Are illicit sacraments objectively sinful?


Questions are frequently raised on this site as to whether or not such and such an irregularity voids a sacrament. The CC teaches that certain irregularities make a sacrament void, i.e. invalid. This means that no sacrament actually took place. The CC also teaches that there are less serious irregularities that do not void the sacrament, but violate some rule of church discipline.

Are illicit sacraments, if knowingly and willingly done or participated in, necessarily sinful for those who perform the sacrament and those who receive it?

For example, the CC teaches that a lay person may validly baptize, but under normal circumstances it is illicit for a layperson to do so unless there is a bona fide emergency where the candidate is in immediate danger of death and there is not enough time to find a priest. If a Catholic layperson performs a baptism knowing that there is no emergency and that a priest has not been contacted to perform the baptism or even give permission for a lay baptism, and knows that performing such a baptism without a priest constitutes a valid but illicit sacrament, has he sinned? If so, could it be mortal? If the recipient is an adult and they knew everything the baptizer does about the illicitness of the sacrament but nonetheless go ahead and have the sacrament performed without a priest, have they sinned?

How about other sacraments? If a priest performs a confirmation without the bishop’s permission, has he sinned?

Are there rules that determine when an illicit sacrament is not sinful at all, when it is venially sinful, and when it is mortally sinful? I would guess that a sacrament done in good faith that was actually illicit but was not known to be illicit could never be mortally sinful because it couldn’t possibly have the three elements of mortal sin since there would not be full knowledge.

We are only talking about irregularities that do not void the sacrament.


If they are done knowingly and willingly, then the one who performs the illicit act is guilty of the sin of disobedience.

If we look at Pastor Aeternus from Vatican I, we can see why

Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world.

As far as ‘rules’ on when it is not sinful, you noted the criteria yourself, when it is done with knowledge of what is commanded by the Church and done willfully.

If a person is ignorant of the legitimate instructions issued by the Holy See or it;'s legitmate delegates, or if the act is done without intent ( such as an honest mistake), there is no sin.


If a lay person knows Canon Law on baptising but does not care and chooses to disregard that would the baptism of someone by that lay person even be valid?


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