ASK FATHER: Our Episcopal priest recently became a nun….

This was so quirky, that I had to post it. I asked a priest friend to write a response.

From a reader…


Our Episcopal [?] priest recently became a nun. She insists on wearing her habit when serving mass. Is this proper or even allowed under canon 284?. She is causing a split in our parish. We hired a priest, not a nun. Most of us are happy that she has found another calling, but we feel that when she is working (ministering) as a priest and serving God as a priest she should look like a priest, not a nun. Any thoughts or comments would be appreciated.


Anglicanorum coetibus!


As a child, playing make believe was never ending fun. When I was younger, the family across the street had a large box in their garage, full of cast-off clothing. As children, we would occasionally root through the box and dress up, pretending to be adults. There was a white shirt with french cuffs in the box. At that time, the only one I knew who wore french cuffs was our family doctor. So, I would put on that shirt, and pretend to be a doctor. The other kids would come into my “office,” I would listen to their heartbeat, take their pulse, look into their mouth and invariably prescribe two or three pieces of candy that substituted for pills. It made for an enjoyable afternoon. One day, the shirt was missing. Rooting through the box, I found another white shirt and put it on, but it did not have french cuffs. My friends and I were disappointed. We couldn’t play doctor’s office without the proper shirt. It just wasn’t the same. I think we probably ended up playing “Mother May I,” or frozen tag instead.

So I know how you feel, having had a parallel experience. You’re expecting one sort of outfit, that seems to be the essential factor – and that outfit has changed. It must be disappointing.

Oh, and I wasn’t really a doctor either. I suppose the difference between our experiences is that all of my friends new I wasn’t really a doctor and wasn’t really prescribing pills. We knew we were just play-acting.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Luvadoxi says:

    It seems to me that when she is acting as a nun, she should dress as a nun. And when she’s acting as a priest–dress as a priest. All of this would depend, though, on what the Episcopal rules for such things are. Can you be both a priest and a nun? I know there are Anglican nuns, but I don’t know what the proper procedures are. It seems like this is the proper role for rules and norms–to calm the congregation and preserve “decency and good order” as the Presbyterians would say. Is she allowed to do this in her denomination?

  2. drohan says:

    What the reader needs to understand is that she is part of a false religion. What further farce in the Anglican/Episcopal communion can occur to convince true believers to leave that godforsaken entity and enter the One True Faith?

    Certainly the reader is sensitive to the idea that the ‘church’ she belongs to is so infested with modernism and post-modernism as to render any type of appropriate worship to God completely null and void.

    Fr. Z is correct. The Anglican rite in full communion with the See of Peter is the only real solution. And I appreciate the response from the priest friend as well. One can only mock and condescend such debasement. The reader should ask herself/himself this question: Is the purpose of a ‘church’ to satisfy the social justice aims of modern Gramscian cultural Marxists, or is the purpose of a Church the right worship of God? Decide which of the two he/she is in and then make the correct choice.

  3. markomalley says:

    Transvocational? [/sarc]

  4. JGavin says:

    First, being a Catholic,I was thrown off by a priest becoming a nun. I would suggest priestess as a phrase since it avoids gender confusion which seems to be the most recent revolting rage in the MSM.
    This being said, she being a religious would be similar to male priests in the true Church being members of a religious congregation eg the Dominicans or Franciscans. Not all male Dominicans are priests but some priests are Dominicans. I cannot in good conscience say she is the same since Anglican orders are invalid not to mention the Church has not the authority to ordain women.

  5. Gerard Plourde says:

    Episcopal priest (sic) becomes a nun (presumably also Episcopal) and celebrates Mass (well not really) while wearing her habit (but not vestments?).

    The scenario makes me feel like the android Norman from the original Star Trek series episode “I, Mudd” – “Illogical, illogical – Does not compute. You say you are a priest but you have become a nun and celebrate mass. But you cannot be a priest and if you accept the vocation of a nun you cannot celebrate Mass.” (Sound of system overload and various subroutines shutting down)

    Cross the Tiber where there is truth and authority (and, through the invitation of His Holiness Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, warm welcome).

  6. Charles E Flynn says:

    Some types of make believe are incompatible with other types of make believe. All types of make believe are incompatible with reality.

  7. RJHighland says:

    Shouldn’t she be called a Episcople priestess, only men can be priests, but I digress. Two thumbs up for markomalley, transvocational, that is awesome!! I wonder if shee makes her voice deeper when she dresses like a priest?

  8. Pigeon says:

    All of this trans conversations remind me of the south park episode where Kanye West “came out” as a gay fish.

  9. Elizabeth D says:

    I know a former Anglican priest who became Catholic and was then ordained for real as a priest, and since Fr Z knows him too I wonder if he was the author of the guest response.

    One thing the author of the original “quaeritur” is obviously confused about is the fact that Episcopalians are NOT subject to the Canon Law of the Catholic Church. The Episcopal ecclesial community is separate from the Catholic Church and has its own rules and policies, which they may or may not follow. But the real bottom line problem is definitely what the guest response said, the lady episcopal priest is not really a priest and is not really saying Mass at all. The yearning for something that is real and makes sense leads people toward the Catholic faith.

  10. Auggie says:

    “Make believe” is one thing, but this is theology on a bad acid trip.

  11. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    Well, since a Catholic man who is a real priest can be a monk, there is no reason an Episcopal woman playing priest can’t be a nun. She certainly can’t be MONK! That would be silly!

    I was thrown for a bit by the verb “serving.” Again, a Catholic nun CAN serve Mass, and would wear her habit while doing so. Then I realized that the questioner meant “celebrating.” In which case, I’m sure the rubrics for play priests require the same vestments as for real priests, even if the play priest is a nun.

    There are rigid rules in journalism:

    When writing about a Mass, whether celebrated by a priest, bishop, or Pope, reporters are required to say that he “gave,” “served,” “led,” or “preached” Mass. The words “said” or “celebrated” are strictly forbidden. [HA! True dat.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  12. RafqasRoad says:

    At Least She wears a habit :-)
    Now to pray that this lady seeks to become a nun in full communion with the Catholic Church via the Anglican Ordinariate with all the amazing good that could come from such a conversion.Bl. Card. John Henry Newmann, pray for her, and pray for Episcopalians & Anglicans everywhere.

  13. David Collins says:

    I object to calling this person a she. He is a man who mutilated himself to appear female, but he is still a he, even when dressed as a nun serving an Episcopal mass.

  14. JGavin says:

    Mr Collins, the original statement is that their Episcopal priest became a nun. The assumption on your part and my part at first glance was that it was a man who became a woman or as you suggest mutilated himself. It does not say that. The word priest here may refer to a male or female priest.
    This making the word priest a gender neutral noun is incorrect, similar to an actress referring to herself as an actor. This may go to a feminist change in the usage. I think most Christians recoil at the pagan implications of calling a woman priest a priestess therefore a women priest is never referred to as a priestess.

  15. juergensen says:

    This sounds like a perfect topic to add to the agenda of the upcoming Synod on the Family.

  16. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Well, “priestess” is something of a munging in itself, because the English word “priest” comes from “presbyter” (Greek for “elder”). The simple female form in Greek (“presbytera”) refers to a priest’s wife, not to a female priest; and the other female form (“presbyterissa”) refers to a priest’s mom (or sometimes to a very old priest’s wife, but by that time she was probably another priest’s mom). So teeeeechnically, if we went by the Greek, every priest’s mom would be a priestess, and there’d be no term at all for a “female priest.”

    But obviously English thought it needed a name for female pagan religious officials that did sacrifices, and hence the word “priestess.” (Which dates back only to the 16th century, and was briefly preceded in the late 15th century by “priestress.”)

    Personally, I think I like “priestress.” It sounds like “actress.” It makes it clear that we’re not worrying about the poor pagan ladies. “Presteress” or “prestress” might also work. :)

    “Pythoness” is another good word, and is used in the Bible for the witch who tried to call up Samuel’s ghost (as “pythonissa” in the Vulgate). It implies attempts to do oracular stuff, though, because the Pythia was Apollo’s gas-sniffing brain-damaged priestess at Delphi. [Well done.]

    Of course, the Chaucerian choice would be “The Nonnes Priest,’ for indeed she is the priest of none.

    [Some are finally getting into the spirit of this.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  17. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I do think we should pray for this woman. Modern life can be very confusing to people who mean well and try to do what modern people expect them to do, but who don’t have clear thinking and good foundations to stand on. She’s not in a good situation.

  18. Sonshine135 says:

    Okay, so I am confused. Can a male priest in the Episcopal Church become a nun, and if not, isn’t that precisely why the rules were modified so women can become Priests? What if you have a gay Priest that wants to become a nun? I cannot understand all of this inequality in the Episcopal Church. I though they were past all this. What about the cisgendered? nongendered? Bigendered? Trigendered? Try’n-not-to-cry-gendered? What rules apply? Episcopalians want to know.

  19. eborgman says:

    Unfortunately, a Catholic church in my area MA, gives Communion to a man dressed gaudily as a woman. Thinking that possibly the priest didn’t realize this, I sent an e-mail to the Father. He invited me to attend another church if I didn’t like it. So, I took his advice.

  20. JamesM says:

    It was only on the second read that I realised this “priest” wasn’t “transsexual”

  21. JGavin says:

    Surburbanbanshee: Thanks for the etymology of the word priestess! Our forebearers in the language I think got it right pegging it to pagan female religious figures. This seems quite appropriate here.
    I think Father Z’s initial response “Anglicanorum coetibus” is the correct response. Every time I read or here things like this I feel blessed that I remain firmly in Peter’s Barque. Where I live it seems most Episcopalian pastors are women.
    As to gender identification by profession I am reminded of a story I first heard on All in the Family.
    A Father and son are in a car accident. The father dies. The son, the other victim, is rushed to the hospital. The surgeon on entering the room, says “I cannot operate on this patient, he is my son.”
    The surgeon is obviously the child’s mother. In 1971 this was a puzzler for some. Although in this day and age of two daddies that may once again not be so obvious.

  22. JGavin says:

    As someone trained in Biology,Anglicanorum coetibus sounds like the genus and species nomenclature.

  23. Jeannie_C says:

    This story is a good reminder to me of why our family converted decades ago. As Catholics no matter what our difficulties and differences within our Church, at least we know which end is up.

  24. Mike says:

    Unfortunately, a Catholic church in my area MA, gives Communion to a man dressed gaudily as a woman. Thinking that possibly the priest didn’t realize this, I sent an e-mail to the Father. He invited me to attend another church if I didn’t like it. So, I took his advice.

    eborgman, no priest has the right to flout decency or to dismiss a faithful parishioner. Have you taken the matter up with his ordinary?

  25. AttiaDS says:

    Regarding the last paragraph: *knew

  26. Menagerie says:

    This story exemplifies why I beg God for the grace to bring my beliefs in line with the teachings of the Church. I do not always want to agree with what the teachings are, but I dare not say I am right.

    This end is where we wind up when men place their wants over God’s laws. I don’t have to like it, though I pray that my recalcitrant will may be brought under control. However, like it or not, I do know and understand what I am bound to live out and practice in my life. As in this example, to do otherwise leads not only to sin, but chaos.

  27. eborgman says:

    Hi Mike… “no priest has the right to flout decency or to dismiss a faithful parishioner. Have you taken the matter up with his ordinary?”

    No, I didn’t speak to anyone else, I was only attending that church on Wednesdays because my town’s church didn’t have Mass on that day. He just made it clear that everybody was welcome to come to his Mass’ and if I didn’t like I could go elsewhere. I asked some Catholic forums concerning this type of situation of men dressed as women receiving Communion and from one I received the answer that the Catechism doesn’t mention anything regarding a dress code, so it must be okay. I don’t agree, I feel that it is insulting to God frankly. I stopped going to that church because I didn’t want to feel like I was tacitly accepting this type of thing.

  28. Supertradmum says:

    Read Deuteronomy 22:5

  29. Ben Kenobi says:

    “Anglicanorum coetibus!”

    Best. Response. Ever. :)

  30. Rouxfus says:

    From Boswell’s Life of Johnson:

    I told him I had been that morning at a meeting of the people called Quakers, where I had heard a woman preach. Johnson: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

  31. The Masked Chicken says:

    Q. What do you get when a priest cross-dresses as a nun?
    A. A pun, of ecclesiastical proportions.

    The Chicken

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