God as mother?

Question: Since the Second Vatican Council it seems that everyone is questioning the idea that God is father and many people today are calling God mother. Doesn’t this go against the teaching of the Church?

— Name and address withheld

Answer: Certainly, since the 1980s there has been much discussion about the appropriate names for God. Many people began to question the patriarchal (father-centered) tradition of Christianity. It is commonplace in much theological writing these days when referring to God to avoid the pronouns “he” and “his.” 

The problem here is that the Church cannot set aside its traditional Trinitarian language about God. God is always and normatively Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Replacing this with Creator, Redeemer and Sancti-fier or other such names to avoid gender language means upending the whole tradition of God-language that stems from biblical revelation. Certainly, God can be spoken of by other terms such as shepherd, rock, foundation, lord, redeemer, king. But all of these take second place to Trinitarian language. 

Is this to reject completely feminine language about God? No. Such language does have its place. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: He is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard” (No. 239). 

We should not shy away from feminine images for God. They are perfectly appropriate in some prayer forms and in teaching about the nature of God. Nevertheless, they can never become the primary forms for the official liturgy of the Church. The principal language about God is that derived from the Scriptures and the liturgical tradition — from divine revelation itself. 

Communion services 

Question: We are a medium-size parish with two priests and two deacons. Before the deacons came we had daily Mass. Now we often have no daily Mass but have Communion services run by one of the deacons. Is there some desire on the part of the U.S. bishops to make Mass and Communion services interchangeable? 

— Name and city withheld, Tennessee

Answer: The U.S. bishops generally have absolutely no desire to make Mass and Communion services interchangeable. There is a world of difference between them, and Mass always takes priority. Indeed, Mass should be celebrated daily in every parish with a resident priest. 

Certainly, the daily celebration of Mass can easily become a chore and a matter of mere routine for a priest. But this problem can be fought by constant reflection on the close relationship between the Mass and priesthood. I cannot imagine a parish in which there are two priests and daily Mass is not offered. This is a matter that you may want to address in a letter to your bishop. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.