Is Communion Valid if Unbelieving Priest?


#1

I have read that the blessed Sacrament is not valid unless the priest a): has been validly consecrated, and b): believes in the Real Presence (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.)

The priest in question is an older priest who has been a priest for about three years; he’s been at the parish for almost that long. He attended a notorious seminary, and I realize that there is no way I can verify the validiity of the Holy Orders he professed, BUT I have grave doubts that he believes in the real presence (Examples: he mocked me for praying the Rosary because it’s “not praying to God.”; he prays American Native prayers during the homily; he causes scandal by his personal behavior.)

I have changed parishes and have refrained from Detraction or gossip regarding this man. But aside from my own ego and pride, I am extremely concerned that his remaining parishioners might think that they are receiving Bread, when in reality they are receiving a stone. This weighs so heavily on my mind!

I can find out easily by going to his confessional and asking something like “How does Jesus get into the Host?” If, by his answer, I determine that he doesn’t believe in the Real Presence, what do I do then? I have no access to a Bishop and no priest to talk to. This particular priest is unapproachable. And what if he is invalidly consecrated anyway?

What if he had to leave and the parish couldn’t obtain another priest? (A real possibility.) Which would be worse - a priest with inadequate formation harming his flock, or no priest at all? (The parish would have to depend on guest priests or drive 16 miles away if a new priest couldn’ be found.)

Should I pursue this or hope that the Sacrament is valid? Help, someone! I don’t want to hurt anyone! God Forbid that someone might lose his faith, but how many may have lost theirs already? (I see a significant number attending the new parish; how many have just stopped attending altogether?


#2

Forward this to “Ask an Apologist” for an official answer!


#3

Yes. But just to clear up one thing in your post – you do have access to your Bishop. All you would need to do would be to write him a letter. But do ask an apologist first, to be sure of the answer to your main question.


#4

Hello Cathy.

While I have no “official” answer to offer I do know a few things about your dilemma. First, in order for there to be Transubstantiation, both the matter and the** form **must be valid. What does this mean? The wine must be of the type used for the Eucharist and the bread too must also be the correct type. That is the matter part (to a minimum of explanation). For the form part, the exact words of the Eucharistic prayer that causes the Transubstantiation to occur must be repeated EXACTLY as they are written. If he fudges or improvises through this part, there will be no Eucharist. There is much more that is done, but these are the key elements.

Now, for the matter of the priest’s “beliefs” effecting the confecting of the Eucharist. What he believes has no bearing on the Transubstantiation either, nor whether or not he is in a state of grace when he preforms what he does. We still receive the Eucharist if he is validly ordained and uses correct matter and form in their entirety. If perchance his ordination is in question, you’ll have to do some research via the Chancery about that but I highly doubt the local Bishop would assign a man whose Orders aren’t in order to a parish. Your man would have to commit some pretty bodacious fraud to fake his being a priest. But if you for your peace of mind need confirmation of his valid Ordination, you can talk to those in the Chancery about you concerns.

If he had not been given the proper permissions to preform Mass, then his acts would be illicit but valid if the above requirements have been met, i.e. matter and form.

Checking to see if he is following the correct Eucharistic Prayers is a matter of following along with the Missalette found in the pews. Listen to what he says and see if the essential parts get repeated as they are written.

If you doubt the wine or bread being the correct type, that is pretty easy to check as well. Talk to your sacristan about it.

If you find there are deviations in these things, document them and find another set of eyes and ears at your parish who is also disturbed and report it all to the Bishop and the Chancery’s office. Liturgical abuse might actually be occurring but there is a process to follow to get it corrected and that doesn’t always work. If it is serious enough to deprive the parishoners of valid and licit Sacraments, then something needs to be done.

Hope this helps.

Glenda


#5

I don’t know where you read this, but it is not correct.

This matter was settled in the 300s during the Donatist heresy. Neither the sanctity nor the orthodoxy of the priest impact the validity and efficacy of the sacrament. The sacrament is independent of these subjective elements.


#6

There are four requirements for valid consecration:

  1. Valid form
  2. Valid matter
  3. Ordained priest
  4. Intention of the priest.

The intention of the priest is discussed below.

ourladyswarriors.org/articles/badliturgy.htm

4.2 Condition Two - Intent of the Priest

The priest must have the intent of doing what the Church does, that being the intent to make Jesus physically present via the miracle of transubstantiation at the consecration. The Council of Trent - a dogmatic council in response to the Protestant heresy - declared against the Protestant view which denies the necessity of the intention of the minister. St. Thomas Aquinas also covers this requirement in Summa Theologica (Third Part, Question 64, Articles 8, 9, 10).

Council of Trent, Seventh Session, March 3, 1547; Canon 11: " If anyone says that in ministers, when they effect and
confer the sacraments, there is not required at least the intention of doing what the Church does, [Eugene IV in the decr. cited.] let him be anathema."

We cannot know the intention of the priest. I try to make sure that I attend Mass at a church where the liturgy is performed according to GIRM and other documents. If the priest is not faithful to the Vatican, I question that his intention is that of the Church.


#7

Are you referring specifically to the Words of Institution? The priest does not have the option to change words at his own will, and among the various Eucharistic prayers, there are some parts that are more essential than others (particularly the Words of Institution and Epiclesis), but I don’t believe an accidental (or even intentional) departure from the exact wording of the Eucharistic prayer invalidates the sacrament, provided that the essential elements remain.


#8

Hello Ryan.

Well, I kept my answer brief and left out details such as those you mention so that the OP wouldn’t get bogged down in the details. If she follows along when her priest uses the Eucharistic prayers, she will know without a doubt whether or not he is deviating, then those particular deviations can be discussed. An slip of the tongue, while annoying to some of us, is an example of an accident, most will self-correct and repeat least scandal be given us or worse the Eucharist be invalid. However, this cannot be compared to an intentional omission or change of words. If the priest intends to deviate, not only is the Sacrament not valid if it is of the parts that are essential, but his sin is very mortal at that point. That is the type of abuse that needs immediate attention if you ask me, but I’m a little powerless layperson and can do nothing to stop sacrilege except remove myself from its proximity.

The OP is trying to find out too much to keep this thread simple.

I like what was added regarding the intent of the priest. But that is truly a matter of the heart an would be very grave if the priest had no intention of confecting the Eucharist, but simply made a show of it to dupe those watching and waiting. It would be a very grave fraud. God help the man so inclined.

Glenda


#9

While I agree it would be an abuse, even intentional changing of the words does not necessarily invalidate the sacrament. For example, in my own Ruthenian Church’s celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the priest prays “Take eat, this is my body…” If he were to decide instead to pray “This is my body, take and eat,” the sacrament would not be invalidated. On the other hand, if the priest were say, “Take eat, this represents my body,” or “Take eat, this is a symbol of my body,” then this would not be a valid sacrament.


#10

According to Redemptionis Sacramentus changing the words makes the consecration illicit, not invalid.

Changing the words is grave matter. If the priest intentionally and willingly changes the words while knowing its grave matter, he commits a mortal sin. If he then consumes the Eucharist, he commits another mortal sin.

IF a priest is willing to stand in front of his flock and commit two mortal sins, then I wonder whether or not his intention is that of the Church.


#11

If the priest were to shorten or change the form of the consecration of the Body and the Blood, so that in the change of wording the words did not mean the same thing, he would not be achieving a valid Sacrament. If, on the other hand, he were to add or take away anything which did not change the meaning, the Sacrament would be valid, but he would be committing a grave sin.(De-defectibus #20-Pope St. Pius V)


#12

Which is the notorious seminary he attended ?


#13

Our priest gave a sermon on this and the answer is yes because the sacraments are not dependent on the holiness of the priest. This was dealt with in some council.


#14

Thank you for all your responses. They were extremely helpful, especially the references to the Council of Trent and the Summa Theologica.

Fr. Charles Grondin was especially helpful; I have copied below his response to my question when I posted it in the “Ask an Apologist” forum. He explains St. Thomas’s Articles quite well - " By saying a Catholic Rite of Mass the priest is intending the Church’s intentions even if he doesn’t believe them."

(I have come to understand that the priest’s orthodoxy is not at issue; because then you would have to determine the inner workings of each priest’s mind, an impossible task. Also, regarding the periods of the worst heresies, if most of the bishops were off base, then we would have received nothing that’s valid by the time it gets down to us in this time. And Jesus promised the Gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church.

As for the validity of this priest’s Holy Orders, some ultra-traditionalists [of which I may be one!] think that the Post-Vatican form of the Holy Orders and other sacraments may be illicit/invalid. But if validity were the case, then most of the priests, Masses, and sacraments would be invalid! So at most, they would be illicit, but still valid. Because I am not equipped to determine if the form of his Holy Orders used the correct words, as some believe, I must leave this question up to God. Then you arrive again at Christ’s promise. And we are taught that we are to interpret the Church’s teachings in a way that makes the most straightforward and obvious sense.)

Here is Fr. Grondin’s response:

As long as the priest is saying Mass using the Rites of the Church then the Mass is valid, irregardless of the priest’s personal belief. The priest says Mass and confects a sacrament not by his own human power but by Christ acting through him. Christ acts through the Church and as long as the priest is using the Rites of the Church then the sacrament is valid. The Council of Trent explicitly stated that what is required for intention is simply to do what the Church intends. By saying a Catholic Rite of Mass the priest is intending the Church’s intentions even if he doesn’t believe them.

As St. Thomas noted in the Summa:
Quote:
III, q. 64, a. 8

Consequently, others with better reason hold that the minister of a sacrament acts in the person of the whole Church, whose minister he is; while in the words uttered by him, the intention of the Church is expressed; and that this suffices for the validity of the sacrament…
And in the next article he states:
Quote:
III, q. 64

Article 9. Whether faith is required of necessity in the minister of a sacrament?

I answer that, As stated above (Article 5), since the minister works instrumentally in the sacraments, he acts not by his own but by Christ’s power. Now just as charity belongs to a man’s own power so also does faith. Wherefore, just as the validity of a sacrament does not require that the minister should have charity, and even sinners can confer sacraments, as stated above (Article 5); so neither is it necessary that he should have faith, and even an unbeliever can confer a true sacrament, provided that the other essentials be there.
As to the validity of his Holy Orders, he was ordained by a Bishop and thus he was validly ordained. You have no basis to question the ordination rite of the Catholic Church.

If the priest in question has preached something against the faith you can write a letter detailing your concerns to the local Ordinary for him to look into.


#15

With all respect to Fr. Grondin, even what he stated about intention is still too strict. For validity, the priest does not even need to intend what the Church intends (although this is ideal and should always be the case). The minister really only needs to intend to do what the Church does. This intention is sufficient even if his notion about about what the Church does is incorrect, but for as long as he intends to do what the Church does (whatever it is she does when the host is consecrated), all other conditions being met, the sacrament is valid. He does not have to explicitly intend “I will confect the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ” or “I intend that the bread and wine be transubstantiated.” Further, the intention only needs to be virtual, not actual, although actual is ideal.

With such a minimum requirement, it’s hard to introduce a defect of intention.


#16

I don’t post on here often, but I wanted to comment on this. First, I’m a priest, and bless you for your love of the Eucharist!

Second though, I want to encourage you, plead with you, beg you even, not to do this. If you’ve already done so, fine. What’s done is done! Don’t worry! But, I would really advise you to not do this again in the future.

In the legal world, this is known as entrapment. In this context, I’m not sure what it would be called, but it’s dishonest at best. I would say to simply approach this priest in charity as a brother in the Lord and ask him directly. This is what Christ Himself prescribed for us in the Gospel.

There are a number of problems with approaching him in Confession.

First, he can’t talk about it. It’s your word against, well, nothing.

Second, Confession is, well, Confession. The appropriate activity in the confessional is the forgiveness of sins, and, depending on time available and how many others are in line, spiritual direction and counsel. There’s nothing in here about playing “gotcha” with the priest.

Third, by its very nature, often times priests say things in Confession that they would not normally say due to how it might relate to this particular penitent and this particular sin the individual is dealing with.

Fourth and finally, very frequently, what is said is not what is heard. For instance, the Church is very frequently accused of being anti-homosexual, homophobic, whatever you want to call it. Everyone who understands what the Church truly teaches knows this isn’t true, but to an outsider, especially one with an agenda and an axe to grind, may hear something entirely different. So, Fr. Smith says from the ambo, “Same-sex marriage is a sin.” Joe Parishioner hears, “Fr. Smith doesn’t like gay people.”

Is it possible that you may have heard something that was never said in the first place? Is it possible that you might be fishing for something from the priest? In charity, you owe him the benefit of the doubt.


#17

I think that the bar is being set too low…
What if the priest intends to not do what the Church does? If the priest’s intention is opposite that of the Church, does a valid consecration take place?

This question is not absurd. In my parish, lay people self communicate, salad bowls and wine glasses are used for the Precious Body and Blood, the priest does not elevate the host or the wine glass during consecration, nor does he genuflect or bow. The pastor has stated that he will give Communion to anyone who presents themselves. When a priest’s action are opposite Church teaching is it also likely that his intention is opposed to the Church?

Is it a valid consecration?


#18

Then at this point the consecration is invalid. He must intend to do at least what the Church does.

Yes, the bar is set low and for good reason. To ensure as much as possible the faithful are not deprived of a valid sacrament.

This question is not absurd. In my parish, lay people self communicate, salad bowls and wine glasses are used for the Precious Body and Blood, the priest does not elevate the host or the wine glass during consecration, nor does he genuflect or bow. The pastor has stated that he will give Communion to anyone who presents themselves. When a priest’s action are opposite Church teaching is it also likely that his intention is opposed to the Church?

Is it a valid consecration?

Not likely. Illicit actions are hardly indicative of the wrong intention. In fact, if anything, his actions, in an effort to be “generous” probably strongly indicate that his intention was actually sufficient, if not ideal.

Even a priest’s lack of faith does not invalidate intention. It is still more likely that a priest suffering doubts of lack of faith has at least the minimum intention to do what the Church does, even if he has an erroneous concept or understanding of what the Church does. Or put in another way, he only needs to intend to do what he believes is done by Christians in the rite.

Because the bar is indeed set low, it is hard for a priest to suffer a defect of intention. In fact, a priest may probably sooner not celebrate Mass than actually force an invalid intention.


#19

Really? A person’s actions are hardly indicative of their intention? I would have thought that the two are closely related less the person is a hypocrite.

I think that we are trying to interpret the Council of Trent in a way that subverts the spirit of the Council.

" If anyone says that in ministers, when they effect and
confer the sacraments, there is not required at least the intention of doing what the Church does, [Eugene IV in the decr. cited.] let him be anathema."

They don’t anathematize people unless there is a serious reason. We are trying to say that a person doesn’t need to believe what the Church does or even know what the Church does in order have the intention of doing what the Church does. This is a very loose interpretation.

I know that St. Thomas believes that by saying the words, the priest is revealing his intention. I know this is not necessarily true. I am sure that all can agree that we can recite words without giving any thought to what they mean or even thinking the very opposite of what we are saying out loud.

My opinion is that it is incumbent upon lay people to find faithful and holy priests. We need to know what the church teaches and find the true liturgy in order to participate in the fullness of grace that Christ intended.


#20

A minister can be a complete hypocrite and yet form the proper intention. None of what you described, although illicit, are any evidence at all that your priest has not at least the intention to do at least what the Church does.

I think that we are trying to interpret the Council of Trent in a way that subverts the spirit of the Council.

They don’t anathematize people unless there is a serious reason. We are trying to say that a person doesn’t need to believe what the Church does or even know what the Church does in order have the intention of doing what the Church does. This is a very loose interpretation.

I don’t know what your point is in quoting the anathema, since it only confirms what I’m saying: a minister needs only intend to at least do what the Church does. The anathema is directed not against priests and defective intentions, but against those who deny the necessity of proper intention for a valid sacrament, and it sets the bar at which the intention suffices: virtual, and to at least do what it is the Church does.

I know that St. Thomas believes that by saying the words, the priest is revealing his intention. I know this is not necessarily true. I am sure that all can agree that we can recite words without giving any thought to what they mean or even thinking the very opposite of what we are saying out loud.

Intention, while it is ideal that it be actual, may also be virtual for the sacrament to be valid. Words are a matter of form, not intention. For the intention to be defective, given the Church’s requirements, the minister would actually have to actively intend to NOT do what the Church does.

My opinion is that it is incumbent upon lay people to find faithful and holy priests. We need to know what the church teaches and find the true liturgy in order to participate in the fullness of grace that Christ intended.


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