connection between women and life sustaining activities is to claim the sacramental reenactments of those activities for themselves, and to maintain that the sacramental reenactments, not the ordinary activities, contain meaning and power. The task for the church is to reconnect sacraments with ordinary life by involving men in direct nurture of life and involving women in sacramental administration, so as to demonstrate the reality of divine meaning and power in life.



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1 “Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood,” October 15, 1976, by the Sacred Congregation for the Faith, nos. 27, 28, and 30.

2 Gal 3:28. See Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schüssler, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Reconstruction of Christian Origins (New York: Crossroad, 1983) fora detailed explanation of the history of this distinction in the early church.

3 “Declaration,” no. 32.

4 Miller, Austin P. O.P., Theology of Confirmation (Hales Corner, WI: Clergy Book Service, 1971), pp. 103–04;McCormack, Arthur, Christian initiation (New York: Hawthorn, 1969), pp. 9091.

5 Kessler, Evelyn S., Women: An Anthropological View (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976), p. 81;Saiving, Valerie (Goldstein), “The Human Situation: A Feminine View” in Christ, Carol P. and Plaskow, Judith, eds., Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979), pp. 2542.

6 Gornick, Vivian and Moran, Barbara, eds., Woman in a Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness (New York: New American Library, 1971), pp. xxi-xxii, 38.

7 In fact, women are the people most often culturally designated as mourners. The period of mourning is often significantly greater for women than for men. Women are also more often expected to publicly demonstrate grief by wailing and hysteria.

8 Since the Industrial Revolution moved production out of the home but kept women in the home, the energy that women formerly put to the production of cloth, candles, soap, and other products was gradually rechanneled into a combination of caretaker tasks such as that of creating “childhood,” a hitherto unknown time of innocent youth, or of social welfare-charity work, both of which emphasized feminine sensitivity, tact, and concern for social harmony. See Aries, Philippe, Centuries of Childhood, trans. Baldick, Robert (New York: Vintage, 1962); and Dally, Ann, Inventing Motherhood (New York: Schocken, 1982).

9 Gross, Rita M., “Menstruation and Childbirth as Ritual and Religious Experience among Native Australians” in Falk, Nancy A. and Gross, Rita M., eds., Unspoken Worlds: Women's Religious Lives in Non-Western Cultures (New York: Harper & Row, 1980), p. 285.

10 Ibid., pp. 286-87.

11 Turnbull, Colin, The Forest People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961), pp. 80, 82.

12 Ibid., ch. 8.

13 Yolanda, and Murphy, Robert F., Women of the Forest (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), p. 89.

14 Kessler, p. 79.

15 Ibid., p. 83.

16 Worgul, George S. Jr., From Magic to Metaphor: A Validation of the Christian Sacraments (New York: Paulist, 1980). Worgul writes that: “Religious rituals fall into categories of either magic, taboo, or relations. Magic rituals attempt to control the divine. Taboo rituals seek to isolate an individual or community from the ‘holy’ or the Other’ which is considered to be dangerous. Relation rituals endeavor to form a relational non-destructive bond between a community and the ‘divine’“ (p. 43).

17 de las Casas, Bartolomé, The Devastation of the Indies, trans. Briffault, Herme (New York: Seabury, 1974 [1552]) details the Indians killed by the Spanish in Mexico alone at nine million. Some anthropologists believe the number killed by a combination of imported disease, enslavement, and violence in Latin America to be over one hundred million. For the centuries of the Carribean slave trade it was estimated that some sugar islands turned over their entire slave populations every twenty years, so high was mortality.

18 This statement was broadcast on National Public Radio, week of November 24, 1984.

19 Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal, “Instructions on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation,” September 3, 1984.

20 Mt 5:23.

21 This period began with the Protestant Reformation and was extended by the Enlightenment and its political manifestations, the French Revolution and liberal democracy, with their anticlerical cast.

22 Boff, Leonardo, Church: Charism and Power (New York: Crossroad, 1985).

23 Some people within the pornography industry suggest that the increasing violence is men's way of coping with anger at the growing independence of women encouraged by the women's movement, and see themselves as merely meeting men's needs. See the Canadian documentary film, “Not A Love Story.”

24 Kessler, p. 77.

25 Ibid., p. 76.

26 Mead, Margaret, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (New York: Dell, 1935), p. 48.

27 Ibid., pp. 48-56.

28 This is certainly representative of the attitudes of the twentieth century popes, at least until after John XXIII. See Gudorf, Christine E., Catholic Social Teaching on Liberation Themes (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1980), ch. 5.

29 The best example of this is the contemporary black family. We have only recently realized that until after the First World War when northern migration began in earnest that the black family was in contemporary terms as stable as bedrock, that the real erosion began with joblessness in northern cities, especially after World War II when significant numbers of black males became unable to fulfill social expectations of the heads of families.

30 See Sennet, Richard and Cobb, Jonathan, The Hidden Injuries of Class (New York: Vintage, 1973).

31 Soles, Esther, “Women's Adult Development” in Frieze, Irene al., eds., Women and Sex Roles: A Sociol Psychological Perspective (New York: Norton, 1978).

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