Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

The Father William Most Collection

Validity of Mass and Sacraments

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

Sad to say, good Catholics sometimes wonder if they really have been to a valid Mass, if Baptism or absolution was valid, and similar things. It is very regrettable that there be any reason for such doubts. Yet in view of the completely outrageous actions of some priests who massacre the rubrics of the Mass, and of some who claim to be theologians, who are proud of having new knowledge from Vatican II, which, they say, wipes out things that were previously held.

Vatican II in no case reversed a previous teaching. Such claims are numerous, but do not stand up. In Wm. Most, Catholic Apologetics Today, answers are given in detail to numerous such individual claims.

But it is still good to review what the sound principles are. For Mass or Sacrament to be valid, three things are needed -- right matter, right form, right intention. We take for granted of course that the recipient is in the right state to receive, and that the one who administers the Sacrament has the proper status. Anyone can baptize, but other Sacraments need in general a Bishop or a Priest For the sake of brevity we will refer to the one who confers the sacrament as the "minister" We do not mean of course that any protestant minister as such can confer anything other than Baptism.

The matter is that which will be used along with the form that determines its purpose. Thus the pouring of water on the person is the matter The form designates what that matter is to be given for, e.g., in Baptism: "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

What intention is required? This question is raised since not infrequently even priests do not believe the teaching of the Church on the Real Presence and other things.

But God is supremely. good and generous. His Church has replied to this worry through the Holy Office in a response of Jan 24, 1877 (DS 3126). The intention must be that of doing what the Church does, what Christ willed to be done. But what if the minister of a sacrament has little or no faith, if a priest denies the Real Presence, for example?. To illustrate, imagine two men on a polar expedition. All others of the party have died. It is clear that these two will not survive either. One says to the other; I had intended to be baptized. I know you do not believe in baptism. But just as a personal favor to me, would you melt some snow, pour the water on my forehead while saying: "I baptize you...." That baptism would be definitely valid (cf. DS 3100). In DS 3126 the Holy Office said this in an instruction: "It follows that particular errors which the minister professes either privately or even publicly cannot stop the validity of baptism or any other sacrament", if he just intends to do what the Church does -- in spite of his errors. Therefore if a priest offers Mass and says even publicly he does not believe in the Real Presence, his error cannot prevent the Mass from being valid, if only in some way he intends to do what the Church does. Of course if he said He does not intend to offer Mass, that would nullify it all. Or a Baptist who considers the rite just a ceremony of reception, that it gives no grace -- as long as he intends to do what the Church does, that will be valid.

We still must ask about the matter and form. For the openings for invalidity are more numerous there.

First as to the matter; For Baptism the matter must be natural water – milk, etc. render it invalid readily. For Mass, the host must be made of only wheat flour (white or whole wheat) plus water, which is then baked. Any other flour is invalid. The addition of other substances in very tiny quantity may make the host illicit but not invalid. But to add so much honey or sugar that the average person would consider it cake or cookie--that is surely invalid. There have been many cases of that.

The wine for Mass must be the juice of grapes which is allowed to ferment by means of the yeast naturally found on the skins of the grapes. Expensive wines are apt to be all right, but should be checked officially. But some low price wines are made by putting water on grape skins that have already been used, and a bit of sugar. Alcohol will then result--but the wine will be will be invalid. Pouring left over wine from cruet into the large bottle makes a special danger the whole will become sour.

Some weaker wines, about 12% or less, can go sour. If altogether turned to vinegar they are invalid matter. If only partly turned, not invalid, but illicit.

As a result, some altar wines are now fortified, under official inspection, with more alcoholic wine of the same type. These hardly ever go sour. The limit should be about 17-18%.

Some year ago the Holy See gave permission to priests who are alcoholics to use recently squeezed grape juice, if care is taken to get the yeast from the skins into the liquid. Fermentation begins almost at once, and so it can be valid matter. That permission may now have been withdrawn; supposedly some priests had misunderstood this permission and had used commercially bottled grape juice -- which normally has no fermentation at all in it, and so is invalid, especially if it contains an additive to prevent fermentation.

The Church has considerable authority over the form for sacraments. To change the officially approved text is always sinful, at times mortally sinful. If there is a substantial change in the sense, the wording is clearly invalid.

A recent officially approved change has caused some disturbance, unfortunaely. Where the words over the chalice used to say, in Latin, "pro multis"--for many--the new text in English says "for all." the Italian official text has the same change. If this were a substantial change it would be invalid. but it is not a substantial change, for two reasons.

First if a person really has faith, the mere fact that the Pope himself uses the "for all" text in English and in Italian makes is entirely certain it is valid. To deny that betrays little if any faith. The Epistle of James in 2. 10 says that if a person violates one commandment, he is guilty of all-- for that rejection of the one implies rejection of the authority of the Church. Similarly, if a person believes many of the teachings of the Church but denies one, we must ask: What is it that leads him to accept those which he does accept? Is it real faith? If it were, he should, if logically accept all. So we should say he has no faith at all, his belief of other teaching s comes not from faith but from a tragic old stubbornness. Fortunately, not so many are logical. If they violate one commandment or reject one teaching they do not at all see that this implies rejection of the authority of the Church. Yet, logically, it does. and yet the people who do that are most adamant. and consider themselves the only faithful remnant left!. What conceit! what lack of faith!

The second reason depends on linguistic analysis. St. Paul often uses polloi for mean "all". A check of a Greek concordance-- I have done it-- shows that every time when Paul uses polloi as a substantive he always, with no exception, means "all", not "many". He probably got into that from the strange Hebew rabbim. If I were in a room with 3 people, I could say "all", but could not say "many". Rabbim specifies: "the all who are many." We gather that from the usage in Isaiah 53 of rabbim in parallel with kulanu. As to St. Paul, see for example Romans 5. 19: "Just as by the disobedience of the one man, the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of the one man the many will be made just." Paul speaks of original sin, and of course, does not say it affects only many. It means all.

A brilliant decision on the matter and form of the Sacrament of Orders came from Pope Pius XII on Nov. 30, 1947 (DS 3857-61). For generations it had happened at times that a priest became worried about the validity of his ordination. The heart of the trouble was in this: right after his hands were anointed, and bound in a special way with a slip of cloth, he had to come before the bishop and touch the chalice with wine in it, and the paten with a host on it. Really, it was a bit clumsy, not too easy to be sure he had touched all.

Pius XII, in spite of the distortions told of him, was theologically brilliant. Here is substantially the way her reasoned. Either the Church does or does not have the authority to make that touch of the chalice and host essential, or it does not. It surely was not there from the beginning But did the Church, acting on power given by Christ, make that an essential some time in the past? Pius XII faced this situation. If the Church did not have the power to require it, then of course it is not required now. But if the Church did have that power, then he, as Pope, has the power to undo what was once made a requirement for ordination. Therefore, he announced, for the future it was no longer required for validity. However, the Pope did not make this retroactive. Therefore if some priest had been doubtful about his own ordination because of touching the chalice and host, he must have recourse to the Holy Office.

History shows that the form of absolution in confession had changed in the past. At one time the form was deprecative, e.g., May God absolve you. Now it is "I absolve you". This does not mean a priest could at will use the old form. No, that is forbidden, it would be sinful. But if he should do it, acting illegally, the absolution is still valid.

In the Acts of the Apostles we at times read that someone was baptized in the name of Jesus. It is clear it was only speaking loosely--that wording would not be valid, as we can tell from the case of St. Paul at Ephesus in Acts 19. 1 ff. Paul meets some converts and asks if they had received the Holy Spirit. They said they never heard of a Holy Spirit. If they had been baptized with the words "in the name of Jesus they would not have head Holy Spirit. Paul therefore baptized them at once, and yet Acts says it was "in the name of Jesus"-showing that again the language is loose.



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