Personal pronouns are currently quite the hot topic. It may be an appropriate moment, therefore, to clarify why we use some of the personal pronouns we do in the Catholic tradition. Firstly, there’s the issue of language. What often gets lost on many English-speakers is that in other languages (e.g., Greek, Latin, the Romance languages, etc.) all nouns have gender endings; they are either masculine, feminine, or neuter. To use some examples from Latin: dominus (lord) is masculine, aqua (water) is feminine, and tempus (time) is neuter. Hence, though one might often describe the Holy Spirit using many traditionally feminine characteristics (e.g., love, unity, wisdom, etc.), the Holy Spirit (Spiritus Sanctus) is referred to as He/Him. In relation to the Church, this linguistic pattern continues as the Church (Ecclesia) is referred to as She/Her. But there’s a deeper theological reason for referring to the Church as She/Her.
On several occasions during his earthly ministry, Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom. For example, when sceptics ask Jesus why he and his disciples do not fast like John the Baptist and his followers, Jesus responds: “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast” (Mk 2:19). Elsewhere in the New Testament, the New Jerusalem – symbolic language for the Church – is described as “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2). And, perhaps most poignantly, St. Paul exhorts the married Christian men of Ephesus: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her […]. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:25, 32). The Church, therefore, is often referred to as the Mystical Bride of Christ. And this image supports well the theological vision of the Church as being united to Christ and as constantly being renewed by Christ himself. This spiritual renewal occurs most especially in and through the celebration of Her sacraments, which are actually His sacraments. It is Jesus Christ who “cleansed her by the washing of the water and the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:26-7). In short, there are both linguistic and theological reasons for referring to the Church as She/Her. On our last day, may we all hear the words of the angel from the Book of Revelation: “‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb’” (Rev 21:9).