Question: On Trinity Sunday, our pastor started his homily, “God the Father, or if you think she is a woman, or however you want to worship.” We were stunned. Questioning him later, he said God has no gender. Please comment.
— Marilyn Aron, Mount Laurel, New Jersey
Answer: While it is true that God is pure spirit and therefore is not physically male or female, it does not follow that we are free to call him “mother” or use female pronouns such as “she” or “her.” The Scriptures are not our words about God; they are his words to us. As such, we are bound to speak of God in the ways he has revealed himself.
And indeed, nowhere does God’s revelation use feminine nouns or pronouns in reference to God. While it is true that in several places Scripture uses feminine imagery to speak to a quality of God (for example, Is 66:13; Ps 131:2; Lk 13:34), the context of all these passages is still that God the Father or God the Son is speaking, and the nearest pronouns are all male.
In revealing himself as Father, we also acknowledge that God sets forth a sacramental truth about creation as well as human sexuality and sexual differentiation. In the human sexual order, the husband acts upon the wife, and the woman receives from the husband. In the order of creation, God acts upon creation, and creation receives from God. God is Father and uses male imagery (for example, the husband to his bride Israel and the Church) because all of creation is feminine in relationship to him. Creation receives from him.
Jesus, in his incarnation, is male, not merely by accident, but because he is reveled in Scripture as the eternal Son of the Father and because he is the groom to his bride the Church.
While some also wish to call the Holy Spirit “she,” this, too, violates scriptural norms that always use male pronouns in reference to the Holy Spirit.
It is simply an overwhelming fact that God has revealed himself to us in male terms. While realizing that God is pure spirit and therefore neither male nor female per se, the language of faith accepts how God has revealed himself and limits itself to that expression. Thus, we are not free to call God whatever we like or to speak to him “however we want to worship,” as your pastor said.
Question: Is it possible to receive Communion if a person doesn’t believe Mary was conceived without sin, that the pope is the vicar of Christ and believes justification is by faith alone?
— Name, location withheld
Answer: If such a person dissents as you describe, he or she probably should not receive holy Communion because there is dissent on such significant doctrines.
Holy Communion is more than a confession of the True Presence. Our “amen” at the moment of Communion indicates that we are in communion with the whole Christ — head and members together. Our “amen” means that we believe all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and professes to be revealed by God. If one cannot mean this, then their “amen” is false — or at least incomplete.
Of course such a matter should be discerned with a parish priest. Perhaps he can help guide them in understanding the disputed teachings or at least help them to realize that faith is about more than membership or historical connections. Communion speaks to a deep unity of faith and practice.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.