Women at the Attar by Lavinia Byrne, Mowbray, £8.99
Crossing the Boundary edited by Sue Walrond-Skinner, Mowbray, £8.99
THE ORDINATION OF WOMEN to the priesthood is a subject likely to arouse strong feelings based on powerful convictions. These two books deal in different ways with the issue of women's ordination when it is particularly topical in Britain. Sr Lavinia Byrne, a Religious of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, writes about "Women at the Altar" in the Catholic Church. The apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which appeared between the writing and publishing of the book, is printed in full as an appendix. Crossing the Boundary is a collection of writing by Anglican women (and one Catholic woman) who reflect upon the impact of the decision of the General Synod of the Church of England, on 11 November 1992, to ordain women to the priesthood.
Despite obvious differences between the two books, they have important factors in common. The writers draw on extensive personal experience, they recognise that the protracted waiting time for Anglican women has been a real opportunity for learning as well as very difficult, and both books bear witness to the shock produced by the vote in the Synod which has been felt in many different ways within and beyond the Church of England.
If the women, Anglican and Catholic, who have experienced vocation to the priesthood had been welcomed immediately, like their brothers, then there would not have been the same pressures to explore again and again the role of women in the Church and the true meanings of ordained ministry. Lavinia Byrne takes these two issues, together with the stress since Vatican II on the priesthood of all baptised and the role of lay people in the Church.
From the perspective of feminist theology, she explores why the leadership of women in the Church, especially through ordination to the priesthood, is sacramentally and morally important for the Church.
The book argues that tradition devel ops with a variety of different strands and that images and theologies of Mary are particularly important for an understanding of women's ordination as a fulfilment of Catholic tradition. It may be the case that this particular discussion can go no further at the present time. However, the two key factors are not finally resolved and the experience of the Church of England will be carefully watched.
Very little has been written recently by women awaiting ordination in the Church of England, and so Crossing the Boundary is particularly welcome. The contributors write, in their different ways, of the processes which are taking place. Some are hopeful, some are very critical of what is happening and others are still waiting for change in their own Churches.
Perhaps the women who are ordained in the future will leave their lay sisters behind and adapt themselves to the existing structures of priesthood, or perhaps this "crossing the boundary" will lead to "a new place of inspiration, freedom and grace".