Confusion regarding the sacraments


If a person receives the Eucharist, but does not believe in transubstantiation are graces still bestowed upon them? Regarding baptism I’ve come to understand you can’t just flick water at people say the words and shazam they’re baptized, the intent must be there.

I was recently told you needed to believe in the Eucharist in order for it to effect you spiritually and I wasn’t sure about the correctness of that statement. I imagine if it is truly God in the flesh, then the power of it must have some effect even on an unbeliever.

Also, if a priest absolves a person of their sins but they weren’t as sorry as they should be is the sacrament invalid? Obviously God sees through any dishonest confession, but if the priest actually possess no authority over absolution and the sacrament can be undermined by one person simply not expressing remorse for one sin then the worrisome implication is that priests could be taken out of the mix…

I was under the impression that the sacraments worked and bestowed graces even on those who were feeling to doubtful and lacked a strong faith… Please correct me if I’m wrong, and sources are helpful if you have them. :slight_smile:



1 Corinthians 11:26-28
26 For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come.
27 Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.
28 But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice


The Sacraments act ex opere operato. Grace is given by the Sacrament itself.

In the case of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist, being the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord, a superabundance of graces is conferred.

But is it received?

It is a tragic thing to do, to receive the Most Blessed Sacrament without discerning the Real Presence of Our Lord. St. Paul admonishes that to do so is “to eat and drink judgment upon oneself”. The effect it may have on the unbeliever may be terrible. In fact, after this admonition, Paul states: “That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead.”

There is something we don’t hear much…ex opere operantis…no matter how much grace Christ wishes to give me, I must be open to receive it…

Concerning other Sacraments, it is quite different. Each Sacrament has something that renders it valid. Catholic sacramental theology teaches that the validity of a Sacrament
depends essentially on three things: the form, the matter, and the intention
of the minister of the Sacrament. Now, for the Eucharist, the priest is the minister of the Sacrament. The belief (or lack thereof) of the lay faithful is irrelevant.

Consider, however, Baptism. Aquinas, in the Summa (Tertia Pars, Q. 68) states:

According to the Church’s ritual, those who are to be baptized ask of the Church that they may receive Baptism: and thus they express their intention of receiving the sacrament. When a man is justified by Baptism, his passiveness is not violent but voluntary: wherefore it is necessary for him to intend to receive that which is given him. If an adult lack the intention of receiving the sacrament, he must be rebaptized.

This does not apply to infants before the age of reason, for:

as the child while in the mother’s womb receives nourishment not independently, but through the nourishment of its mother, so also children before the use of reason, being as it were in the womb of their mother the Church, receive salvation not by their own act, but by the act of the Church

Concerning the Sacrament of Reconciliation: Aquinas addresses non-remission of mortal sins in q. 86:

the proximate matter of this sacrament consists in the acts of the penitent, the matter of which acts are the sins over which he grieves, which he confesses, and for which he satisfies.

for the pardon of this offense against God, it is necessary for man’s will to be so changed as to turn to God and to renounce having turned to something else in the aforesaid manner, together with a purpose of amendment; all of which belongs to the nature of penance as a virtue. the sacrament of Penance…is perfected by the priestly office of binding and loosing…as Christ pardoned…the woman that was a sinner…whose sins, however, He did not forgive without the virtue of penance…

Un the case of an adult, in whom there are actual sins, which consist in an actual disorder of the will, there is no remission of sins, even in Baptism, without an actual change of the will, which is the effect of Penance.

It is impossible for Penance to take one sin away without another…it is impossible for one sin to be pardoned without another…Consequently a man cannot be truly penitent, if he repent of one sin and not of another…Whence it follows that it is impossible for one sin to be pardoned through Penance, without another.

The priest cannot be taken out of the picture, because Christ put him there. Christ gave them the power of forgiving and retaining sins. However, just as Christ cannot force salvation unto anyone (just consider Judas, who had his feet washed by Christ, received Holy Communion from His hands, and after betraying Him with a kiss was called “friend” by Christ) a priest acting in persona Christi cannot force salvation unto anyone.

So the sacrament would be valid in the case of the Eucharist but I daresay terrible for someone to receive the Most Blessed Sacrament without believing in the Real Presence of Christ (or at least giving full assent and submission of mind and will to this infallible teaching of the Magisterium, found in Scripture and Tradition alike, whereby it is written “This is my body” although we still see bread). On the other hand, Baptism and Reconciliation would be invalid because it is not merely the priest who makes it happen, but the recipient plays a role for the sacrament to be valid.


What I have been taught:

  1. If you do not believe in transubstantiation, you cannot receive the Eucharist (because intentionally rejecting the Church’s teaching is a grave sin, and you can’t receive if you are not in a state of grace. I mean, whether or not you are in a state of mortal sin does depend on what you are aware of and such, but if you do not know that much about the Church it’s reasonable to abstain from communion anyhow)
    If you are having a crisis of faith or like “nagging doubts” and such, that can be something that the Eucharist can help with, because most of the time events such as these aren’t really your fault and thus not mortal sin. But that is distinct from just refusing to believe in transubstantiation - even during a crisis of faith, you can tell yourself “I KNOW this is the body of Jesus in my mind, I just need the graces to know it in my heart”, and that’s something communion can help with.

  2. If you confess and are not repentant in your heart, it’s my understanding the confession is invalid. The priest is the link between you and God in the confessional; if you tell the priest your sins and are not repentant, then God will not grant the grace of absolution through the priest. There are deep spiritual reasons for confession, past the priest being a link, that I as a new Catholic can’t really explain well but can assure you are there.


Wow, quite the number of questions.
Go purchase a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This will help you answer many of your questions and is a lot easier (IMHO) than trying to use most of the online ones This is the main link at the vatican website for the english tranaslation:
You may want to also get the companion or the “YOUCAT” which is a version intended for young adults.

These questions are very clearly answered here:
Who Can Receive Communion?
To receive without belief in these aspects is to place oneself in harms way. It is this reason that we, as Catholics, ask that non-believers not partake in the Holy Comunion because we are trying to keep these individuals safer from a Mortal Sin.

In the case of an very young child, the intent of the Parents/Guardian must be taken into account.
As for an adult: No “good” Catholic would attempt to baptize you without your consent as the Baptism would not be valid. Also, the proper form and matter must be followed.

Basicly, if you don’t want to receive the sacrament, it doesn’t happen - we have to co-operate with God’s will with our own free will.

How sorry should a person be?
Just a little, but not alot?
Once again - Basicly, if you don’t want to receive the sacrament, it doesn’t happen - we have to co-operate with God’s will with our own free will.
This question and the remainder of it is answered fairly well here:
The Forgiveness of Sins

CCC1127:: "Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: (…)
So although grace may be confered in such a situation, it might NOT be as efficacious (if even received at all by the non-beleaver)… once again, we have to co-operate with God’s will with our own free will inorder to fully receive the sacrament.

Personally, I would be talking to a priest about any doubts and weak faith before receiving any sacrament… Catholics (well, most of us) take the sacraments very seriously as one can place oneself in spiritual mortal danger - this is not a game - Christ is at work here!

Hope that helps.


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