Why Women Cannot Preside over Communion


As the Ordinal tells us, a Priest is essentially commissioned and ordained to be a Minister of Word and Sacrament. He is above all else called to preach, teach, baptize, and preside over Communion. Showing from Scripture that a woman cannot perform the role of teaching the congregation is rather simple, as it is ruled out by 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34. Showing that women cannot preside over Communion would also be simple, were it not for the fact that our culture has forgotten all about the Divinely instituted social and ontological realities that underpin the fact that only men can preside. It is in fact once those realities were forgotten that we started ordaining women, which is why we need to be reminded of them.

The Anglican Formularies tell us regarding Communion that “before all other things, this we must be sure of especially, that this Supper be in such wise done and ministered, as our Lord and Saviour did, and commanded to be done, as his holy Apostles used it, and the good Fathers in the Primitive Church frequented it” (Of the Worthy Receiving of the Sacrament). Communion must therefore be administered according to Scripture and the tradition of the early Church. We are also told that only those who are “lawfully called and sent to execute the same” can administer the Sacraments (Article XXIII). What then does Scripture and tradition tell us about who is lawfully called to administer Communion? Tradition is resoundingly clear: only ordained Priests, who themselves can only ever be men. As for Scripture, this essay shall endeavor to show that the principles it establishes also rule out the possibility of women presiding over Communion.

1. Communion and Headship

Communion is a Sacrament of the Church’s mystical unity as the Body of Christ, for “we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17), and indeed, we are all one in Christ in regard to our adoption and justification (Gal 3:28). Within this body, however, there are distinctions between its “many members” (1 Cor 12:12), just as hands are distinguished from the head (12:15-20), and so, though we are one Body, there are different parts (Rom 12:4-5). Now, one of the distinctions that exists between the parts of the Body is that between men and women. St Paul tells us:

The head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head, but every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head… For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels (1 Cor 11:2-10).

We see then that there is something of a hierarchy in the Church, with men having headship and women being subordinate (1 Cor 14:34 ; 1 Tim 2:11-12), which is why wives are commanded to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22-24; Col 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1, 5), who are called their head (Eph 5:23) and lord (1 Peter 3:6).[1] This is not the place to discuss whether or not women still must cover their heads in worship, but what needs to be pointed out is that Paul does want the church gathering to visibly demonstrate the fact that women are under male headship (1 Cor 11:10). If during the liturgy the women have their heads covered and remain silent (1 Cor 14:34), then that will reveal – even to the angels (11:10) – the fact that they have a subordinate rank to men.

If then the Sacrament of Communion is intended to signify the unity the Body has – which is a unity among different parts – the administration of that Sacrament should reveal the proper relations that exist within that Body. Regardless of whether women must still cover their heads, I cannot see how Paul could both want women to have a “symbol of authority on their heads” (1 Cor 11:10) and also accept women presiding over Communion. The Eucharist is nothing if not a meal, a family meal even, and the person who blesses and administers the meal has always been culturally understood to be the head of the family. That is why, whenever we see the breaking of bread in Scripture, it is always the head of the community who breaks it, whether that be our Lord (Luke 19:16, 22:19, 24:30), St Paul (Acts 20:11, 27:35), or Melchizedek (Gen 14:18). As for our own tradition, it is abundantly clear that the one presiding over Communion is the head of the community, which is why only an ordained Priest can preside, and also why if a Bishop is present, he is the one who must preside. For a daughter of Eve, who was under the headship of Adam, to stand in the place of the head of the church family and break bread, is therefore to go against God’s ordering of the Body, which Communion itself is supposed to represent.

2. Communion and the Silence of Women

We turn now to another passage from 1 Corinthians that when properly understood rules out the possibility of women lawfully presiding over Communion. After having written about how women should cover their heads, Paul goes on to say:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.  If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church… If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized… But all things should be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:33-40).

Of course, whenever this passage is raised it is always objected that Paul a few chapters earlier had said that women prophesied, as has already been quoted above (1 Cor 11:5), and that he therefore must have meant something different to what it seems. However, the brief statement they refer to does not in any way say that women prophesied in church during the liturgy. Even if we conceded that Paul must have meant that women prophesied in church, Scripture is the infallible word of God and Paul cannot have contradicted himself. He must have meant that there is a sense in which woman can speak and a sense in which they cannot. There is also the common argument that this passage was simply a temporary command, given to a particular church at a particular time, which is no longer binding on the Church. This is quite frankly nothing but wishful thinking, utterly devoid of any textual support. Paul, first of all, says “as in all the churches,” thus showing that this is not only for Corinth and then says his commandment is based on “the Law” and the objective principle that “it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” Not once does he say that his command is specific to any time or place, and not once does he indicate that it is something that can be done away with. It is for all the churches and is based on the Law and the nature of womanhood itself, which Paul has already shown to be under manhood in rank (1 Cor 11:3). Finally, as if he was not already clear enough, Paul says what he is writing is “a command of the Lord,” and that if one does not recognize it, “he is not recognized.” And the commandment is given that “all things should be done decently and in order,” which surely relates back to the fact that women should be visibly under male headship (1 Cor 11:10). So away with the liberal attempt to effectively remove this passage from Scripture. It is here, it exists, Paul wrote it by the Holy Ghost, and we are given more indication than we need that it is a universally binding command. With that established, we now need to figure out what to do with it.

This is not the place for a discussion of the ins and outs of how exactly this passage relates to church practice, and what precisely it does and does not prohibit. One thing that is clear, however, is that if there is a sense in which women must be silent in church, that surely impacts the consecration of Communion. In an Anglican liturgy, the consecration of the Eucharist takes up a substantial portion of the service and is without question the most important part and centerpiece of the whole affair. The presiding Priest declares the absolution of sins to the congregation, paid for by the Son of God’s blood, recounts the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Saviour, recites the words our Lord spoke to His disciples at the Last Supper, declares, signs, and confirms the Almighty God’s covenantal promise of salvation, and then leads the congregation in prayer, pleading the Father’s mercy on account of the Lord’s sacrifice there remembered. If that does not fall under whatever Paul meant by “speaking,” then nothing does. Note that he did not say women cannot “teach,” he said they cannot “speak” (using the standard Greek word for speech) and that they must be “silent.” Whatever Paul meant by “silent” cannot possibly allow a woman to preside over Communion. Not only does Paul command women to be silent, but also to “be in submission,” which is clearly the reason why they must be silent. But again, a woman taking it upon herself to absolve the congregation and seal God’s promises to them is anything but submissive. A service where a woman stands at the front, leads the liturgy, and confirms God’s promises to the congregation while wearing priestly vestments is about as far as one can get from Paul’s vision of a church where the women have covered heads and remain in silence. The reality, then, is that this passage alone can quite reasonably be used to disbar women from presiding over the Eucharist.

3. Communion and Representing Christ

When St Paul discusses the proper administration of Communion, he famously recites in full the words of institution that our Lord Jesus Christ gave to His disciples, which Paul says he had already ‘delivered’ to them (1 Cor 11:23-26). The Church has almost since the beginning understood this to mean that when Communion is administered those same words should be recited, which is indeed what the BCP has always said is absolutely essential. We have also always said that a single Priest must be the one who recites those words. The clear implication of this is that the presiding Priest does in some sense reflect, represent, and image Christ to the people. That is not to say that he necessarily acts in persona Christi in a Roman Catholic sense, rather it is simply an inescapable fact that the officiant is re-enacting what Christ did at the Last Supper, and so in the eyes of the congregation he is to a certain degree imaging Christ, and Christ just so happened to be a man. Nor was it insignificant that Christ was a man, because in order to be the Federal Head and Second Adam of a new humanity, He needed to be a man. Even though Eve sinned first (1 Tim 2:14), it was the sin of the man – Adam – which condemned us (Isa 43:27; Rom 5:15-19; 1 Cor 15:21), because only a man can be a forefather (Rom 4:16) and have headship (1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:22).

In a marriage, only the man represents Christ, for “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is head of the Church” (Eph 5:22), while the woman represents the church, for “as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Eph 5:24). Therefore, men are able to represent Christ to a degree that women cannot. Women cannot represent Christ as Head. Men can. Since we have already discussed how the officiant of Communion does reflect headship to some degree, and since that officiant also represents Christ, it would be totally inappropriate for a woman – who cannot be Head – to have this role. It was because of this point that the great C.S. Lewis so strongly opposed the ordination of women, saying:

Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to “Our Mother which art in heaven” as to “Our Father”. Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does. Now it is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion… The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life. To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is to say that for the purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant. We are, within that context, treating both as neuters.[2]

What is so tragic about reading these words, is that three decades after they were written they came true in my own country of New Zealand. It was because of the ordination of women to the Priesthood in 1977 that the liturgical commission removed all masculine pronouns of God in the new Prayer Book,[3] which would change the Trinitarian blessing to “Creator, Redeemer, and Giver of Life,” and whose new version of the Lord’s Prayer was addressed to “Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver… Father and Mother of us all.”[4] Thus, we see the terrible consequences of allowing women to represent Christ as a Priest. Rather, because Christ could only have represented us as a man, and because only men can represent Christ as Head, only a man can rightly represent Christ to the congregation during the authoritative act of presiding over Communion.

4. Communion and Authority

St Paul tells us that a woman is not permitted to “teach or hold authority over a man” (1 Tim 2:12). Presiding over Communion, however, is an authoritative act and Anglicans have always understood it that way, which is why when ordaining a Priest, the Bishop is directed to say to him: “Take thou Authority to preach the word of God, and to minister the holy Sacraments in the Congregation where thou shalt be lawfully appointed thereunto” (Ordinal). The reason why it is authoritative is because Communion is a Sacrament that effectually signs, seals, and confirms God’s promise of salvation (Article XXV). Sacraments “seal in our hearts the promises of God,” and “annexed [to them] is the promise of the free forgiveness of sin” (On Common Prayer and Sacraments). Communion makes the sacrifice of Christ “redound to our commodity and profit,” and it makes “the faithful see, hear, and know the favourable mercies of God sealed, the satisfaction by Christ towards us confirmed, and the remission of sin established” (Of the Worthy Receiving of the Sacrament).

When a Priest administers Communion, he is in effect declaring and promising to the congregation on God’s behalf that whoever eats Jesus’ flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life, and He will raise them up at the last day (John 6:54) and that the “cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks [is] a participation in the blood of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16). He is “proclaim[ing] the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26), and saying on Christ’s behalf that “this is the blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). The Priest is also responsible for deciding who can and cannot partake of the Sacrament. I can therefore think of nothing more authoritative in the whole life of the Church than a Priest consecrating this Sacrament for the congregation and saying to them: “the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life” (1662 BCP). To act on behalf of the Almighty God and confirm His very own promise of salvation to men and women individually is to have authority over them as Christ’s ambassador. Since, then, 1 Tim 2:12 prohibits women from having authority over men, and since 1 Cor 14:34 also says women “must be in submission,” we ought to prohibit women from this authoritative role.

5. Communion and Priesthood

While the ceremonial aspects of the Law have been fulfilled by our Lord Jesus Christ, its spiritual principles remain true. Thus, while the Levitical Priesthood and the sacrificial system they took charge of are fulfilled and no longer in place in the New Covenant, we still look to how the Levitical service points to the ongoing priestly ministry of Christ in the Heavenly Holy Place (Heb 9:6-12). It is not something to forget, then, that the Levitical Priests had to be male. That fact must have some significance. It might be retorted that they were only male because that was the prevailing custom of the time, but this is demonstrably false, as it is well known and well recorded that Priestesses were commonplace in the Ancient Near East (cf. Gen 41:50, 46:20).[5] In fact, the Israelites having no Priestesses whatsoever was something notably strange about them.[6] When God ordered His Priests to exclusively be men, He did it for a reason that was not arbitrary or culturally bound. Bearing this in mind, we move to the New Testament. There, we find that when our Lord and Saviour instituted Communion and said “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), He was speaking only to His male Apostles (22:14). It was also these same male Apostles whom our Lord commissioned to administer the bread and fishes to the 5000 (Luke 9:16) in what is a clear metaphor for Communion. Surely that too has significance, especially since our Lord did not seem to care about the culture’s attitudes towards women when He allowed them to study (Luke 10:42) and be the first witnesses of His resurrection (Mark 16:7; John 20:17).

Returning to the Priesthood question, we come to one of the most important passages for our understanding of Communion, which is when Melchizedek, Priest of the Most High, “brought out bread and wine” during a sacred covenant ceremony (Gen 14:18). Because our Lord is a Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Heb 7:17), and His sacrifice of Himself was thus a priestly act (Heb 10:17), which our Lord explicitly connects to Communion (Luke 22:19-20), we can see that the offering of bread and wine in Communion is in fact also a priestly act (cf. 1 Cor 10:21; Heb 13:10-15). Communion is the proclamation of the priestly death of Christ (1 Cor 11:26) in the manner of the priestly offering of bread and wine by Melchizedek.

We have already seen how Communion is an authoritative act, ritualistically presided over by the head of the community, who represents Christ to that community, and these functions are all priestly. This is not to say that Communion is a propitiatory sacrifice, for of course, our great High Priest Himself has already offered the all-sufficient sacrifice for us. However, since Communion seals and confirms the benefits of that sacrifice and administers the salvific grace it wrought, there is a clear connection between Communion and Christ’s death (1 Cor 11:24), just as there was between it and the Levitical sacrifices since they pointed forward to it (Heb 9:12-14). This is why the BCP directs the officiating Priest to ask God to “accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving… humbly beseeching thee to grant… remission of our sins and all other benefits of [Christ’s] passion… that all we who are partakers of this holy Communion may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction” (1662 BCP).[7] It was because of the retention of these ideas that the BCP went against the prevailing understanding and verbiage of continental Protestantism and continued to name the ministers who alone can preside over Communion, Priests.

With all that being said, let us return to the point at hand: throughout Scripture, and throughout the history of the Church until the twentieth century, the Priesthood has always been exclusively male, contrary to the customs of the surrounding religions. The reason for that should by now be clear: headship, representation, and authority are all core aspects of Priesthood and priestly duties, and these aspects are all understood by Scripture to be masculine.


Ultimately, what all this boils down to is the fact that, as St Paul tells us, God wants the worship of His Church to be without “confusion” (1 Cor 14:33) and to be done “decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40), and that means that our worship must respect His ordering of the sexes. To even say “ordering of the sexes,” is of course a shocking and even offensive thing to say in this day and age, and that is precisely why we have ignored the Bible’s clear teaching about gender hierarchy, which itself is the basis for why women cannot preside over Communion. The reality is that the Bible tells us that “the head of the woman is the man” (1 Cor 11:3) and that women must be in “full submission” (1 Cor 14:34; 1 Tim 2:11). This fact permeates literally all of the NT’s teachings about marriage (e.g. Eph 5:22-24; Col 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1-6) and is the reason why women are commanded to cover their heads (1 Cor 11:4, 10), be silent (1 Cor 14:34), and refrain from teaching and having authority (1 Tim 2:12). This hierarchy, most importantly, is good. It points us to Christ (1 Cor 10:3; Eph 5:32), it allows women to focus on being nurturing homemakers (1 Tim 5:14; Titus 2:4-5), and it leads to beautiful marriages. This hierarchy carried us through the best periods of our civilization and glorifies God, so let us not destroy it.

In conclusion, once Communion is properly understood to itself be an authoritative act presided over by a Priest who is the head of the community and who represents Christ to that community, we then see that women simply cannot preside over it while also remaining silent and in submission. For them to do so would be to create confusion and violate God’s order which is thus unlawful. It naturally follows from this that it would be unlawful to ordain a woman to be a Priest who administers the Sacraments.


  1. This is not to say, of course, that all women must submit to all men.
  2. C.S. Lewis, “Priestesses in the Church,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 258-259.
  3. Geoffrey M.R. Haworth, He Taonga Tongarewa/A Highly-prized and Precious Gift: A history of a New Zealand Prayer Book (Auckland: the Anglican Church in Aoteroea, New Zealand, and Polynesia, 2018), 48.
  4. The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia, A New Zealand Prayer Book/He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (Auckland: The Anglican Church in Aoteroea, New Zealand, and Polynesia, 2020), 181.
  5. Richard A. Henshaw, Female and Male: The Cultic Personnel: The Bible and the Rest of the Ancient Near East (Allison Park, PA: Pickwick, 1994), 235.
  6. Ada Taggar-Cohen, “Why Are There No Israelite Priestesses?” TheTorah.com (2016). https://thetorah.com/article/why-are-there-no-israelite-priestesses
  7. The Priest is not, however, a mediator between us and God, rather He is the organ of the Body which leads and represents the whole Body in its corporate proclamation of Christ’s death. R. C Moberly, Ministerial Priesthood (Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press, 2012), 258.

The Rev. River Devereux

The Rev. River Devereux is a Deacon in the Church of Confessing Anglicans of Aotearoa New Zealand and Curate at St Timothy’s Anglican Church in Auckland. When River’s wife Georgia and son Basil aren’t keeping him too busy, he also talks about Anglicanism on his YouTube channel, New Kingdom Media.

'Why Women Cannot Preside over Communion' have 2 comments

  1. January 6, 2024 @ 6:16 pm SLewis

    Alright, I see your point on this topic. I am going to assume that you also hold to the viewpoint that a woman cannot write the order of a church service. Correct me if I am wrong. I have other questions though. Sometimes churches have field trips can a woman be the organizer of one of these types of events?


  2. February 6, 2024 @ 3:18 pm Mack

    Excellent article well-backed by scripture. Women acting inappropriately in church seems to be a beachhead for all ungodliness. Any woman that expresses an interest in crossing these boundaries should be immediately marked down as misguided and dangerous. Such a woman is unconcerned with obeying the scriptures, which disqualifying of any leader in the church. A person who is ethically compromised, as all women in church leadership are, cannot well rebuke anybody else for their disobedience, seeing it exposes her as a hypocrite. So she operates by the \”see no evil\” principle and soon sodomites are making themselves comfortable. This connection seems suggested in this Old Testament passage: \” And he brake down the houses of the sodomites, that were by the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the grove.\”
    It won\’t be enough to merely un-ordain these priestesses, there needs to be full compliance with St. Paul\’s direction that women wear head-coverings in church. Another wholesome practice would be have the women sit on one side of the church while the men sit on the other. This is how it is done in Coptic churches. It is rather scandalous that strange men should be permitted to sit down right next to or immediately behind the wives and daughters in the pews. The verses \”…It is good for a man not to touch a woman.\” and \” Abstain from all appearance of evil.\” would seem to apply.


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