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What Constitutes a Valid Consecration?

by Michael Daniel

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    Some Catholics have been led to believe that the new order of the Mass is invalid. Have modern modifications to the words of consecration invalidated the rite? What of the Church's authority to modify the form and its indefectibility? The author supplies some answers to these questions.
  • Larger Work:
    This Rock
  • Pages: 24 - 25
  • Publisher & Date:
    Catholic Answers, Inc., San Diego, CA, February 2004

Sadly, in recent times, some well-meaning Catholics of a traditionalist bent have been led to believe that the new order of the Mass (or the Novus Ordo as it is commonly called) is invalid. There are essentially two issues associated with this question: modifications to the words of consecration that supposedly have invalidated the rite and the Church's authority to modify the form of the Mass.

Modifications

The Eucharist and baptism are sacraments specifically established by Christ; that is, unlike the other five sacraments, Christ laid down the form (or words) that were to be used by the priest to confer these sacraments, the record of which is found in the New Testament. In the case of the Eucharist, there are four accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and 1 Corinthians). It has been suggested that these are not complete forms, but if they are not, why would the evangelists and Paul have committed to writing forms they knew were defective?

Here it would be useful to consider the four accounts.

Matthew 26:26-28: "Take, eat; this is my body . . . Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

Mark 14:22-24: "Take; this is my body . . . This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many."

Luke 22:17-19: "Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes . . . This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

1 Cor. 11:23-25: "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me . . . This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

As can be seen from the above, there are variations of the form from apostolic times. Differences in form also can be detected when comparing the Church's different liturgies.

The Tridentine Mass uses these words: "For this is my body . . . For this is the chalice of my blood of the new and eternal covenant: the mystery of faith: which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins."

The Novus Ordo phrases it this way: "This is my body, which will be given up for you . . . This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all [Latin, "for many"] so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me."

Disputes regarding the validity of the Novus Ordo form center on the words of consecration of the wine, not the bread. Theologians since the Middle Ages have debated what constitutes the essential form for the consecration of the chalice. Some argue that "This is the chalice of my blood" is sufficient, while others maintain that the rest of the form is necessary. Scholars themselves dispute what Aquinas's exact position on this matter was.

Paul's account does not include the phrase "which is poured out for many" (or similar) that the evangelists used. Paul prefaces his account by stating that he is passing on to the Corinthian church what Christ himself passed on to him (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23). Some modern critics have noted the absence of the phrase mysterium fidei or "mystery of faith" from the Novus Ordo. But it is important to note that this phrase is also not found in many Eastern Catholic liturgies (for example, the Ukrainian rite) and early Western liturgies, such as the Mozarabic liturgy. Hence, it cannot be essential for validity.

What of the change in the English translation of the Latin "for many" to "for all"? This change is not without significance, particularly since, as critics have noted, writers throughout the Church's history such as Gregory and Alphonsus have provided cogent explanations of the phrase "for many," and one is entitled to question its prudence. Still, this is not a substantial change. The English translation does not imply universalism — that is, the belief that all people are automatically saved — as some have attempted to argue. The phrase "for all" has to be read in union with the clause "so that sins may be forgiven": Christ's death has made salvation possible ("may"), not automatic ("must"), for all people.

The Indefectibility of the Church

Inherently linked to the question of the changes is the issue of the Church's indefectibility. Christ promised that he would remain with his Church for all times, and part of this guarantee was the promise that Christ would not allow the Church, his visible sign and instrument of salvation, to promulgate invalid rites for the sacraments — particularly the Eucharist, the "source and summit of Christian life." That the Church has the authority to proclaim rites and is preserved from proclaiming defective rites is an underlying presumption of Leo XIII's declaration on the invalidity of Anglican orders. He speaks of using rites not approved by the Church (cf. Apostolicae Curae 33), thereby implying that the Church does have the authority to modify and approve rites.

A Catholic may consider the Novus Ordo banal, but he may not proclaim that the new rite is invalid. To do so, a Catholic is setting his private judgment against that of magisterium of the Church, since he would be declaring that the Church is defectible. Such a view is a Protestant position, expressed by article 19 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England: "The Church of Rome hath erred, not only in [her] living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith."

The Church's indefectibility also extends to vernacular translations, which are promulgated by the authority of the Holy See. Some critics of the Novus Ordo acknowledge that Paul VI took a personal interest in the vernacular translation of the form of consecration.

The history of the liturgy and the existence of Eastern rites within the Church attest to the fact that there is more than one formula for the consecration. Not even the Council of Trent taught that the form of consecration in the Tridentine Mass was the only form; rather, it taught that it was free of error.

It is also clearly taught by the Church that when a minister uses a correct form and the correct matter (bread and wine for the Eucharist), the Church does not doubt the validity of the sacrament.

Not even lack of belief by the celebrant invalidates the sacrament: "A person who has correctly and seriously used the requisite matter and form to effect and confer a sacrament is presumed for that very reason to have intended to do what the Church does. On this principle rests the doctrine that a sacrament is truly conferred by the ministry of one who is a heretic or unbaptized, provided the Catholic rite be employed" (AC 33). A classic example of this principle is the validity of ordinations conferred by Archbishop Cranmer in the 1540s, in which he used the pre-Reformation ordinal long after he ceased to believe what the Church taught regarding the priesthood and holy orders.

Thus, not only may one receive a host that has been consecrated at a Novus Ordo Mass, but to refuse to do so in the belief that it was not validly consecrated calls into question the Church's indefectibility.

Michael E. Daniel, a convert from Anglicanism, is schoolmaster at an independent school in Melbourne, Australia, where he lives with his wife, Helen, and baby daughter, Lydia.

© Catholic Answers, Inc.

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