The packed church descended into silence as the two candidates for priesthood took their place before the altar to prepare for the most solemn moment of their ordination — the laying on of hands. The bishop rose and instructed the assembled crowd to place their right hand on the shoulder of the person seated directly in front of them.
Then, with all the energy in the room focused on the ordinands, the bishop laid her hands on the head of each, praying silently to invoke the Holy Spirit to come down on the newly ordained priests.
Catholic priests have been ordained in this manner for centuries. But there was one important difference about this ritual at the Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan’s West Village earlier this month: The two new priests and the bishop who ordained them were women.
For D. Alexandra Dyer, one of the newly ordained women, and a lifelong Catholic who says she received her calling to the priesthood at age 7, the ceremony was a moment of justice.
“After so many years and decades of waiting, to be finally able to say yes,” she said, her voice trembling with emotion, “this is how it’s supposed to be.”
As far as the Vatican is concerned, however, Catholic women like Dyer who dare to be ordained are automatically excommunicated. But the Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) movement and the Catholic communities they serve share a different view.