Illicit but valid


If sacraments can be illicit but valid, why care if they’re not licit?


Because illiceity (I think that’s a word?) would mean breaking the law. And the law exists for a reason. To deliberately disobey the law would be sinful.


At the very least it leads to a lot of confusion.

If grandma baptized the baby in the bathtub there are no records of what was done, what was said, when it happened, etc. Often no one other than grandma will even know of the baptism. At some later point, perhaps as an adult, the now-grown child will seek baptism not knowing it already occurred.

If grandma does come clean about the illicit baptism, there may still be questions about whether she used proper form and there’s still no written record of it.


Believe it or not, your example is exactly why I first posted on CAF years ago. My mother-in-law did that with her Jewish granddaughter when she was an infant. I think no one but her, my father-in-law, my wife, and I know.


Out of respect for the authority of the Church.


It’s almost like asking what’s so wrong about robbing a bank, because the money stolen has the same value as that same amount earned.


Most ministers rightly presume a certain wisdom behind the norms governing Sacramental celebrations and act to avoid certain problems created by disregarding those norms. These are thoughtful and charitable ministers obedient to Church Law.

Others ministers recklessly disregard the norms and leave others find out the hard way why the norms were in place. These problems usually surface years later after the minister has moved on. Those effected and their current ministers are left to pick up the pieces.

Some problems can be solved at the parish level. Others require tribunal intervention. Canonical penalties may be placed on the minister and upon others who helped him disregarded the Law.


Various reasons. One might be that the rules push to a best practice - for example, a priest is trained to ensure the child has a reasonable hope of being brought up Catholic, rather than being baptized into the faith and raised into another religion. Another might be to protect the validity of the sacrament; for example here while any priest may celebrate mass, if one who has been forbidden does so illicitly that is a situation where it is far more likely for there to be abuses when do render it invalid. A third reason would be to preserve the proper dignity of the sacrament; it is best that they be celebrated in a reverent manner within the church and by the community insofar as can be done, even if they could be celebrated on the beach with the priest in a speedo of the appropriate liturgical color.


The sacraments are both supernatural and social. The licit aspect refers to the social or community character. If a sacrament is presented in an illicit manner, it may undermine the faith of other people. If a bishop ordains without conferring with the body of Christ, there is less assurance the priest’ s ministry will be effective.

Christ didn’t merely attract individuals, he built a body. Licitness is an imperfect measure of being in communion with that body.


For the same reason you’d care if you’re committing any sin.

  1. everything invalid is also illicit, but not everything illicit is also invalid.
  2. illicit = breaking a law…i.e. illegal

Do you have a specific case in mind or is this a continuous case?


Not about any case in particular. I was just curious.


I think the difference is between Church law and N. Korean law. Certainly it wouldn’t be a sin to disobey N. Korean law in order to receive a sacrament.

If the sacrament were provided in an illicit manner, it still counts as a sacrament.


I don’t think it’s very likely for a canonical law to be unjust.


Christ left us with the Church, which guides us in discerning justice. The trend in secular world, and in churches, is to ignore the Church, to make every man his own king his own Pope. That’s why some say “who cares if it’s licit”.

Suppose someone sneaks into church, grabs a hand full of consecrated hosts, and takes them home to do his own communion services for neighbors, that would be valid but not licit.

The same is true if a bishop ordains priests and bishops without permission. Valid but not licit. He can say he had emergency right to do so, so also the person who took the hosts. If “valid but not licit” catches on, soon no Church at all.


Oy. Not Canon law.

For example, if N. Korea has a law that says a person cannot receive the sacraments, the N. Korean law is unjust.


And so far as I know, the Church says sacraments received from said priests and bishops are still valid. I’m not culpable if I live in a place where the only opportunity to receive a sacrament is from an illicitly ordained priest. This is a hypothetical. I do not live in such a place. I receive licit sacraments from a licitly ordained priest.


I was talking about canon law, since that’s what the discussion is about. To bring up North Korea’s laws is completely irrelevent, unless I’m missing something here.


Someone brought up N. Korea in a previous reply, so I went with it.

My original question was about the difference between licit and illicit, and it’s basically been answered. We abide by the rules to be licit so that we maintain the overall cohesiveness, organization, structure, etc. to protect against willy-nilly DIY Catholicism that would very quickly devolve into a diluted, vapid faith-community.


Besides the immediate question of valid or licit, the Church also calls us to Charity, and prudence. I might be tempted to my neighbor’s valid but illicit communion service out of his garage, but that helps confirm my neighbor in something he shouldn’t be doing, as well as encouraging other neighbors to do so, as my attendance suggests it is ok. One illicit leads to other illicits.

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