Skip to comments.The Disposition of Priests [Valid Mass, Valid Holy Eucharist?]
Posted on 07/23/2005 9:57:35 AM PDT by Salvation
|The Disposition of Priests
|If an ordained priest does not believe in transubstantiation, do the communicants receive the Body and Blood of Christ?
In answering this question, one has to wonder, "How could a priest not believe in transubstantiation?" Of course, the point here is not simply the word "transubstantiation," which the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 officially used in its Creed and which the Council of Trent repeated in its Decree on the Most Holy Eucharist in 1551.
Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly His body that He was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now again declares that, by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly named transubstantiation. (Trent)Succinctly, to deny the belief of transubstantiation is heresy.
However, such a disbelieving priest is not only a heretic, but also has an identity crisis. Through the sacrament of holy orders, the priest shares in the priesthood of Christ and thereby acts in the person of Christ. The identity of the priest becomes most clear when he offers the Sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass sacramentally makes present anew Christs ever-living, ever-present sacrifice on the Cross: As our beloved late Pope John Paul II wrote,
The Church constantly draws her life from the redeeming sacrifice;... [T]his sacrifice is made present ever anew, sacramentally perpetuated, in every community which offers it at the hands of the consecrated minister.(Ecclesia de Eucharistia, No. 12)The faithful must not forget that without a priest, there is no Mass. The Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully states, "The ordained minister is, as it were, an icon of Christ the priest" (No. 1142).
So what if a priest, although validly ordained, does not believe in the Holy Eucharist? Perhaps he believes that what happens at Mass is just symbolic and he is just role-playing. While the priest offers Mass or any other sacrament, in reality Christ Himself works through the sacraments. For instance, while a priest baptizes a baby, in full reality, Christ is baptizing the baby: "[Sacraments] are efficacious because in them Christ Himself is at work: it is He who baptizes, He who acts in His sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies" (Catechism, No. 1127). Therefore, all of the sacraments operate by the power of the completed sacramental rite. The technical theological term used for this understanding is ex opere operato, meaning that when a sacrament is validly performed, using the proper matter and form, then that sacrament conveys the grace signified.
The issue of the disposition of the priest has arisen in the past. In the early 300s, the heresy of Donatism arose, which asserted that the validity of a sacrament depends upon the ministers orthodoxy and state of grace. For the Donatists, a priest who is a heretic or in a state of mortal sin cannot validly perform a sacrament; therefore, a person baptized by such a priest would have to be re-baptized. St. Augustine (d. 430), one of the great opponents of Donatism, in his In Ioannis evangelium tractatus, forcefully distinguished the action of Christ versus the action of the minister when performing a sacrament: Christ acts by His power, while the minister acts by his ministry entrusted to him by Christ. Therefore, "...those whom Judas baptized, Christ baptized. So too, then, those whom a drunkard baptized, those whom a murderer baptized, those whom an adulterer baptized, if the Baptism was of Christ, Christ baptized" (5,18).
Nevertheless, St. Augustine also sharply chastised the minister not properly disposed to perform the sacrament:
As for the proud minister, he is to be ranked with the devil. Christs gift is not thereby profaned: what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains clear and reaches the fertile earth.... The spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through defiled beings, it is not itself defiled. (In Ioannis evangelium tractatus, 5, 15)Therefore, the validity and efficacy of the sacrament do not depend upon the holiness or orthodoxy of the minister; rather the validity and efficacy are independent of the subjective constitution of the minister.
Therefore, in answering the question, two important principles govern: First, the sacrament must be performed validly with proper matter and form. Second, the minister must have the intention at least of doing what the Church intends, which is demonstrated by validly performing the sacrament, i.e. appropriately saying the specified Words of Consecration over the unleavened bread and wine. Therefore, if the priest in question is a heretic and has an identity crisis, but offers Mass validly, then the people indeed receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Without this assurance, the people would always be left in a state of uncertainty as to whether they actually received a sacrament.
Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and a professor of catechetics and theology at Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria. If you enjoy reading Fr. Saunders' work, his new book entitled Straight Answers (400 pages) is available at the Pauline Book and Media Center of Arlington, Virginia (703/549-3806).
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
**Therefore, the validity and efficacy of the sacrament do not depend upon the holiness or orthodoxy of the minister; rather the validity and efficacy are independent of the subjective constitution of the minister.**
**Succinctly, to deny the belief of transubstantiation is heresy.**
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How many heretical, drunk, fornicating, proud etc. ministers could dance on the point of a needle?
Great, succinct answer to a question that troublemakers often have raised.
Indeed! But amazingly, they don't want to hear that answer, do they?
I'm not sure that my opinion aligns with that of the Church, but I think that, if I know that a priest is not a believer - or a heretic - or living out of line with the vows he has taken, then I choose NOT to take The Sacrament from him. If I don't know any of these things, then I'm taking The Sacrament in good faith.
BTW, I like that priest's vestments in the photo. Nicer than the table cloths that our local priests wear.
Do you sew? Offer to make your priest some truly outstanding vestments? That;s what one of our parishioners did. The priest paid for them out of his own money and took them with him when he was transferred however.
The reality of the Blessed Sacrament does not depend upon your belief in its validity.
Of course, that's correct. But, I can do what's reasonable to assure that all parties involved treat it with appropriate respect.
ex opere operato. The sacraments are effectual in conferring God's grace by reason of their divine institution...from the work already done.
For example, let's say a priest has gone through great personal hardship, and at the moment he doubts even that God exists.
But he feels a duty toward the congregation, and a duty to carry out his vows to the bishop.
The sacrament will be valid because the Church Herself will make up for what he lacks, so long as he does what the Church does.
Though he may not have the faith to intend the bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Our Savior, the Church will supply the faith he lacks.
But someone who has doubts is not himself a heretic.
Succinctly, to deny the belief of transubstantiation is heresy.
Our author is confusing things a bit by imprecise language.
To publicly deny transubstantiation, and to persist in the denial even after pastoral correction, is heresy.
To be a heretic, one must publicly deny a doctrine of the faith, or act in some way which denies a doctrine (e.g., baptizing only in the name of Jesus, and not the Trinity), and then be obstinate in the denial after educative reproof by his superiors.
A "disbelieving priest" is only a man who has doubts about the faith. He is not a heretic until he publicly denies a dogma, such as transubstantiation.
As I understand the topic of this thread, the priest saying the Mass has made no public denials. His disbelief is private. And the question is: Would his Mass still be valid? In such a case the answer is: Yes.
On the other hand, if a priest is publicly and obstinately denying the doctrine of transubstantiation, even after correction by his bishop, then he is no longer doing what the Church does. He is doing something contrary to what the Church does.
So if this "intention" or "belief" is private ("occult", known only to himself and/or a few others), the Mass will be valid.
But if this "intention" or "belief" is creating public scandal to the point of formal excommunication, the his "mass" is not valid.
Unfortunately, I don't sew. But if there's some way to donate to such a cause, I'd gladly do that.
Bump! Good explaination. I've always thought this anyway; good to get confirmation.
If the priest doesn't believe, he should retire and take up golfing!