Sacraments – Matter, Form, And Intent explainer

By now, you’ve heard about the priest in Phoenix who performed invalid Baptisms for twenty years. He used the pronoun “We” instead of “I” in the formula. Since Christ is doing the baptizing through the person of the priest, only “I” works. This really isn’t difficult.

But what about Ecclesia supplet (canon 144.1)? Can’t the Church or God supply the proper Form, since the priest had the right intention? No, Ecclesia supplet doesn’t apply here, because this isn’t an issue of jurisdiction or governance, and there is no doubt about what happened. It wasn’t done properly, making it invalid, sacrament not conferred, sacramental graces not flowing, Original Sin not remitted. Period, full stop.

Think about it. What would be the purpose of doing it right in the first place, if doing it right didn’t matter? This issue is of tremendous importance, because it applies equally to the other Sacraments. If you’ve ever heard a priest in the confessional say, “and God absolves you of your sins,” as the formula of absolution, that absolution is invalid. The formula is, “and I absolve you (ego te absolvo).” Or what if a priest, wait, no, what if an antipope changes the words of Consecration to “This is His body” … it would instantly make the Novus Ordo invalid, and every tabernacle in the world would be transformed into a bread box.

Anyway, I have been meaning to write all this up, but the nice gal at Restore-DC-Catholicism did the heavy listing yesterday. I could not find a way to contact her to ask permission, but I am just going to paste it here anyway. Be sure to check out the links she included. Get educated and be prepared to defend the Sacraments should some Bishop in White try to invalidate them, not by accident but with malice aforethought.


Sacraments – Matter, Form, And Intent

Recently a priest in the Diocese of Phoenix resigned after it was discovered that his misuse of pronouns during baptism ceremonies rendered the sacrament invalid.  He did this to hundreds of babies over the years.  The upshot is that they never received the graces pertaining to baptism.  Original sin was not remitted.  Subsequent sacraments received by the affected individuals were likewise rendered invalid and perhaps some died in that state.

I’m now going to post some links that give the Church’s teachings on the topic of Sacraments, and the Sacrament of Baptism in particular.  Please bear in mind that Jesus Christ has empowered the Magisterium over the centuries to pronounce His teachings.  Also bear in mind that Sacraments and their attendant graces are objective realities, apart from any experiences or judgments that we may harbor.  Please see thisthis, and this.

Bishop Olmsted is a bishop who takes his responsibilities seriously.  Understanding the spiritual peril in which many of his people were placed, he is taking measures to ensure that as many as possible are notified so that they can receive proper baptisms, confirmations, etc. 

This situation is being discussed on social media.  On Facebook, I am reading comments that display an abysmal lack of understanding and appreciation of the sacraments.  As a summary, I will paraphrase some of the opinions that seem to be prevalent:

  • God only cares about the intention of those involved
  • This is not a big deal.
  • The bishop is nit-picking
  • It is cruel to exclude these people from the Church

All of these statements display common erroneous mind-sets.  They are evaluating baptism from the stance of mere subjective experience.  They deem the badly-administered sacrament to be valid because of “trauma” that some might experience, utterly disregarding the fact that sacraments are objective realities that are independent of their opinions.

As we understand in the reading of the links, the reality of the Sacraments hinges on three things: intent, matter and form.  A defect in any one of those things will render the sacrament invalid.  These other people seem to appreciate intent, but have little disregard for form.   That parish priest uttered the words “we baptize you” instead of “I baptize you”, undermining the understanding that it is Christ who baptizes through the priest.

I don’t know the ages of these people, but I strongly suspect that their Catholic education was compromised by the proceeds of Vatican II.  Mine was, but my earlier years weren’t.  They gave me some decent frame of reference that served to at least partially shield me from some of the pernicious modernist lies.  Later on I embarked on some self-reading and education, still ongoing, to rid my mind of lingering nonsense.  

I say that because if someone can dismiss the Church’s emphasis on proper form as “nitpicking” and “legalism”, they simply did not receive a decent Catholic education.  I hope it is that, for if they do know the Church’s centuries-old teaching on these matters and still scoff at them, they place their souls in danger.  I and some others actually posted links to Church teaching, most of which were summarily dismissed.  As long as Catholics insist on elevating their own emotions above what Our Lord objectively teaches, we will see much of the Church collapse like a house of cards.  The rest of us must continue to pray and to speak the truth, regardless of the mockery that comes our way.

10 thoughts on “Sacraments – Matter, Form, And Intent explainer”

  1. Correct form is obviously required for the validity of a sacrament, and kudos to Bishop Olmsted. But since the “I” is included in the “we,” I have a doubt that these “Baptisms” were invalid. The Eastern Church baptizes with the formula “The servant of Christ is baptized…” using the passive voice. No agent of Baptism is mentioned, and certainly these Eastern Rite Baptisms are valid. Can you clarify?

    1. Hmm. As you say, the agency is omitted, not done wrongly. Clearly the We makes it seem that the entire congregation their present performs the sacrament collectively, which is wrong. It’s made somewhat more ironic, sadly, since we are talking about Baptism, since literally any ONE there could have administered the sacrament validly.

    2. I think that the fact that the first-person plural pronoun “We” is omitted is what saves the day for that one.
      If they said, “The servant of Christ is baptized BY US…” then we’d have something to talk about. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than a few Eastern Catholic Deacons, Priests and Bishops here in the West have looked at this mess and discussed their own formula for Baptism amongst themselves.
      The Eastern Churches don’t “make the news…” Eastern Catholics are a SMALL minority in the Church. Over 98% of the Church is the Roman Rite, and barely above 1% of the Church is every other Eastern Rite combined. Mistakes like this wouldn’t publicized due to the tiny numbers.
      The average Catholic in the pew have no idea there even ARE Eastern Catholics out there.
      Many Eastern Catholics have had a variation of this conversation:
      “Oh, I’m Catholic.”
      “But you’re wearing an Orthodox Cross…”
      “I didn’t say I was a Roman Catholic.”
      “We’re 100% Catholic, but we make the Sign of the Cross in the other direction, we have Prayer Ropes, our priests are married with kids, our vestments look better, and the food we serve after Divine Liturgy tastes better.”

      1. I suspect that you are correct, that since there is no BY US, there is no error. I’ve been attending a Ukrainian Catholic church for decades, and you are right, they’re 100% Catholic, but make the Sign of the Cross in the other direction, have Prayer Ropes, their priests are married with kids, their vestments look better, and the food they serve after Divine Liturgy tastes better. Ye ands, you can get fat during a Ukrainian Lent eating their perogies. And they even like Irish guys.

    3. P O’B – it’s gotta be either a community “we” (so he intended it as the congregation doing the baptizing), or a royal “we” (so he has delusions of grandeur).

  2. How many priests from 1969 onwards weren’t “Rigid” with Baptisms that we’ll never know about?
    The only plus-side I can think about with this mess is that for the few people who were invalidly baptized, and went through every other Sacrament during their lives, and then died. This applies to someone who took their religion seriously, who kept going to Mass, kept up their prayer life, went to regular Confession, volunteered at the Parish soup kitchen, did everything “by the book” and was a practicing Catholic to the best of their abilities… Under that condition, before Almighty God, I think “Invincible Ignorance” would apply. It wouldn’t be their fault that when they were a few weeks old a priest who should’ve known better invalidly baptized them.
    That being said, I think that a lot of the the problems in the Church today can be explained with a lot of invalid Baptisms that haven’t been caught.

  3. Mark,
    The Eastern Church uses the RIGHT hand for the sign of the cross but touches the right shoulder first instead of the left. And about forty signs of the cross in every Mass. It’s a different world but a very reverent one. Thank God we bought a house, not by design, a half mile from the Ukrainian Catholic parish here. I am still more of a Latin Mass Trad (and plenty of those Masses over the years) but it is a close call.

  4. How many thousands of Catholics were present at these Baptisms and didn’t notice (or didn’t say anything about) a problem? Especially the Godmother and Godfather? How poorly catechized were they (or how what — fearful? what?) to speak up? And let’s ask outright — what about people (especially babies) who were baptized invalidly and have subsequently died? Is it impossible for them (especially babies) to go to heaven? Where is Baptism of desire (for babies or on their behalf Godparents? This whole thing is horrific.

    1. Just another example of the Novus Ordo debacle of the use of the vernacular. Using the “rigid” Latin formulae clearly would have prevented these errors from occurring.

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