valid and illicit

Is there a simple explanation of how “valid” compares/contrasts with “illicit?”

As in, a priest who is removed from his clerical duties can still celebrate a valid Mass, but the Mass will be illicit.


In non-academic terms, you could say that in a valid and licit Sacrament, God shows up and is happy. In a valid but illicit celebration, God shows up but is not happy. In an invalid (and thereby necessarily illicit) celebration, God doesn’t show up…and is unhappy, too.

More academically stated: if something essential is missing from a celebration, it will be invalid. If something accidental is missing, it will be illicit. There are different degrees of importance as far as accidental elements. So, you might see it said that some things make a Sacrament gravely illicit. A laicized priest offering Mass would, in my opinion, be gravely illicit because of the nature of the prohibition on that man’s activity.


As i understand it, invalid indicates that there’s a defect so severe that the sacrament is rendered null. For example, the celebrant is actually a layman, or rice cakes and soda pop is used, or one is baptized in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier. In such cases there is no sacrament at all.

Illicit indicates that there’s some lack of conformity with Church law, which doesn’t necessarily render the sacrament invalid. For example, a schismatic Bishop ordains a man without the permission of the Holy See: the ordained man is really ordained, it’s a valid ordination, but it’s illicit because it was done in violation of the law. Similarly, masses celebrated by the illicitly ordained priest are valid (assuming that they are otherwise celebrated correctly), because he really is a priest, but are illicit because he has no faculties from any legitimate authority. This is a very serious matter, and I can think of very few circumstances in which I’d knowingly attend such a mass… In fact, I can’t think of any at all.

If I were in imminent danger of death I’d approach such a priest for confession and last rites, if there was no other option. Church law does allow for that.

I like the example:

Counterfeit money is invalid.

Stolen money is illicit.

Once a priest, always a priest. His powers can never be removed. However, if he chooses to say Mass after having left the priesthood then it’s illicit. Still occurred but should not have happened.

My silly example:

Suppose you attempt to cross an intersection when the light is red.

If you manage to get to the other side safely then you have crossed the street illicitly because it was a against the law. But you did validly get to the other side.

If you don’t make it through the intersection because you are struck by a vehicle which has a green light then you have made an illicit (illegal) attempt and in have invalidly crossed the intersection — because you have not managed to cross it at all.

What is stolen counterfeit money? Sorry, just couldn’t resist :smiley:

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